Welcome to Ghosts of Gaming Past — here we’ll be reviewing older horror games, classics and non-classics we missed when they were originally released. Have a game you’d like reviewed? Send us an email.
Written by Kevin Kennedy, @thekevmiester
Developed by indie darling Jasper Bryne, Lone Survivor is the game that many survival horror enthusiasts have been waiting a long time for. A game that takes a tentative and loving step back in time and attempts to rediscover that eery, unsettling feeling that current gen games seem to have side stepped in favor of a more action orientated flavor. Does it accomplish what it set out to do?
You take the role of a nameless survivor of a peculiar disease, which seems to turn it’s infected into mindless monster whose bodies are literally inside out. On his adventure, our hero will come across depressing house parties, giant monsters and a man who wears a cardboard box on his head, as he looks for a mysterious girl in blue, whom keeps seeing visions of. The search for this girl essentially acts as the sole thrust of the narrative, though to be perfectly honest, there isn’t much of a story here to speak of, though that is clearly by design. The game seems unwilling to give a strong foothold for the player to step onto, with strong suggestions throughout that the world is for of hallucinations or may even be set entirely within the hero’s head, as sanity is one of the key themes of the story.
You’ll come across strange characters whom speak in riddles and seem reluctant to answer questions directly. If you’re a fan of some of David Lynch’s stranger works (I definitely got a strong Twin Peaks vibe), then you may get more out of it, but personally the conversations became less and less interesting as the game went on, to such an extent that I mostly forgot about them as soon as they were finished. They rarely further the plot or even provide characterization and while I’m sure that they mean something Mr. Byrne, if we were at least made to care about the characters or world before the weirdness started taking over, I might find myself getting more invested. While it’s clear that a lot of the game meant to be reflected upon afterwards, the game isn’t above some displays of nonsense. Such as it is, it was the atmosphere and gameplay that mostly kept me playing.
To be fair, one way in which the story works is in how it compliments the gameplay. While there is often a question mark on your map telling you where to go, getting there isn’t always that simple, resulting in a lot of backtracking and item collecting. Oh, and you’ll also get lost, a lot, even with the map. Survival horror is at it’s best when the gameplay helps dictate the tone of the game and while I may not be overly fond of the content, I can at least applaud the way it blends seamlessly into the game.
Lone Survivor has been drawing a lot of comparisons with Silent Hill and for good reason as from a gameplay perspective it’s incredibly similar, just missing a dimension. Each encounter in the game brings it’s own challenges and questions. Do you waste bullets and risk noise by killing the “Thin men” meaning that you’ll never have to deal with them again or do you carefully sneak around? As the game goes on you will find yet more ways to deal with the enemies and while it’s easy to be complacent, one wrong move can have you jumping in your skin and running for dear life.
Combat is somewhat slow and sluggish by design, helping to ramp up the tension, but it’s not quite perfect. Thin men stop being tense after a while and become nothing but a nuisance. There are certain segments in which you HAVE to fight them head on if you don’t have certain items on hand, as sneaking is context sensitive and can only work in particular areas of the game. Most survival horror games at least give you an option of a mellee attack but here your gun is the only means of attack. If there’s an enemy between you and your goal and you have no means of sneaking around or fighting, then you’re out of luck.
Resource management is a much more important aspect than you would think and while it can be frustrating as I just mentioned, it is also rather refreshing. There were two occasions when I literally had to quit the game because I was stuck with no supplies with monsters blocking my exit. As such I constantly kept a close eye on my inventory and every bullet fired hurt me more than it did the enemy.
The game’s visuals, while hardly head turning, defiantly have a unique look to them. You’ll never have to pixel hunt about the screen looking for items as they are usually easy to see, which is very welcome in this sort of game. The design of the monsters gets a passing grade, but upon realising that they are people that have been torn inside out, it’s hard not to notice a surprising lack of blood on them. There are only two types of enemy to deal with in the games (excluding the rather memorable boss fights) though it’s clear that they aren’t the focus of the game and even seem to be something of an afterthought; the game’s got to have enemies right?
The sound draws yet more comparisons with Silent Hill. From the strange noise that the enemies make to the jarring, at times soothing music that plays now and again; the title music may well give you a flashback to the good old days on the PS2. It’s all excellent stuff, sometimes interesting but always unsettling.
There is already a dedicated following for this game and I can certainly see why. It’s a refreshing callback to the classic survival horror games that focus more on attacks to the physique than the body, while also providing some imaginative and memorable imagery and sounds. Those willing to dig a little deeper will certainly find more trinkets, secrets and yes, even alternate endings waiting for them (make your decisions very carefully). The narrative doesn’t really have any drive and more options in combat would be welcome but those looking for Silent Hill like spooks can find it here.
The Final Word: A worthy callback to the horror games of yore. The content and story may well split people, but given the price it is quite easy to recommend this game to those interested.
Lone Survivor is available on the Mac, Linux and PC (reviewed).