Lone Survivor: Director’s Cut for Wii U, PS4, PS Vita, PC, OS X and Linux
I have a real soft spot for games which are, by and large, the product of one person. Some really cool experiences like Fez and Dust: An Elysian Tale all come from one creative spring, and Lone Survivor joins them, mostly being the product of the promising new developer Jasper Byrne. Lone Survivor is a truly creepy survival horror game in an SNES 16 bit style which does nothing to sap the nastiness of the experience, actually highlighting it.
Lone Survivor takes place after some kind of apocalypse, which has seen much of the world transformed into strange and hideous monsters. The player character, referred to throughout as ‘You’, is the eponymous one survivor in an apartment block. Holed up in his former apartment, the player must venture out to gather supplies, hiding from the enemies and finding keys which will allow him to leave the building.
This isn’t a game which explains much, although there are a whole bunch of alternate endings which shine light of the proceedings. This is a game about madness and trauma. The difference between reality and fantasy is really hard to define and I imagine that there have been many debates as to whether there actually has been an apocalypse or if the whole thing takes place in the protagonists brain. It doesn’t really matter; that the game makes you ask questions is much more important than whether there are concrete answers. Lone Survivor really disturbed and intrigued me and can you ask for anything more from a good horror story?
Lone Survivor all takes place on a 2D plane as the player makes their way through the apartment, and later the streets outside. There are several ways to deal with the monsters you’ll come across, such as hiding and waiting for them to pass by, distracting them with rotting meat or, when all else fails, pulling out your gun and taking them down. The combat is incredibly clunky and awkward, but that’s exactly the point; it shouldn’t be any other way. There’s something of an adventure game element to Lone Survivor, as you collect items to help you survive and keys to get around. There are several different systems at play, such as you exhaustion which is managed by sleeping back at your apartment, which is also how you save. You have to manage your hunger, with higher quality meals staving it off for longer. Better meals can be prepared when you collect items such as saucepans and can openers; if you skip those you’ll be stuck with prawn crackers and sliced cheese. The most confusing of these stats is ‘mental health’, which determines your ending. Violent or horrifying actions, such as shooting a monster or eating a rat will lower your mental health, where pleasant and relaxing actions such as playing a handheld game or reading a comic book will boost it.
My only real criticisms are the quality of the map, which is pretty hard to use and the confounding nature of the mental health stat, which isn’t explained in game. I get that the developer was aiming for you to have multiple playthroughs, but I’m not really a fan of games that do this; you should be able to get the ‘best’ ending without having to replay the same stuff a second or even third or fourth time. It strikes me as an artificial way to extend a games’ value. Still, keeping the stat mysterious is certainly more immersive and definitely not a deal breaker.
The art style is fantastic, with the old school look working really well. The quality of the pixel art is top-notch. There’s sometimes a perception that art like this is easier than more ostensibly complex styles, but it must have been challenging to make this setting as creepy as it is with the intentionally limited assets. Byrne has succeeded in creating a game which looks timeless, which will always be scary however much technology develops. The sound design is good too, adding a lot to the sinister atmosphere of the place. Atmosphere is the operative word here; Lone Survivor has oodles of it and is really immersive.
I was really impressed by Lone Survivor. Horror really isn’t my genre of choice, but the art style convinced me that I had to give it a go and I’m really glad that I did. It’s available on loads of devices, so you have no excuse to not give it a go.