As I said in this weeks Video Mondaily, today’s review is on Jasper Byrne’s indie survival horror: Lone Survivor. Now it’s worth mentioning from the word go that this was indeed a solo project from one single man, so that ought to be taken into consideration when you have a look at the video from Monday and any other bits and pieces of information that you pick up about the game. I say this but honestly, I don’t need to make any excuses for Lone Survivor because it is actually absolutely fantastic!
The game focuses on your character, an unnamed and unknown survivor of some apocalyptic disaster which has turned most of the population into weird shambling horrors. One hesitates to call them zombies because it’s never mentioned that they are dead, rather the creatures are the victims of some virus which ravaged the population of the world/city/apartment complex. Generally I thought of the creatures as “mutants” so that’s what I will call them for the duration of this review (this name was helped along by the appearance of some other unusual enemies, but I digress). The game’s premise is rather simple your character (“you”?) have been holed up in your flat for weeks now and have decided that it is time to escape your apartment complex and escape the city itself – perhaps the idea is to search for survivors or to head to Pacific Playland (WOO! TWINKIES!), whatever survivors do.
The game functions as a side-scrolling 2-D shooter. There are some 3-D elements, hiding places and the map are 3-D, but for the most part you are walking down straight corridors until you come to a door or a turn. The first rule of Lone Surviving is: “Always know which way you came from, and walk the opposite direction”. The first thing you really notice about the game is that it’s graphics and design are all pixel sprites. Now I’m not going to lie, I’m not a massive fan of that sort of look or feel in a game but in Lone Survivor I found myself really liking the looks of the game. The character design, level design, all the backgrounds and the creatures themselves, everything adds together to create an eerie and creepy atmosphere. It feels well put together and well designed and actually quite artistic, I definitely liked the looks very much.
Your character has to traverse the game in search of that last twinkie by completing a series of small easy puzzles. It’s a fairly standard “find item, use item on door, door opens, find next item” sort of puzzle game, but the way it does it is definitely far more amusing and diverting than that. Sometimes you will pass areas with locked doors or blocked holes on the way to your objective and then you will reach your objective where you will find an item that can be used all the way back by that locked door. This means that Master Byrne (as I will call him henceforth) manages to get the most interest and variety out of the rather small environments in which your character is thrown. The second rule of Lone Surviving is: “Object X does not always work on Lock Y, but instead might be used on Window G”. Along the way you also find scraps of paper and notes from diaries from various other survivors, a large number of them quite possibly insane, which add to the back-story of the game.
The music and sounds of the game fit in perfectly with the atmosphere, both enhancing and adding to the already excellent creepy and unsettling feel of the game. It’s unfortunate that in today’s gaming world it does take good graphics to really scare and surprise people, no matter how dark and eerie a pixel sprite is, it just doesn’t have the same effect. It’s in saying this that I would like to point out what Lone Survivor really does best and that’s actually create this tense and creepy atmosphere for the duration of the time you play the game, and it does it WITHOUT fancy graphics or a physics engine with several numbers and letters after the name. The third rule of Lone Surviving is also something which can be transposed into the real world: “Shiny does not always mean better!”
In a way the game actually reminded me on amnesia a fair amount, your character has to rely on darkness and hiding in order to survive most of the time, and while you do get the option to fight back, the combat feels slightly ineffectual and it’s always preferable to run and hide rather than fight, seeking ways around the mutants rather than through. In aid of this you have a flash-light and a gun, one for seeing and hiding (when on and off respectively) and the other for shooting if you are seen, it’s a fairly straightforward system really. As well as this one of the major game mechanics is that your character actually seems to require sleep and food. This is something I’m a little uncertain about because after you have travelled a certain distance (or you pass some set points) your character starts complaining of feeling hungry and needing sleep, but I’m not sure whether this actually has any direct effect on the game other than little messages popping up every few seconds. For example your character doesn’t move any slower if hungry or tired, but then I never actually allowed him to go more than a few minutes before my nerve gave in and I catered to his whims. Thus I do not know whether or not it’s actually possible to die of starvation, although it is worth mentioning here that food also serves as means of restoring health. That ties in rather nicely with rule four of Lone Surviving which is: “Eating is good for you, avoid the squishy green part in the middle”.
Before we come to the traditional MMGaming complaints I would like to talk about a fairly large theme behind the game on which I am still undecided whether I approve or not. The game is actually titled “A psychological survival horror adventure game”. Now I’ve mentioned survival, I’ve mentioned horror and it ought to be fairly clear that there is some adventuring and gaming to be had. What I have yet to cast my beady eye on is the psychological part. You see, as you start your journeys through the game you travel under the impression that “well, end of the world apocalypse, that’s all there is to it”, but no! There are some rather odd psychedelic moments throughout the game, moments which at first you can pass off as your character’s nightmares but slowly you come under the impression that actually, this character of yours is slowly going insane. There are tunnels through walls in the house which take minutes to walk through, and involve walking past giant hearts, there are disappearing party guests and the way your character talks is actually a little confusing at times, as he seems to say the wrong things at some moments. But it’s not just ALL in your character’s mind, for example after you first run out of bullets or batteries for you flash-light you pass out and then wake up back in your bed with some new supplies. Now I haven’t actually reached the end of this game yet so all of the weirdness might be explained at the end (having had to play through the first two floor three times put a dent in my time playing this game), but playing through it feels decidedly odd. I can understand some of the bizarre things as being necessary for gameplay and the overall immersive atmosphere but other moments threw me right back out of the game causing me to stare blankly at the screen saying “Well that just doesn’t make sense”. As such I would like to state my neutrality of these little bits and pieces, some were good, some were not, I’m not sure how the game would have felt without them though. Lone Surviving rule number five, and this might be a bit of a stretch, is: “If you ate the green squishy part in the middle, please have a friend record your actions because that shit will be fucking hilarious yo!”
It is now that I must announce the only part of the game which truly bothers me. For the most part the gameplay and immersion is sublime and extraordinarily enjoyable. There is one little thing I wish I could change though, and I mean wish as in I think it’s current incarnation actually detracts from the game. The controls of the game involve controlling your characters movements with the arrow keys and your left hand will be hovering over “x” for the most part (the “action” button). When you draw your gun though, your character can no longer turn 180 degrees to shoot those behind him, instead he must put his gun away, turn and then put the gun back up again. As well as this he only has three aiming positions, up, straight ahead and down. Down is pointless and unnecessary while the other two positions are used to kill the mutants. Now normally you would think that up is the correct way to aim, in order to hit the mutants in the head, but actually you will always end up firing over the on-coming monster’s heads instead of hitting them. And shooting at them dead on, hitting their torso’s always seems like a waste of ammunition (it takes around five shots) and it takes a long time. Now I am willing to bet that this was a creative decision to make the combat more difficult and thus make people want to avoid it, but that said I really wish it was a little different. I would have far preferred a mouse aiming system, or perhaps a greater degree of variation in the angles with which you can fire (i.e. you can shoot straight, or a little higher, or a little higher still, etc). As it was, the combat felt clunky and a little irritating at times, which was a shame as it marred what was otherwise a fantastic experience. The final rule for Lone Surviving is: “What kind of noob doesn’t know to shoot a zombie in the head?”
Lone Survivor can be bought on Steam for £6.99 or whatever your local equivalent is, or you can go directly to the official website, it will however cost you a little more if you buy it from the website directly.