When I first saw Lone Survivor pop up on Steam I was instantly intrigued. The screenshots looked eery even with a pixelated art style, the trailer was fantastically tantalising and the music featured was beautiful. However I dismissed the thought of this game scaring me. Don’t get me wrong I’ve jumped at games like Dead Space or Resident Evil but I’ve never really felt on edge, a true sense of fear and dread about what is happening or what can happen. A game that has immersed me to the point where I can begin to fear for my character as if he were me. Then I played Lone Survivor.
It’s clear other reviewers have been affected in the same way I have, one even mentioning it caused him to have nightmares. It makes it hard to review as it’s a game that you need to experience. I can explain the mechanics and the way the game goes about its story but it won’t help you understand the feeling it gives you as you sit there, mesmerised by it’s imagery and abstract narrative that leaves you feeling alone and frightened.
The game centers around a nameless character you control as he leads his day to day life of survival in a post-apocalyptic world. A virus is turning people into horrific creatures that relentlessly attack the remaining living. It’s seems like standard zombie fare at first until you realise that nothing you may be seeing or doing is even real. The game frequently messes with your head with strange characters that act completely out of character for the situation, horrors that appear out of nowhere and bizarre dream sequences reminiscent of Twin Peaks’ abstract madness. You never know if what your character is seeing is real or what lies around the next corner leaving you completely on edge and always questioning the world and people you meet.
The murky pixelated graphics may make people think the game can’t generate fear but it just serves to make you imagine the horrors as you watch. It’s a game that realises that a fundamental part of horror is not what you see but how your imagination takes hold and makes the horror for you. The thin men enemies seem all the more creepy and disturbing when you can barely make out exactly what they are or how they are deformed. And frequent horrific bloody scenes feel all the more disgusting left to your imagination putting together the images and bringing them to life in your own head. It’s beautifully done and you can tell the creator Jasper Byrne has a real talent for horror writing.
Gameplay is awkward but for a reason, it reminds me of the earlier Silent Hill games in some ways, which is probably some of the only games you can compare it to. Your character can either sneak past monsters in a hiding spot, using studying of movement patterns or placement of rotting meat. Sometimes the only way is to fight though which involves your character using a firearm. You can aim in 3 directions but your character isn’t exactly the best shot meaning there is some risk and reward in waiting for the enemies to come close for an accurate headshot at the cost of them being in attack range or repeated body and leg shots that will cost you more ammo. Hoarding of resources is a main aspect of the game. Food, ammo and batteries for your flashlight are all in limited supply meaning you have to conserve carefully. Your character also must regularly eat and sleep otherwise, well, I haven’t had the stomach to find out. Luckily mirrors act as portals to your home where you can rest up once again. There are other means of receiving more resources than purely around the world but can be at the cost of your characters sanity which will in turn effect your ending.
The games narrative is both disturbing and bizarre. Even though you control your character you feel like you’re not in control of him totally. He will write diary entries and comment on things you examine in strange and creepy ways that makes you question his sanity from the start. The other characters you meet are no less strange and whose very existence and motivation you constantly question. It’s a game that shouldn’t be rushed though, the game rewards you for soaking in the narrative and themes and it allows you to not get frustrated with some of the awkward control means.
There were times where the game did frustrate however. There were moments where I felt like I had no choice but to use the bizarre dream mechanic to get supplies due to the game no feasibly allowing me to sneak by some nasties. Also the awkward controls can sometime drag you out of the experience when fumbling to defend yourself.
I can truly say I’ve never had a game that made me feel a genuine sense of fear. It’s a game that knows how to do horror effectively and even more so in an interactive medium. It’s a game of isolation, survival and fear, an experience like no other I have ever tried. This is a game everyone should try and I commend Jasper Byrne for making a game that has genuinely left me chilled to the bone.
Play this game, experience this game you owe it yourselves. Cut the lights, turn up the volume and let yourself be immersed as the Lone Survivor.