To be technical, the full title is Lone Survivor: Director’s Cut, being that this game is an augmented re-release of the original Lone Survivor game. However, from henceforth, I am going to call it Lone Survivor anyway, for the sake of simplicity. Lone Survivor is designed by James Byrne and developed and published by Superflat Games and Curve Studios.
I found this game enjoyable, if not a little bit of a struggle. There were a number of pros to balance the cons, and I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about the work as a whole. To fully unpack my praises and concerns, I’ll have to break it down.
Fear: As Lone Survivor is a psychological-horror game, there is absolutely no excuse for you to enter without expecting to be scared in one way or another. While 16-bit, there are very macabre scenes depicted throughout the game, with bodies strewn about, blood everywhere, and unidentifiable, fleshy things growing along the walls. The music is unsettling, the lack of light (or rapidly changing light) can put you on edge, and the almost sporadic visions that the character suffers from are just a few things to be aware of.
Spiritual Content: There’s a metal cross in one room, as well as drawings of an angel in another, showing trace elements of Christian influence on the game’s design, even if those symbols are to serve no greater purpose than to make the atmosphere that much more uncanny.
Drugs: The main character is given the (highly recommended) option of consuming a number of strange pills, identified only by color. Red pills wake you up, while blue and green make you sleepy, but give you serendipitous dreams where you encounter strange characters and gain more supplies. If you ever need more pills, you can obtain them at the cost of your sanity.
Sexual/Suggestive Themes: There are no concerns in this area of review.
Violence: Monsters eat you. You shoot them. These are the only two concerns to be had. Because of the graphics, neither of these are of certain issue.
Profanity: I recall maybe one or two curses throughout my entire time playing. This is to say: there might be more, but Lone Survivor isn’t exactly a fountain of colorful words.
The story of Lone Survivor is… largely insubstantial. We’re given a generic, apocalyptic narrative from the voice of the protagonist, “You,” expositing how the world has undergone a terrible transformation and everything has become a fight for survival. Now on his own, You is just trying to make it through his day-to-day milling without starving or being killed by the mysterious, feral creatures that plague the city. His highest aspiration is simply to not die alone.
Any story and character developments after this introduction are earned through discovery of discarded documents, diary entries, and radio broadcasts, or meeting strange characters like The Man Who Wears a Box, The Director, or The Man in Blue. Each of these interactions gives only marginal insight into the direction of the game and You’s character progression/history. Most of the time, these encourage you just so you don’t give up, or provide a flimsy, existential crisis regarding the human condition. All of this might be okay if it weren’t for the stunted, exclamatory, and often unfulfilling dialogue that conveys it. The dialogue is not only the most appalling part of the story, but probably my least favorite aspect of the game completely. It’s short and unhelpful, as if thrown in out of necessity.
Most of the setting takes place on various levels of You’s apartment building, as you scavenge and unlock new rooms, floors, the basement, and eventually the city outside. The game is full of surreal and disturbing occurrences, often leading to vogue states where You loses track of where he is or what he was doing. There are also some locations (such as the strange hole on the second floor) which seem to enter different dimensions. All of these areas are obviously adulterated by the presence of the monsters that plague You and the rest of humanity.
To compensate for its story, Lone Survivor carries quite a few interesting gameplay quirks. At its core, it’s a side-scrolling survival game, and thus gains its power of horror from limited movement, scarce supplies, and increasingly dark atmospheres. As you go about your exploration, You must constantly find food to stave off his impending hunger, meaning that he must first find some auxiliary items–like water or a cooking pan–in order to prepare it. This element adds a stress on time, and makes you deftly aware of how much ammunition and battery power you have left in your arsenal. The rapid dwindle of your flashlight–which forces you to know when best to conserve energy–and the constant darkness–which demands you to have light at nearly all times–work together to make the player suffer under the weight of the practically inevitable segments where you must go without light.
This handicaps the player, as they cannot examine certain items or enter certain areas without light. The same is true should You ever run out of ammo. Because most of the enemies cannot be bypassed without dying, the player is forced to hide (if that convenience is even available) or swallow more Blue Pills to replenish their stock. On top of all this, You needs sleep, which can be found in the comfort of Apartment 206. Without sleep, your sanity starts to suffer. But if You sleeps without eating, that harms his sanity too, and he’ll begin to see things that aren’t there.
