Game Review: Lone Survivor
Jasper Byrne’s 8-bit survival horror game, Lone Survivor, is certainly terrifying in ways I can’t begin to explain… I suppose I’ll have to do my best, really.
The game takes place in and around an apartment building some while after the outbreak of a horrific, disfiguring disease that turns ordinary people into fleshly, hungry abominations. In short, it’s I Am Legend all over again. However, I think this game is actually better than the aforementioned film. How so? Well for starters, the story feels rather deep- much of the “horror” is psychological in nature. Rather than resorting to cheap scares, the game takes advantage of what could be going on in the protagonist’s head at any given moment. The result is utterly terrifying- I began questioning whether or not the events of the game were happening. Are you actually insane? Is the world around you falling apart, or is it the world inside your mind? While I don’t want to give away too much of the story, I am willing to tell you that it’s one of the most interesting and well laid out I’ve ever encountered.
Not only is the story told by dialogue, however, but also in the environments- you’ll stumble across various notes, graffiti, broken down apartments… While the game’s in 8-bit (not quite true 8-bit, more of a retraux style 8-bit), the environments are just as terrifying as the dialogue. For once, I actually felt nervous traversing the darkened halls of the building. As per usual in survival horror, your flashlight’s batteries will occasionally run out, and it’s at these times that the game becomes truly disturbing. Stumbling about in the darkness, you’ll be desperate to find a door, somewhere, surely it was to the left, right? It’s in the dark that the game is actually very scary, in part due to your heightened hearing, and in part because you’ve seen what the place looks like in the light.
Overall, it was graphically satisfying, though the survivor’s mask does look a little funny… At first glance, it looks like a massive, garish grin. That sort of amps up the horror, I suppose. In all honesty, I think it should have been green, but it’s not that big a deal once you realize that he has little reason to really smile.
The game’s music is pretty good too, it’s mostly atmospheric and tends to amp up as danger grows nearer. It’s not too intrusive, but you’ll definitely notice it. The sound effects, too, are pretty good. As mentioned before, it all blends together into a well designed and unnerving environment that wreaks of dread. You see, even though there’s plenty of fear that something could happen at any moment, there’s also the feeling that terrible things have already happened. It’s like a being a little kid again and seeing the dark hallway- you’re not sure what’s going to happen when you walk through it, but you know that you have to if you want to reach your goal (presumably some sort of snack, or in this case the means to avoid becoming a snack).
Something else I appreciated about this game was how cerebral it managed to be- shooting at the monsters will only get their attention, thus you’re better off sneaking past them. You can drop rotten meat to feed them, hide in the shadows and get past them quickly. Sure, you could kill them off one by one, but that would still be pretty risky- they can box you in, and you can’t shoot all that quickly. Truth be told, I would’ve preferred mouse-based controls for shooting, since it’s rather hard to be precise- you can only shoot at certain angles. Otherwise, however, it’s very well handled.
It’s definitely one of the most unique games I’ve ever played, and it doesn’t rely on gore, cheap scares or otherwise common hallmarks of horror. Instead, it’s scary in a Poe/Lovecraft kind of way- it’ll make you question the nature of the Survivor’s existence itself, and it’s definitely worth trying. While I don’t usually like to draw up comparisons, I think this time it has to be said: this is the Braid of horror games. It’s deep, serious, and it plays very well.
Still apprehensive? Try the demo here.