You can always count on Annapurna Interactive to release games that do something a bit different, with their eclectic array of titles over the last few years telling all sorts of different tales as they send players on wild adventures. You might be uncovering the secret behind a curse that has befallen a family, heading on a dangerous journey across a low-poly land, creating holes in the ground to swallow up the environment, or even find yourself stuck in a time-loop as you await a supernova to end existence… who knows?
I Am Dead, a post-life journey to find some ghosts in order to prevent a volcano from destroying a peaceful island,is the most recent release to come from the publisher, and boy is it a doozy. Whilst the concept itself might sound a little strange on paper, it actually makes for a deep and emotional journey that’ll utterly engross anyone who spends their time with it.
I Am Dead puts players in the role of Morris Lupton, a gentleman that had previously spent his days working as a curator in a museum but now finds himself deceased. An unfortunate situation, yes, but at least he has the spirit of Sparky, his trusty doggy, by his side.
You spend your time in the afterlife on the harmonious island of Shelmerston where you should be able to (quite literally) rest in peace. However, that plan goes out of the window when a volcano that had previously lay dormant on the island prepares to erupt. The only way this can be prevented is by finding a new custodian to look after the Shelmerston, with one of five ghostly presences from across the island ideal for the job… it’s up to Morris to find them with a bit of spiritual sleuthing.
Despite the somewhat melancholic tone of I Am Dead’s narrative, players shouldn’t expect to find themselves in a sullen or sorrowful world. Shelmerston itself is full to the brim with vibrant sights and uniquely uplifting architecture, whilst its inhabitants are a colourful bunch who are always a pleasure to deal with – even IF the stories they tell you can be somewhat tragic when reminiscing about the folk of the island that have passed.
The story is wonderfully written too, with the interactions you share with Shelmerston’s natives all full of personality and offering enough intrigue to keep you utterly compelled by the tale. There’s nothing about I Am Dead’s narrative that feels grandiose in its styling, but the way it weaves together the personal stories of the individuals around you (both alive and dead) never feels short of wonderful. It’s brilliant stuff and ensures that you’ll be utterly intrigued by the game’s going-ons right until the end credits roll.
Despite its narrative-driven focus, there are plenty of gameplay-driven elements to I Am Dead that allow the player to go hands on with the wacky island of Shelmerston.
For one, you have to actively seek out each of the five ghosts by exploring different areas of the island, with each bringing with them all new locales to uncover and items to examine. You’ll also meet different folk at each of these locations that are all tied to the ghost in some shape or form. Speaking with them about their memories can actually be quite emotional, especially since they all share different relationships and have their own unique experiences with each ghost. There’ll be tales of love, loss, peace, fun, and sorrow, with each touching the player in different ways as they learn more about the struggles that come with passing on. It’s really heartfelt stuff, whilst the brilliant writing of the game makes it feel all the more believable despite the sometimes zany vibe of the world itself. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything about these interactions here… just know that they make for some really special moments in-game.
Once you’ve spoken to the folk attached to each ghost, you’ll have to uncover five items that were important to them before you get to meet the spirit itself. These include some weird trinkets as well as normal everyday objects, with a bit of detective work required to actually find them (don’t worry – the characters you speak to give plenty of little clues so you won’t feel like you’re on a wild goose chase). This is where Morris’ unique supernatural x-ray ability comes into play, which allows him to interact with just about every object in his surroundings and zoom in to GREAT depths in order to find any hidden clues or items associated with it. There’s a whole lot to find and see across Shelmerston, with even things that are seemingly obsolete hosting all kind of secrets… it’s up to you to closely examine them to find out what exactly they are.
It might sound a peculiar gameplay setup, and in many ways it is, but it really makes for a lovely experience in-game. I loved uncovering all of the secrets found across Shelmerston, whilst the fact that it has some super creative sights to discover across its wonderfully designed landscape makes each inch of exploration feel all the more special. Add to that a beautiful soundtrack that fits the tone of the game perfectly and you’ll quickly find that uncovering the ghosts in I Am Dead makes for a mighty satisfying time.
Whilst there is a lot to see and uncover as you seek out these ghosts, there’s never anything too complicated that will keep you stumped for too long. Whilst there are puzzling elements to I Am Dead when trying to figure out where the objects you are seeking may be, for the most part it simply feels like a collectathon where all it takes is a keen eye and a little bit of looking around in order to progress through the game. This isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination; if anything, it fits in with the vibe of the game perfectly and compliments the story being told, whilst the general sense of exploration always remains fun throughout. It might leave those who were hoping for a bit more of a challenge feeling a little underwhelmed though, especially if they thought there may be some genuinely perplexing conundrums tied to the ghost-hunt.
Those who are hoping for a little bit more outside of seeking out the ghosts can spend their time hunting down little creatures called Gremkins across Shelmerston, with plenty of little hints and a gentle rumble of the Nintendo Switch JoyCon clueing you in to their location. Finding these Gremkins isn’t compulsory to actually progress through I Am Dead, but it’s a fun endeavour tracking them down and gives you a real incentive to spend more time across its vibrant world… not that you really need one…
I Am Dead is a wonderful and vibrant experience that gives players a different look into the afterlife, with its delightful world hosting some truly heartfelt tales. Exploring the island of Shelmerston and using your x-ray ability to closely examine every object around you never stops being satisfying, whilst learning more about the ghosts you are seeking remains touching throughout.
It is guilty of being a bit simple in places and you won’t come across any real challenge during your journey, but it doesn’t make the experience any less compelling. I Am Dead is simply a special game and one that should definitely be experienced if you like to play something that feels a bit different.
Developer: Hollow Ponds, Richard Hogg
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC