I Am Dead (2020)
Developer: Hollow Ponds & Richard Hogg
I was proud of myself for having gone this long without shifting my review schedule or posting a review late... Oops. It happens, though, and that's fine. I had a rough week of my car breaking down and figuring out what to do with it, during which continuing to play Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town was more comforting than starting a new game. However, this next game I picked up also turned out to be a chill, stress-relieving little puzzle game. I Am Dead is a point-and-click story game about a ghost man and his ghost dog, on a mission to save the island from a fated volcano eruption. I Am Dead allows you to interact with items and the environment in a new, fun, unique way despite the fact that its "hidden object" puzzles getting a little repetitive.
You start I Am Dead talking a peaceful walk through a beautiful beach, taking in the sights and sounds. The protagonist, Morris Lupton, reminisces about his beloved now-deceased dog Sparky. We turn to a bench and see a memorial for the very same Morris Lupton, and right away learn (of course) that he is now dead as well. You return to the museum where he used to once work and are introduced to the mechanics of the game. Essentially, just about any item or wall in the game can be zoomed deep into and essentially "dissected". You can look inside of desk drawers without opening them, and you can also cut cross-sections into a pen. If you've ever watched those stop-motion videos that float around on social media of fruits cut into cross-sections little by little, that's kind of what this is like. If you ever wondered, "what's inside of grandfather clock", this game can answer things like that - well, not in highly detailed graphics, but still. Once you learn to use this mechanic, you go into Sparky's ashes in an urn and find her dog tag, suddenly releasing a ghost-version of your former dog. Sparky talks now, and she tells you that you must help her find the next "Custodian", or guardian spirit, of the island, as the current one is very tired and needs to move on. If they do not find a new Custodian, the island's once-dormant volcano will erupt on an unsuspecting town full of people.
To be honest, I knew close to nothing about this game when I bought it. I'd seen a short trailer so I knew it was from the perspective of a man who just died and was floating through the town he lived in. I'm usually pretty sold on Annapurna games so when I saw it on sale for the Switch, I quickly picked it up. Looking back, I do wish I'd played this game on PC instead - I made the same mistake once again of not doing my research first. It definitely still plays great on Switch, it's not as big of an issue as it was when I played Through the Darkest of Times, but I personally prefer playing cursor-based games on PC. There were a few times that it was a little hard to precisely click on a specific object due to the cursor, but for the most part the game didn't need you to be super precise. In each new area or level, your goal is to seek out people (or animals) who have memories of the "potential custodian" ghost who you're looking for. These memories guide you towards mementos you must find in the map, sometimes hidden in plain sight and sometimes hidden deep inside of other objects. If you do just that, the game is fairly straightforward and simple. However, I also ended up pretty charmed by the side-quest that is finding "Gremkins", little spirits that only appear if you find the exact cross-section "shape" that Sparky asks you to find. Gremkins are the collectible item of this game, and I actually ended up getting all of them because I genuinely enjoyed the puzzle of finding them. Without the challenge of the Gremkins, the game would've have been quite simple and quick - I expected the game to only take me about 4-5 hours, when it actually took me 10 hours (hence this review being published a day late). There's also one additional optional challenge you can take on that is the riddles, but I wasn't able to figure them out in the very limited time given and ended up forgetting to go back to try them again later.
I really like the cute, colorful, shape-driven art style when it came to environments and items but I didn't love the way a lot the characters looked. The human characters were hard to distinguish from one another as they all had the cartoony large nose and ears. However, I specifically liked the monochromatic "paintings" that appeared in the memories you watch about the potential Custodians. The music in the levels where you search for memories and mementos is playful and upbeat, relaxing while you look inside every object. The setting feels pretty important to situation the events of I Am Dead, despite it taking place in the fictional town of Shelmerston. Shelmerston is an island somewhere off the U.K., or at least as much can be assumed through the characters' accents and maps given. The voice acting is likely one of the best parts of this game, with every character - human or not - being given a whole layer of personality and vibrancy through their voice. The characters were best personified by their voice, making you want to find out more about their lives. The way the story unfolds is a good journey of ups and downs, but ultimately pretty predictable.
I was a little underwhelmed by I Am Dead, but to be fair, I think I went in having high expectations yet not much idea about the game itself. As far as hidden objects games go, this one is incredibly clever and unique. However, it could've added different types of challenges to keep things interesting, or made the Grenkins side-quest a little more rewarding and worth doing. I recommend this game if you like peaceful puzzle or hidden object games that you can really take your time on. Also if you've ever been curious about how the inside of objects look, or how food looks at weird cross-sections cuts. This game did something really fun and unique with its world, which is why I really took my time and spent hours exploring this game, but I wasn't as invested in its story as I thought I would be.
I Am Dead is available on PC and Switch.
Played on: Switch
Playtime: 10 hrs