I Am Dead review for Nintendo Switch, PC

Platform: Switch
Also on: PC
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Hollow Ponds
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E10+

I don’t like I Am Dead. And I feel kind of bad about saying that.

This is a game that very much wants to be liked. In fact, it’s a game that, generally speaking, seems like the sort of thing I would normally like: it’s a quirky indie game from Annapurna with lovable characters, an original story, and a unique gameplay hook. If that’s not a recipe for a game tailor-made for my GOTY list, I don’t know what is.

And yet, for some reason, I Am Dead falls flat for me.

I mean, it’s not like I’m saying the reasons are mysterious. I can (and am about to) enumerate exactly what I didn’t like about the game. It’s just surprising to me, is all.

The first reason why I don’t like I Am Dead is definitely a matter of personal preference: I hate the voice acting. The game is about Morris Lupton, the recently-deceased curator of a quirky little museum on a quirky little island, trying to find a new guardian for the island before its volcano explodes. To do this, he meets several other people (and other beings) from the island who have also died — and to summon those people/beings, he has to find their belongings, which means going through the memories of the people, animals, and, uh, sea monsters who remember them.

This, I’ll admit, uses a pretty interesting mechanic. You zoom in on a specific scene, and then as you zoom in further on objects, you not only find out what they are, you also reveal cross-sections of them, which helps you uncover objects hidden beneath. It’s sort of like a point-and-click adventure, only with the bonus that you don’t need to make any insane leaps of logic to figure out what you’re doing.

The problem is, the memories are narrated by the people, birds, monsters, etc. that remember the deceased characters, and those narrations are pretty hit-or-miss. Sometimes, they’re completely charming, and they really convey the warmth the narrator feels for their dearly departed. Other times, though, it’s just grating — like when a bird talks about stealing a Rubik’s Cube, or when a robot talks about a beloved plant. These voices are, without fail, incredibly affected. This happens with more and more frequency the further into the game you get, which makes it harder and harder to take (as far as I’m concerned, at least). Couple that with the fact your main companion is your also-dead dog, Sparky, and that Sparky’s voice is among the ones that count as grating, and you can see how the whole thing might start feeling a little too precious really quickly.

This probably explains why I Am Dead’s central mechanic started feeling repetitive pretty quickly — when one thing annoys you, everything else starts to feel annoying as well. After all, it is a neat concept, as I described above: you get to dig down into the game’s world, and examine everything on a near-molecular level. The problem is, once you’ve done it a couple of times, it starts feeling less magical and more like a chore. The loop becomes clear very quickly: you move the camera through the level, you spot the person with a thought bubble over their head, you zoom in, you watch the memory, and you find the object they recalled. It doesn’t really change, and all the stories feel like they flow in the same way after a bit: the dearly departed person seemed like a jerk at first, then did something that redeemed them, the end. There’s not a lot of variety, and once you’ve done the zoom-and-dissect thing a couple of times, it starts all feeling really formulaic.

Of course, your mileage on all this will vary. If you don’t mind the narration and you’re able to get into the narrative, then you’ll probably delight in uncovering all the neat objects and stories this island and its inhabitants are hiding.

For me, though? It never quite hits the mark. I Am Dead has some interesting ideas, and it executes on a lot of them, but taken as a whole, it’s just not as good as it could be.

Annapurna Interactive provided us with an I Am Dead Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: C+