Lone Survivor review - page 2

Lone Survivor feature
Lone Survivor feature

Other than using the items mandatory for staying alive, you won’t find that many objects used for puzzles, nor will you find that many puzzles in general. Perhaps that's a good thing, as the ones that are present—including finding a makeshift item to open a tricky door—feel a little uninspired. During the game’s final puzzle, in fact, I knew the answer to the puzzle simply by picking up an object and guessing what it’d be for. The puzzles work as a means to an end, but they aren’t by any means satisfying.

Adventure gamers should note that while it’s optional to fire your gun, Lone Survivor does still require you to be on your toes. Even if you don’t harm a soul, the experience is far more action-packed and twitchy than your standard 2D adventure game. Monsters are encountered fairly frequently, and at first you’ll find yourself hiding in dark areas and tossing bait to escape enemies. Later you’ll pick up flares to distract them, but I found the precision required to place them effectively was no easier than simply firing your gun in the right direction in the heat of the moment. There’s also a section halfway through where you’re chased across several maze-like screens by a monster, and if you don’t have the area memorized, it’s unlikely that you’ll avoid being attacked or running into a dead end. You’ll have to be okay with dying several times, though the frequency of save points makes the occasional death much more tolerable.

Though the game has a distinctively low-res, 8-bit style with a muted palette and noise filter, it’s still incredibly (if disturbingly) beautiful. With flickering lights, clever use of spotlights and color, and environments that change and contort, you may find yourself in awe and a little frightened at the same time. The developer composed his own music, which has a very creepy, mellow pop, lo-fi sound. Add to that some haunting classic Silent Hill-esque sound effects, and you have a very thoughtfully constructed package that screenshots alone cannot do justice.

One thing that feels a little out of place, however, is the dialog. It comes across a little flat, and the main character often talks aloud, narrating his feelings, which detracts from the solitary mood and the ability to invest your own emotions in the experience. Due to the nature of the game—one that’s far more about atmosphere than some big, overarching plot—dialog may have been better used in a sparse, suggestive way. Diary notes and letters found along the way certainly add to the narrative, but coming face-to-face with one of the few survivors and having them gab at you removes you from the horror somewhat.

By the second half of this roughly four-hour game, you’ll be a little more aware of the psychological pitfalls thrown at you, and you’ll find yourself much more in tune with traveling back to areas that will net you food and sleep. The stress of item management will also be lessened somewhat, because by then you’ll have some understanding of the game’s once-obtuse details regarding how much, say, cheese and crackers will fill you up, or whether the little red pill will help you power on without sleep. There’s a bit of backtracking required, but it’s nothing lengthy; if anything, it’s satisfying to go back to older areas when you feel you have a bit more control, whether you’ve already killed the enemies or found an easy way around them.

Once you get used to navigating the apartment building, the game is straightforward and linear enough to make it relatively clear which doors need unlocking and which monsters must be overcome. You’ll eventually make your way outside of the apartment and see a little of what’s become of the streets, stores and hospitals in town. But while you may encounter a survivor or find someone’s remains, you never feel like you’re unraveling a great mystery or even hoping to discover one. This game is more about the tension of being one of the last remaining survivors and seeing how your personal choices affect the character and his ending.

While the experience feels a little on the short side, it's not unfairly so. It’s a brief but stressful experience that's enjoyable while it lasts, but you’ll be emotionally relieved to get out of there at the end. Some things can lengthen the play time a bit. You’ll come across objects and characters that serve as side quests that either procure new items or alter the story, including a stray cat that you can feed if it warms up to you. Add to that the different methods of playing and replaying the game (shoot/don’t shoot, eat healthy/pop pills), and you have a lot of varied replay value.

Returning to the contentious topic of genre labels, this game shows glimpses of the classic Sierra/LucasArts adventure games of yore, but with its near-constant danger it's ultimately best considered a survival horror game with an old-school 2D aesthetic. If you're okay with a bit of action-infused side-scrolling, then taken on its own terms—as a game about surviving, and doing whatever it takes to get through—it’s fantastic. Ultimately, Lone Survivor is a very personal, choice-driven experiment in psychological horror, and the combined elements from different genres make for a unique experience that you’ll not want to miss.

What our readers think of Lone Survivor

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Terabin Terabin
Apr 19, 2012

Anyone else play it yet? Is it Lynchian as the feature says?

marcd2011 marcd2011
Apr 21, 2012

I played it, but didn’t really like it as there was far too much aimless wandering and backtracking. There were some nice weird/creepy moments here and there, but when you spend 90% of the time going in rooms you’ve already been in by mistake because everywhere looks identical, then it detracts from the experience. I got up to day 7 in the game before i got bored, which is probably an hour or two of play. Maybe i didn’t give it enough of a chance, but since about 5 of the days consisted of going to a couple of rooms then the character complaining about being tired, or hungry, or both, i decided it wasn’t worth continuing. The graphics also put me off big time. These aren’t just low-res, but ultra low-res, and playing the game on a 60” plasma was an awful experience. Hopefully this stupid “retro” phase will end soon and indie developers will start doing work on all the aspects of their games once again and stop neglecting graphics.

Apr 23, 2012

Days pass whenever you go to bed to rest, so it’s not an indicator of progress, but yeah, you’d know that if you played the game for any substantial length of time. Also, wandering into the same rooms repeatedly sounds like you probably didn’t know to use your map. Is this your first experience with a survival horror-style game? I’ll bet if you give the game a real shot (it really sounds like you didn’t), it might surprise you.

May 3, 2012

It is a rare occurrence that I feel as trapped and invested in any game as I did in Lone Survivor. Every time I stopped playing, I found my mind wandering back to the bleak hallways and streets, the lonely struggle for survival, sanity, and purpose in a bleak and empty world. My decisions were both determined by curiosity and fear. This is truly a beautiful game.

Djinnius Djinnius
Feb 2, 2013

could have been an interesting game back in the days of zx spectrum , or commodore 64…..

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