Review: Those Who Remain

Purgatory: The Game

Developer: Camel 101
Publisher: Wired Production, Whisper Games
Genre: Horror, Psychological Horror, Survival Horror
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Rating: M for Mature
Price: $19.99

Horror is an oft-neglected love of mine. I don’t play it nearly as often as I’d like, but when I do, it’s usually a good time. However, after the disappointing experience of Moons of Madness, the most recent horror game I played, I hesitated to tackle Those Who Remain. I didn’t want another disappointing game so soon. Nevertheless, I took the plunge and hoped for the best.

You play as a grief-stricken man named Edward, who recently lost his daughter in a car wreck. He has turned to alcohol to cope with the guilt. In a haze of depression and drink, he grabs a gun and considers ending it all. A text from his girlfriend pulls him out of it, and he leaves to go see her. Thus begins the story.

No pressure.

Content Guide:

Alcohol/Drugs: Edward is an alcoholic. In a house, you find pills in a sink, and Edward wonders aloud if someone overdosed. At another point, you find a journal in which the writer, who recently lost a child, mentions his wife turning to pills to cope.

Violence: A masked man appears at certain moments to force you to decide whether to kill someone or let them live. He leans heavily on trying to persuade you to kill them. It’s possible for a character to die in a fire, trapped in a car. There are paintings depicting medieval torture and executions. When you die in the shadows, there’s a squishy sound as monsters stab or slash you. However, no blood is shown. You can find bloodstained notes. Every now and then, you find dead bodies hanging by the neck. In one scene, a hanging body is burning. One character is dead from suicide by hanging, with a note nearby.

Language: On occasion, characters take the Lord’s name in vain. Also present are f***, s***, h***, and d*** and its derivatives.

The environments in this game are beautiful.

Sexual Content: Edward is cheating on his wife, and the game begins with him heading to a motel to have a night with his paramour. A recurring enemy is a grotesque, naked female demon. A room you enter has posters of women wearing almost nothing. At one point, a woman can be found dead on a bed, wearing only a bra and jeans.

Other Negative Themes: The game deals a lot with the concepts of loss and grief. Characters drown their grief in various toxic ways, such as alcohol, drugs, and the occult.

Positive Themes: One section takes place in a post office, and on the wall you can see signs speaking against bullying, drunk driving, and abuse.

No sugar coating here.

Spiritual Content: Spiritual elements saturate Those Who Remain. There is a lot to mention, so I will try to be as succinct as possible. Occult symbols appear in most places throughout each scene. Every loading screen features symbols, some of which I could identify, others I couldn’t. Two that I could identify include the Leviathan Cross (AKA the Satanic Cross) and the Sigil of Lucifer. Also present in each loading screen are quotes from different people such as Neil Gaiman and Orson Scott Card, usually related to demons, hell, or the devil.

Here we have the Sigil of Lucifer.

In the shadows lurk dozens of ghosts. Each one holds a weapon, like an ax or knife, and they kill you if you get too close. They disappear when you shine a light on them.

One section takes place in a diner where, in the kitchen, there is an oven called “Azrael.” Azrael is the name of the angel of death in some Jewish traditions, as well as in Islam.

Throughout the game, a young girl’s spirit appears to you and guides you to different areas to find clues surrounding her death.

Not ominous at all.

There are several mentions of a demon of vengeance called Daezach. He is also known as “The Lord of Darkness,” and he essentially plays the role of Satan.

At one point, the walls in a hallway are covered with what appear to be scarabs, a popular occult symbol from Ancient Egypt. Normally, I wouldn’t think anything of it. However, in the context of the game in general, and the section where it appears in particular, the symbolism is clear.

Deciding the eternal fate of the people tied to Annika’s death is one of Those Who Remain‘s major features. Once you find the clues regarding the part they played, you then decide to either forgive or condemn them. Forgiving them results in a light shining behind them, into which they walk. Conversely, condemning them drops them into hell, which opens up beneath them.

I don’t want that responsibility, thank you.

The common phrase in occult branches, “As Above, So Below,” is on a plaque.

People in town suspect that one character in the past is a witch, and one uses Exodus 22:18 (KJV) as justification for wanting and planning to murder her.

A character wants to find her grandmother’s old spell books. Within them are incantations that allow her to talk to a deceased loved one. There are also pentagrams drawn on the floor in that area.

You don’t want to mess with this stuff.

The spirit of a deceased woman appears many times and chases you down with the intent to kill.

You come across two books that outline the steps for goetia (conjuring demons) and evocation (summoning spirits), which look accurate for how it’s actually done. Afterward, you must collect the ingredients to cast a spell to talk to the dead.

While searching for ingredients, you end up in a hall where dozens of arms protrude from the walls on either side. Simultaneously, you hear whispers coming from them.

“P-p-p-p-paper please!”

After an incantation, a character says she talked to something dangerous, and now she hears the demon whisper in her ear. She says it tells her to kill the other people in town.

Some artwork appears to be related to Hinduism.

On a good note, there is a paper in a house with Hebrews 8:12 written out on it. One section brings you to a cathedral.

Review

Those Who Remain is not what I expected. Because of the synopsis and the trailer, I thought it would be more psychological than anything.  Then on the first load screen, I saw a giant Leviathan Cross imprinted on the background. That’s when I realized it would be a far more interesting ride.

