Review: Lone Survivor [2/3]
A reminder of survival horror’s past.
Purchased as a gift for me, Lone Survivor is a game that sets its sights on re-capturing the atmosphere and experience of playing Silent Hill, but in two dimensions. At least, this is what I had heard about the game before I got my hands on it. Being that Silent Hill is one of my very most favorite games, I leapt at the chance to play Lone Survivor, and surprisingly enough it delivers in a way that even Silent Hill fails to anymore.
The player takes the role of a character simply referred to as “you” who is trapped in a city abandoned to monsters and a mysterious disease. Daylight never comes and it’s up to You to figure out how to escape while maintaining your health: physical and mental. Where other games have employed this mechanic in as far as maintaining your sanity, Lone Survivor takes emotional well being into account as well. It’s not enough to merely avoid unpleasant scenarios, “You” benefits from small things like watering house plants or cooking a meal. It’s a game that’s as much about defeating despair as it is about survival horror.
The protagonist requires food and rest to survive, and batteries to power your flashlight. Setting out with limited supplies requires the player to carefully consider how far they will explore on any given day, and when they need to return. Following this rhythm in combination with the puzzles that “You” must solve creates an atmosphere of tension. But even when conditions are ideal, there are still an array of creatures which stand in your way. It’s up to the player how they intend to deal with them. Monsters can be destroyed, snuck around, or distracted. The first and last options require use of valuable supplies, whereas the second option isn’t always available to “You.” Having to determine the best course of action adds another layer to the game’s tension.
While it’s possible to exhaust your supplies, more can be acquired by scavenging or (by means which are not explained) by taking pills and going to sleep. These transport the player to dream worlds inhabited by other characters. When “You” wakes up, he now has more supplies, but his mental health will be affected in different ways.
Lone Survivor does an excellent job of creating a world around “You” that’s threatening and all encompassing. Similar to Silent Hill, Lone Survivor does an effective job of creating an artificial sense of claustrophobia that motivates the player to find a way out as quickly as possible. Even in 2D, the monster designs are unsettling and at times almost frightening. Jasper Byrne (the game’s creator) knows the right combination of visual design, sound design, and animation to get under your skin and create a sense of looming danger. It helps that the game’s mysteries are left mostly for the player to speculate on as well. It will provide resolution without answering all of your questions, which is something else I admired about the original Silent Hill.
Really, the only fault I can find with the game is that it is too short to be able to allow the player to fully explore its mechanics. It offers a world that’s going to stick with you after you’re done playing but its qualities as a game aren’t fully realized. It’s Silent Hill in miniaturized form, capturing the classic elements of survival horror and all I can ask of it is for more. It’s tough to justify that sort of game in AAA form, but Lone Survivor demonstrates again that there are great games and great opportunities beyond the AAA realm.