The 1 to 5 on games: I am dead

This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all games, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.

Its weird that as I start to think about my end of the year lists, I would have as much difficulty picking “top 5 rogue-likes of the year” or “top 5 games about death”, as I would picking my favorite 10 of the year; one would think that I am dead would make a killing on the second list (haha), but after playing it, I’m not so sure. This is, again, one of those games that I don’t particularly feel strongly about either way; it does not screw up badly that I am bitterly disappointed nor does it fully deliver on what I wanted so I can rave about it. It sits somewhere in the middle and I want to explore why it found it self in that limbo and hopefully help you decide whether you should take a plunge at it, if you are still on the fence about it.

I am dead follows Morris Lupton, the recently deceased museum curator of his home island Shelmerston. The game wastes no time in getting started; it fades in, you are given control and are provided with a tutorial from your ghost dog Sparky who will accompany you throughout, and then you are off trying to find a way to stop the volcano from erupting and destroying your home. From that point forward it is immediately apparent what type of game this is: I am dead is a puzzle game of the point & click/pixel hunting variety; it will give you an outline/figure of what you are searching for and you have to find it, using your ghost abilities that allows you to look through stuff. There are 4 layers to this: There are the required, story ones that need to be solved to move on, gremlins which are objects that need to be seen from a specific angle to unveil a creature, riddles that require finding a specific object, eluded to, within the time limit, and an obscure forth one that I don’t want to spoil. I group these puzzles into two categories that actively contradict each other and make the game kind of messy; story and gremlins are properly hinted to and there’s a hot and cold system in place for being in the right scene (the game allows you to click on most stuff but they are grouped in smaller and smaller pictures), while the riddles and obscure ones are actively encouraging a “click on everything and hope for the best” playstyle that actively annoyed me. Obviously, only the story ones are required to progress, however one of the core conflicts within the game that made me like it less, was the fact that exploring the world, coming up on interesting stuff and clicking on them to see through them was genuinely one of the most chill experience with a game this year; sometimes, that stuff would hold a funny surprise or a weird outcome, but it was an engaging experience. However, being somewhat obsessed with finding every side content and completing it, that experience is turned to frustration when the game starts making insane demands; even the gremlins, which have an outline of what to look for and only show up on the correct screen can sometimes lead to insane “game logic” moments.

Beyond the game shortcomings, I found the story to be somewhat disappointing as well; the story of Morris and his dog is not something special and Shelmerston is a bizarre and quirky place, but in a very mundane way that quickly loses interest. Beyond that, my big disappointment from this game is the writing style; its far less melodramatic than I think the themes and setting would allow the game to be, instead going after a goofier and British-humor oriented style to carry it through. It’s not bad and once I adjusted my expectation for that experience, I actually enjoyed it alongside the chill vibes of the gameplay, but I wished that I cared more for Morris or the island and I wish that themes and messages – present in the game, but less prevalent – would take more center stage and make a bigger impact; which is exactly what happens with the ending.

Having said that, I don’t find I am dead to be a bad experience; the visual style is great, the interactivity it provides is novel and interesting, and, above all, every feature mixes well together to create a relaxing and mellow experience in a time when most people can really go for something like that. It’s a FINE game that is best enjoyed in small doses over multiple sessions and without putting too much thought into it or wanting to get all the achievements and see everything it has to offer. I was expecting something more, but this is still one relaxing experience about being dead and how fun it can be!

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