Lone Survivor Review
publisher: Superflat Games
developer: Superflat Games
|ESRB rating: RP
release date: Apr 10, 12
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So you wanna be a gaming hipster and play indie titles? Fabtastic! I have just the thing for you: Lone Survivor, a psychological horror game made entirely by one person. It's 2D, it's low-fi and it borrows heavily from the Silent Hill series and David Lynch's movies. Doesn't get any hipsterastic than that. Now, if the abovementioned names mean anything to you, then you already know what to expect. Constant darkness, creepy atmosphere, too much ambiguity, very little hand-holding and unforgettable music. If someone would have told me that I'm listening to a brand new Silent Hill soundtrack, I would have been fooled. Now this isn't gonna be a love letter to Jasper Byrne (the developer) because once again, contrary to everyone else, my opinion is somewhat less than rosy. Let's face it, I'm just way more hip that way. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Here's a bit of a backstory for you. A plague has ravaged your city and you seem to be the only one left that's still human. You wake up in someone's apartment and after a short introduction you're tasked to look for other survivors, while having to gather food, ammo and various useful items for yourself. This apartment is your home base and you can "teleport" back by using mirrors that are strategically placed throughout the environment. Only here can you save your progress by sleeping in your bed. The Lynch aspect of the game comes out through your dreams, and depending on what you've done during the day (did I mention that it's always night?), you can meet several dubious characters that may or may not want what's best for you. None of them's a midget though.
I'm not gonna go into specifics because I want you to be as confused as I was, but I will tell you not to expect a deep story, straightforward explanations or, God forbid, closure. In true Silent Hill fashion, you're thrown tidbits of cryptic information and it's your job to fill in the blanks. I have my theory about what was going on, although it's too clich' to mention. Luckily, the game isn't really about the 'why'; it's more about the 'how'. The way you survive is pretty much the only thing you should be concerned about. Eat well, sneak past enemies instead of killing them, be nice to the weirdos you encounter and, well, you know the drill. It sounds simple, but you can fail pretty hard at it. There's barely any food in this game and most of it is spoiled. Ammo and flashlight batteries are equally scarce and sneaking past the creatures is rarely an option. Add to that the fact that our protagonist wants to be fed every few minutes, and you'll be constantly worried about finding supplies.
The player is constantly under pressure. For that reason there's very little room or even desire left for experimentation. After finishing the game, I turned to the Internet and found out about the optional activities that I missed, because I was always in a hurry to search new areas for something to fill my guy's belly with. These activities (not exactly side-quests) have an influence on the game's outcome, so they matter, and that fact should have been hinted at early on. My adventure lasted 4:40 hrs and after the credits rolled I got a detailed report card of all my shenanigans. I would have liked that report to be more flattering.
Here's a question: how's the player supposed to know what's optional and what isn't ? For instance, a cat makes a somewhat dramatic appearance at one point, so you know he's there for a reason. You can't give it anything from your inventory, not even milk, so you move on, expecting to find some item that will help you tame it later on. And then the game ends. Opportunity missed. Here's another poser - the first time I came across one of the characters, he was talking like we've already met. I knew I was supposed to meet him earlier, but he never made an appearance. Was it a bug? Am I still a noob after 25 years of gaming? (Yes. - Ed. Vader). I don't know. But if I had a simple objectives list, I would. A game doesn't become less hardcore if it's infused with a bit of common sense.
We're being spoiled by nearly every current-generation title and are given achievements for the most trivial of things, so, naturally, we've become somewhat jaded and comfortable. So, games that require a bit of thinking need to let us know in advance. "Hey, stupid! These are the rules, take 'em or leave 'em." It would give us a chance to get a good ending without having to replay the game.
All that aside, Lone Survivor is solid. It delivers in all the areas a horror game should. You'll feel fear, loneliness, desperation and those of you who aren't familiar with the Silent Hill formula will also be intrigued by the narrative.
Lone Survivor shines in the audio department and the pixellation has its appeal, it's one of the few games that gets the concept of survival-horror, amazing effort for a one-man team;
Should have been a bit more user friendly, more opportunities for sneaking would have been welcome, no possibility to remap controls, there's too much Silent Hill here and too little Lone Survivor.
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