Tag Archives: Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor – Review

So somewhere towards the end of last year, on a whim, I downloaded a game I found for cheap on a PSN sale. As with most indie games, I didn’t hear much pre-release buzz about it. Post-release, I think I might’ve heard someone somewhere say that they liked it, but aside from that in-passing nod of approval, and the creepy trailer I watched right before clicking “Buy,” I had little to nothing to go on. And that intrigued the hell out of me. Especially since “side-scrolling horror game” sounded so strange. Like the phrase “financially-irresponsible goat,” or “eco-friendly oil corporation,” it’s comprised of two ideas that sort of just make your brain go “wait, that’s not right… stop touching me there, can I please just go home now?” And here I am today to tell all you fine and not-so-fine people that this is a game that you should definitely let touch you. Just do it. In the dark. Preferably with no pants on, because this game will make you shit yourself constantly. And in the best way too. Jasper Byrne, creator of Lone Survivor, clearly put a lot of dedication into crafting this story of one man’s struggle with sanity and isolation. From the ever-present creepiness that lingers throughout the game’s environments, to the fear-inducing sight of the game’s shambling, twitching “Thinmen”,  Lone Survivor provides dread on the level of any good 3D horror game. The plot is so wrapped in ambiguous mysteries and open-ended threads that for the majority of the game, you’ll be kept curious as to what has happened to this world and this nameless man. Towards the end, it does wrap up in a somewhat predictable way, but the journey provided more than enough thrills to make up for the somewhat expected destination.As soon as the game starts, the game goes over “the ritual,” of turning out the lights before playing and adjusting the audio for the most spoopity spooks possible. I enjoyed that dedication to the experience, and I also enjoyed the curveball it threw with the opening monologue. (By the way, this game’s dialogue is all text, so I HOPE you’re literate) The protagonist begins with “My name is…” and I assumed it would let me RPG it up and put a name of my choice in, but he instead finishes with “not important anymore.” Which is interesting for two reasons. One, the game isn’t exactly called Lone Survivor because there’s so many friendly NPC’s around to talk and trade with, so a name isn’t really necessary. Secondly, the game’s story is told more or less in second person. For the next 5 to 6 hours, you’ll live vicariously through him. The plot kept my interest, but for some, the way the game relies almost entirely on cryptic notes, moments, and items to tell the story like a jigsaw puzzle that’s still missing a few pieces, (which ultimately lead to some theory digging online), could be a little too disjointed for some players. I enjoyed the sense of only knowing what little I could put together on my own. However, this means the game sacrifices having a distinct narrative identity apart from what ever the player can get out of it. Considering the fact that there’s multiple endings as well, that are affected by your ability to manage resources and whether or not you were violent in your problem solving, means that some players will REALLY not get anything from this. Which is a shame. However, the experience of going through that first hole in the wall, or when you reach the end of the town, or go to Chie’s Place, or any of the multitude of times you are face to face with a thinman, is ample scare value for your dollar. The game starts you off with next to nothing  in your apartment. You’ll soon realize it’s the only place you can actually find respite from the monstrosities that roam the halls and streets. Little is explained to the player either. The “hand-holding” complaint many gamers have of modern games is not present. In fact, maybe more could have been told. I was carrying canned food in my inventory for the longest time, wondering when the hell I would find the can opener, only to realize that it was in an early room I had not checked thoroughly because there was a spastic, white noise-emitting flesh eater the first time I went. If I wouldn’t have been allowed back there, it would have been pretty much a shit to the face for the game to have let me starve like that. But more so, the game would have benefited from an explanation regarding the pills you find. There are Red, Green, and Blue pills. I ingested many in order to try and discern what effect they had. The Red pill, I was able to piece together was a combat or health buff of some sort. But the blue and green ones remained an enigma. Little did I know at the time that they actually were used in conjunction with the bed in your room (where you go to save your game), in order to have one of two dream sequences. An ominous man with a box on his head waits for you in the first dream, and an on-stage interview with a man in blue is in the other. These figures ask questions of you that you cannot rightly answer, before you wake up and find that you have bullets (blue dream) in your backpack. Yep. I guess it’s just an obvious gaming trope that when you find an unnamed pill, that you ought to take it so you can sleep/save in order to have the recurring dream sequence that gives you the resources you were desperately lacking. Totally obvious. It was also totally obvious that my attempts at experimentation with them at the beginning of the game pretty much screwed me out of any chance of the “best” ending. But hey, at least the game gives you an infinite supply of pills, meaning that you are never screwed should you run out batteries for your flashlight. When exploring the world of Lone Survivor, you’re often doing so to accomplish standard videogame goals. Find key. Find object that will work like key. Get power on. Get the things in order to get the other thing. There’s also some hidden side quests that perceptive players can find and subsequently complete, but nothing is really mind blowing objective-wise. There’s a nice side quest related to getting a cat as a pet. The cat doesn’t necessarily do much to alter anything, but  in this eerie game, the moments of mild tranquility between all the harrowing encounters with death are appreciated. You can shoot your way out of those situations, or go non-lethal through the use of flares or good ol’-fashioned sneaking. Personally, I went with the extermination route because there’s a good amount of backtracking in this game, and the unsettling nature of the bizarre zombies was not something I wanted to put up with in areas I’d be crossing through multiple times. Plus, bullets were no concern once I finally figured out the blue pill’s purpose. There are mirrors throughout the game which act as fast travel points back to the safety of your own apartment. The game remains tough but fair in this way. You can’t save anywhere, but it gives you the opportunities. Seeing as you can die from a few thinmen swipes, saving is crucial. There’s no one to blame but yourself when you decide to not save before exploring areas you know will be full of freaks and end up losing 30 minutes of progress. Learn from your old man’s mistakes, kids. Save often. One would think that when a game is just a bunch of blatantly retro pixels, it would lack the capability to capture terror. This game proves that notion wrong. Similar to the way a blurry sepia-toned picture of children in old Halloween costumes or of a man in an Easter bunny outfit is sometimes more fear-inducing than the latest and greatest special effects Hollywood could use in a big-budget film, so to does this indie game trounce traditional AAA. Dead Space is freaky, yes. But after a while, it really does become just a dimly lit shooter. All the weapon and armor upgrades start to butt heads with the design team’s horrific monsters. Resident Evil games lately have all but severed ties to their genre roots, and the Silent Hill sequels have played like ass for a while now too. If you’d like some relatively inexpensive scares that actually required some modicum of effort and respect for game players on behalf of the developer [read: NOT Five Nights at Freddy’s], then this is a good suggestion. It’s ACTUALLY a game. No wandering in the woods waiting for a still Slenderman rendering to show up and send you to the game over screen. No mindlessly opening and closing doors literally just waiting to have an insipid 2-second jump scare of an animatronic you can’t defend yourself from to happen. This is a genuine horror game made by someone who obviously was passionate about the games that influenced him, and wanted to create a quality experience. The game’s excellent sound and music will chill and surprise you. The persistent dread of trying to stay alive will terrify you and warp your mind. The story, or lack there of, might not impress those who don’t like to be confused or those who often think things with symbolism are being “pseudo-intellectual,” but there are worse ways to spend your little money. So, should you play Lone Survivor? Yes. The answer is yes. Pants are optional, but Lone Survivor is yet another welcome addition to the greats of independent game development. Obligatory Number at the End: 8.75/10