Lone Survivor Review
To say that I am a fan of survival horror would be the understatement of the century. I love it. I love the shoddy controls. I love the sense of uselessness and complete sense of disempowerment. I love the quick debate in your head as you try to decide to fight or flee, as something bloodied and nasty edges ever closer to your wimpy, underpowered character. This is the stuff of my dreams … well nightmares… nightmarish dreams??
Lone Survivor is an indie survival horror title by Jasper Byrne, available for both Windows and Mac. I have no fears about stating that this game is the most polished, genuinely scary and atmospheric horror game I’ve played in a decade.
The art of survival horror, like the characters within, is seemingly being killed by the increasingly popular opinion that it’s an unresponsive, archaic genre better left in the late 90’s and only remembered nostaligcally. In recent years traditional Survival horror, in the vein of Clock Tower or Silent Hill has been dropped more and more in favour of Panic or Action horror titles like Resident Evil 4 or Left 4 Dead. Jasper Byrne is clearly a developer who understands the best elements of traditional survival horror and is more than capable of using that knowledge to deliver an amazingly chilling title, that makes horror video-games relevant again.
The game focuses on your character, “Some Guy” – This is one of those genius design choices, right here, at the outset of the game. The character, begins by telling you that its not important you know his name or anything about him. The character you play in Lone Survivor can be whomever you want him to be – You? Not you? Your brother? Some guy you saw on the street? A nameless, faceless enigma – It doesn’t matter, the character is malleable due to his own internal anonymity and as such he feels incredibly identifiable.
When the game begins, your character awakens inside a derelict apartment block, which seems to be overrun with strange mutant/zombie like creatures, infected with some myserious, nameless disease. The gameplay at its core, see’s the player moving through the building, finding supplies that will not only help him venture forth and aid in his escape, but you can also find various supplies which improve his mental and physical wellbeing, such as supplies for cooking or a kitten. Lone Survivor, does not simply force you to power through the game, instead, it allows you to decide for what’s more important; Your characters escape and long term safety or his sanity.
In the game there are pills you can take which have a number of effects. Blue and Green pills allow you to have lucid dreams when your character sleeps, which often give you additional supplies in the physical world. These supplies come at a cost; your character’s sanity is affected and long term abuse will take their toll. The red pill will make your character sharper and ready to tackle longer outings, however, these pills also come with consequences, so chemical dependence can be very dangerous for your characters mental condition. It’s in this balancing act that the game excels. If you are like me you, will be keen to keep your character sane and healthy. I remember feeling a swell of pride when my dude looked in a mirror and said “Eh, I’ve seen worse” as opposed to his old favourite; “I don’t even recognise that person anymore”.
The game is not perfect, but the failings are so minute and intermittent that it is tough to fault the game for them. The map is one of the areas, I feel, could have been handled better. The game is played in a rather interesting 2D perspective, however the map is shown to the player in a top down format. It’s not the worst thing in the world, or anything and can actually add another level of panic to the game at times, but it just feels out of place. Another thing that I found to be slightly irritating is a lack of direction. While I understand that the game is designed to be intentionally vague, I found myself wandering aimlessly throughout the game world on more than a few occasions. In these situations, a simple comment by the player character on what he was meant to be doing would have been incredibly helpful and would not have felt out of place.
I find it impossible to talk about Lone Survivor without mentioning the soundtrack. The audio work in the game is beyond amazing and is easily on par and even above the work found in a lot of AAA horror titles like Silent Hill Downpour or Dead Space. The music echoes the older work of Akira Yamaoka (circa. Silent Hill 2/3) but never feels like a knockoff; it always finds it’s own personality and always add’s to the emotional weight of what’s happening in the game. The sound effects and ambient audio is disgusting and horrific, all in the best possible way of course and I found myself constantly being more scared by what I heard than what I saw.
Lone Survivor’s art direction, audio work, theme and emotional impact all deliver well above the price of entry. Although the game can be short, depending on how you choose to play it, (my first run clocked in at about 6-7 hours) the variety of endings and the different ways you can choose to look after/abuse your character all mean you will see yourself coming back time and time again. One thing you will notice is that I don’t talk much about the plot in this review and that’s because I am of the opinion that Lone Survivor is one of those “the less you know” experiences.
If you have ever been a fan survival horror I cannot stress how important it is that you play this game. Once you have played it, tell your friends and have them play it. Hopefully if enough people rally around this emotionally stirring, deeply disturbing title, people may remember the level of psychological terror that only good ol’ Survival Horror can bring.
Lone Survivor is available on the Superflat Games website for only €9.99(PC/MAC)