There aren’t many games as weird, as wonderful, and as quintessentially British as I Am Dead.
Having the word ‘dead’ or ‘death’ in a videogame title might typically insinuate a dark, brooding, horror-filled affair. Not I Am Dead. From developers Hollow Ponds and Richard Hogg – names behind Hohokum and Wilmot’s Warehouse – I Am Dead couldn’t be further from that description. Instead, it plainly and matter-of-factly deals with death like it’s no big deal. After all, it isn’t really – it’s something that happens to us all at some point. And here, you’ll play as Morris Lupton, a man who has recently deceased. Yup, you’re playing as a ghost.
But Morris isn’t the sheet-wearing, people-scaring type of ghost. He’s simply a spirit, still existing in the idyllic island of Shelmerston, the place he called his home for the entirety of his life. His memories are intact, and his love for his hometown is as strong as ever. Since his death, he’s merely been pottering around, pondering his life and wondering if he could have done things differently. It isn’t until he’s reunited with his beloved dog, Sparky, that things in the afterlife start to get interesting for Morris.
The island of Shelmerston – fictitious but filled with real British seaside spirit – is actually built around a volcano. It’s been dormant for thousands of years, and so people haven’t considered the possibility of it erupting for a long time. But it turns out it isn’t because the volcano is extinct; for the last 3,000 years, a spirit known as the Custodian has watched over the island, ensuring its safety. But the time for the spirit to move on has come, and so it falls to Morris and Sparky to find a new Custodian – someone recently deceased who cares enough for the town to want to watch over it.
And so your quest in I Am Dead truly begins; find five dead people by visiting places close to them, uncover people’s memories about them, and eventually summon their spirits. At its core, I Am Dead‘s gameplay feels a lot like a hidden object game; after listening to a memory, you’ll be tasked with finding an object that the memory was based around. Once you’ve gathered enough objects, you’ll then be able to use them to summon a spirit.
Finding an object requires you to scour a small area, peering inside objects, and twisting and rotating them to fully inspect them. In death, Morris has gained the ability to ‘slice’ through objects; essentially, he can see inside anything without needing to open or interact with it. Want to know what’s inside a chest of drawers? Simply focus on it, then use your controller’s triggers to ‘slice’ into it. You’ll need to do this time and again to find all the relevant objects to progress the story. It can be fiddly, and the act of searching does get repetitive, but thankfully each item is never very difficult to locate.
Outside of the main story, there are lots of other objects to find, giving completionists a reason to greatly extend the game’s three-or-so hour running time. Known as ‘Grenkins’, tiny spirits reside all over Shelmerston, and each area you explore has a number for you to locate. They’ll be hidden within objects, though to find them you’ll need to rotate and slice them just right. Some are easy to find – you’ll find quite a few accidentally as you simply work your way through the game – though others are very tricky, requiring lots of trial, error and patience to uncover.
There’s a second extraneous challenge to I Am Dead, too; one that’s possible to completely miss through all of the game. By interacting with posters dotted around the game, you’ll encounter a character called Mr. Whitstable. He’ll give you a series of riddles that’ll lead you to uncover more items hidden within the environment. They don’t add anything to the story – you can complete the game without ever spotting one of these posters if you’re simply focusing on the task at hand – but they’re a nice addition for those wanting to engage with I Am Dead‘s world on a deeper level.
And it truly is a world you’ll want to engage with as much as possible. From a yoga retreat lighthouse run by a robot to a species of fishfolk that happily live alongside humans, I Am Dead continually surprises and delights in just how wacky it can get. It’s clear you’re in the realms of fantasy right from the offset – after all, your protagonist is a spirit – but this game is never afraid to push that fantasy even further. Despite being grounded in a setting that feels completely believable, I Am Dead revels in suspending your disbelief and taking you to a world that’s both familiar yet completely different from your own.
It’s just a shame that you don’t truly get to explore that world at your leisure. Only snippets of it are presented to you, as required by the story. Each spirit that Morris must uncover occupies a very specific part of Shelmerston – the lighthouse, the harbour, the campsite – and so while you can somewhat explore each of those areas for a time, you’ll never get to freely walk from one side of Shelmerston to the other, or see how each of those small areas relate to each other. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it does make I Am Dead‘s proceedings feel rather fragmented at times. It also means that if you don’t gather all of the Grenkins in an area, or find Mr. Whitstable, you’re unable to go back once you’ve moved on to the next part of the story.
Chances are, though, you won’t notice or mind too much, because you’ll be absorbed in I Am Dead‘s narrative, learning about Shelmerston’s residents, past and present. Each memory you uncover is delightfully told by a diverse but talented voice cast. You’ll sink into tales of rare seagulls, of fishfolk who love toast, of lifelong lovers who met as children. Each and every one comes together to paint a brilliant and vibrant picture of a living, breathing town, filled with colourful people all living their own life. It’s also a fond reminder that our loved ones never truly leave us; the people we care about continue to live on in our memories.
It’s the narrative and world around you that will keep you playing I Am Dead. The actual gameplay – seeking out objects by manipulating your environment – can feel rather monotonous rather quickly. If anything, I Am Dead feels like a more mature, more evolved take on the hidden object genre, and so it won’t appeal to everyone. But thanks to wonderfully-told stories and a bizarre but delightful mix of fantasy and grounded reality, this is a short adventure that’s fun while it lasts.
I Am Dead Review: GameSpew’s Score