I lost myself in Lone Survivor's world in spite of the utter lack of happiness, but I doubt I'd have it any other way.
There was only a single moment in Lone Survivor that I found pleasant, and it came towards the end of the game. In a game so preoccupied with instilling a feeling of hopelessness in the player, I had begun to lose hope that such a moment would come, but it did, at precisely the right moment. Indeed, that is exactly what Lone Survivor is, a game about moments, and about whether you choose to fold at that time, or struggle through them. Thankfully, it matters which way you decide to go.
Your character doesn’t have a name, and is just as confused as the player at the outset. All you have is a map of the floor you live on, and some rotting meat. That’s to distract the thin men that creep about the halls. They just love that meat, apparently. Things start to get rather more obfuscated from there, as your world dramatically unravels around you through a series of interesting, enigmatic characters that guide your character through this seemingly desolate locale. This ambiguity is Lone Survivor’s greatest strength when it comes to world building. Time is seemingly never taken to explain what happened to the world, and the main character is just as in the dark as the player. The dialogue itself is also sparse, choosing to not give up much of the ambiguity that permeates the game. This makes the mental health system all the more curious, as it goes almost unstated throughout your little jaunt through hell. Your actions help to mold the direction the narrative takes, and the endings you receive are a direct result of your interactions with other characters, among other things.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the gameplay plays second fiddle to the story. In Lone Survivor, how you deal with your enemies has a good sense of variety to it. You’re almost never without a means of escape, and when you are, you die quickly. Death comes swiftly in this world, with a couple of swipes from a monster being all it takes to kill your character. Sometimes, this can irritate, especially on the 5th or 6th attempt at navigating a corridor filled with enemies. Although, this may have been down to my stubbornness in not changing up my approach. Exploration yields rewards, be it flares, or food to help you make it through your day without starving to death. Every little find matters… even if I didn’t find a bloody can opener until more than halfway through the game.
You may be turned off at first by Lone Survivor’s appearance, with the plain pixel art aesthetic appearing to undersell the actual survival horror ambiance. As you progress, however, you begin to appreciate it all the more. That same visual design that started off the game gradually morphs, as environmental effects enter the equation, and the monster design uses the choice to great effect. It’s chilling to see something so simplistic shambling towards you, as your brain creates additional details to fill in the blanks the pixel art doesn’t get to. I guess there’s something just as scary about the details you don’t get to see. Underpinning all of this is a wonderfully sparse soundtrack, paired with appropriately creepy sound design.
I rarely play survival horror games, but Lone Survivor drew me in with its simple mechanics, but crafted a world I was happy to lose my self in. Well, perhaps happy isn’t the right word to use. I lost myself in Lone Survivor’s world in spite of the utter lack of happiness, but I doubt I’d have it any other way. Though it sometimes frustrates, and occasionally fails to explain why events have significance, these feel like part of the game’s unique sense of itself. Sometimes, despair isn’t a bad thing to find in a game.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. Both the PlayStation Vita & PlayStation 3 versions of the game were used for this review.
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Developer:Superflat Games / Curve Studios
Release Date:September 2013