Apartment 206 acts as a safety hub for You’s misadventures and is both my favorite and least favorite location in the game. Favorite because You cannot be hurt there, and You can replenish his collection of rotting meat for strategically taking advantage of the monsters. Least favorite because, for some reason, this location has the most unsettling music in the entire game. You’d think the sanctuary from all the bad things would have some modicum of comfort, but no. The longer you’re in 206, the more uneasy the player becomes, as the low, bass-driven music and dark atmosphere gets under your skin and forces You to brave the outdoors once again.
One of my favorite gameplay features is the mirror-ports, which can be found riddled throughout the apartment building and city. These broken, dusty mirrors allow You to warp back to Apartment 206 for some much needed recharging. When finished, the 206 mirror can take you back to the mirror which originally brought you home.
When You goes to sleep, the player is prompted to wake him up. If you do not, a disconcerting heartbeat noise grows throughout the quiet. As far as I could tell, nothing changed if you left the game sitting during this time, but it was one of my favorite features. Such a small thing, but I found it almost meta and deeply keyed into the psychology and emotion of You’s circumstance. It’s almost as if the player is given the decision as to whether or not they want to wake up to that hellish world again, or if they’d rather stay in the peace of a quiet oblivion, never needing to suffer anymore. But the heartbeat is there to remind the player that this is momentary comfort; this feeling of floating in death is an illusion. You is alive. You must go on.
On that topic of psychology, there are numerous minor events in the game which play at You’s psychological stability, even if only in the mind of the player. You carries around a stuffed cat named “Sleepy Cat,” which may be spoken to at any time in the inventory. While it never responds, You finds comfort in the shared sentiments. A similar mechanic is available when the player decides whether or not to water Chuck, the plant outside Apartment 206, and provide for a real cat You finds in the city. Furthermore (and I only realized this in doing post-play research), there are palpable connections between The Man in Blue and The Man Who Wears a Box and the ongoing behavioral argument of Nature vs. Nurture, with each character representing one side of the conflict in You’s own personality.
There are also a number of Easter Eggs and external references throughout Lone Survivor, not all of which were significant to me or readily noticed during my playthrough. To my delight, however, there are plenty of nods to Silent Hill, which was fun.
Despite the fact that I played Lone Survivor on the Playstation 4, it was originally released for PC and has the graphical capacity of a Nintendo at best. This is done intentionally, and the retro stylization makes for a satisfyingly fresh mode of gaming. It was definitely a throwback for me, and I was eating up the 16-bit glory. This can obviously be a turnoff for some, considering the growing number of gamers who hold an aversion to “old-looking” games.
Okay. The audio and music. This was touched upon briefly during the segment on Apartment 206, but, in true horror fashion, Lone Survivor strives off an antsy, dread-inducing musical score. However, the soundtrack, while perfectly fitting, is nothing special. Although, The Director’s theme is pretty jammin’, not gonna lie. But what I’d like to bring focus to isn’t the soundtrack, it’s the sounds–in particular, the ambient static of some of the inter-dimensional locations, where you have no idea what’s happening, and the blood-curdling noise the Thinmen enemy make when You is spotted. The players are quickly conditioned to hate that noise. If that one sound effect was removed from the game, it would be ten times less frightening… but through repeated, horrifying experiences, this sound drills into your bloodstream and freezes you to the core every time one of those cursed creatures shows up–a definite plus, considering the genre in question.
- Strong, haunting atmosphere
- Retro graphics with modern processing power
- Numerous psychological applications
- Multiple endings
- Story and dialogue are corny and confusing
- A lot of very useful items can easily never be found
- Characters are one-dimensional
- If you don’t know that losing your sanity will resupply you with pills and supplies, you are at a distinct risk of feeling like its impossible to move forward and consequently quit playing
Overall, Lone Survivor is an enjoyable game, though not something I find myself playing again in the future. It definitely succeeded in its goal of scaring me several times, and provided a generally disturbing vibe throughout the entire game. If you want to kill some time and enjoy the horror genre, I recommend giving this one a chance. You might unearth a greater appreciation for it than I did. Either way, I think we can all agree that stuffed cat dolls are the greatest things ever, and Sleepy Cat is no exception. Love that thing.
VERSE OF THE DAY
2 Samuel 7:22
“How great you are, Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears.”
SONG OF THE DAY
“Superheroes” by The Script
The Bottom Line
A fresh, retro take on the horror genre, available on PC and Playstation Network.