It’s also the alchemical symbol for sulfur.

From the start, this game is lonely. The first area you explore is a motel where Edward intends to break up with his secret girlfriend Diane. Not one soul is to be found anywhere you go. There are signs of Diane’s presence; she’s left a few notes, her suitcase is in the room, and the shower is running, but she too is missing. Then someone drives off with your car, forcing you to walk to town.

From just after that point on, you can see ghostly figures with glowing blue eyes lurking in the shadows with weapons. If you stray too close, you’re toast. Only light can drive them away.

Therein lies my first complaint. There are times when you have to take a step or two to into the shadows to turn on a light. It ends up being way too easy to go one step too far and die.

Is there a third option, by any chance?

Early on, you see a vision of a girl named Annika. Most of the game’s story revolves around discovering how she died, and who is connected to the subsequent coverup. It seems not all of them have been brought to eternal justice.

It’s not far into the game before you start traveling between dimensions. Portals transport you from one segment to another, and there’s a weird middle world in between. You come across other characters only rarely, and some are panicking about night not ending. That combined with visions of people doing things in the past, the question arises whether Edward is in the real world at all.

At various times throughout the Those Who Remain, you go through a portal to a parallel dimension. There, you interact with things that may not be in the real world. For example, one part requires you to turn on a car’s headlights so you can get past the ghosts. But even though everything seems normal, you can’t open the car door. Once you go to the other realm, you see thick vines wrapped around the car. You have to get rid of them in the parallel world in order to progress in the “real” world.

Upside-down, anyone?

Those Who Remain is all in first person. As the trend seems to be right now, there is no combat. You’re defenseless if a monster catches you. Indeed, that was the second—and biggest—frustration for me. There are two recurring enemies, one you have to hide from and sneak past, the other you run away from before she catches you.

The first is a naked demon whose head is a hand holding a headlight. You discover her origin later in the game, but most of the time, she shows up for seemingly no reason. You must sneak past her, and the thing that makes that more difficult than it needs to be, is you can’t crouch. Sneaking means standing behind something so she can’t see you, and running past when she’s not looking. It’s easy to get caught, and once she starts running for you, it’s too late. Sometimes it baffled me as to how she even saw me, adding to the irritation.

During one encounter, I hit a bug that aggravated me. In order to open a door, you have to travel to the alternate realm and flip a switch. Afterward, walk through a portal back to the real world, and from there, you sneak past the demon and go through the newly opened door. Well, the demon found and killed me, resetting me back to the checkpoint. I had to go back through the unavoidable portal to flip the switch, even though it was already up. The portal back was also gone, stranding me there until I returned to the main menu and started the section over. This happened twice before I finally made it through without getting caught.

This is the best shot I could get and maintain propriety.

The second enemy is equally annoying. It’s the spirit of a deceased, grieving mother who has it out for you for reasons unexplained, as far as I remember. And she always appears at the most irritating times.

One appearance forced me down a long hallway, with furniture moving to block me. Most of the time, it’s a matter of adjusting course and going around. But at one point, a couple rows of chairs blocked the narrow path, forcing me to pick them up and move them individually. Doing so isn’t quick or easy, and there isn’t a good place to just drop the first chair. She caught me as I pushed through the second row, forcing me back to the checkpoint.

I think my biggest complaint, however, is the timing of each enemy’s next appearance. Most of the time, they feel like shallow plot devices. They almost invariably appear when you are at a point where the pace is slower and more atmospheric. Those are some of my favorite moments in the game. The tension builds while you explore mysteries, and the atmosphere is downright creepy. It’s never slow enough to be boring, because you’re exploring the whole time. But then one of these things shows up and forces you to the next area, and too bad for you if you missed something and want to explore more.

This is what it looks like when she gets you.

At the end of each major section, you see one of the guilty parties behind bars. You then search for evidence that will tell you the role they played. Once gathered, you have to make a choice to either condemn them, which means dropping them into Hell, or forgive them, allowing them entrance into Heaven. Each choice affects the ending, of which there are three possibilities: good, bad, and nightmare.

My choices resulted in the bad ending. However, I watched the other two online, and I must say that no matter which one you see, they’re well-executed. Naturally, the good ending is preferable, but each one is unique, rather than feeling like they’re the same ending with just a different color filter.

Easily, my favorite part involved going into a cathedral to look for more clues. As discussed in the Content Guide, occult imagery is everywhere in this game. So, after spending so much time surrounded by that, I found it a relief to step into a beautiful church. Moonlight streams through a window behind a large cross, and classic paintings from Church history adorn the halls leading to side rooms.

Overall, Those Who Remain represents Catholicism’s aesthetic well, and I didn’t fail to notice that it’s one of the few places in the game where the shadows aren’t filled with murderous ghosts. Unfortunately, when you see the priest giving his homily in a vision, it falls back on the cliche of rejecting foreigners because of suspicion that they “practice the dark arts,” as if it’s still medieval times. Put that alongside a note on a bench outside where the writer uses the Old Testament as justification for a murder plot, because, you know, “she’s a witch.” This game doesn’t portray Christians in a positive light.

But goodness, isn’t it a beautiful sight?

There is a very strange transition after the cathedral. The game goes from church and Christian atmosphere to a house where you see a vision of a woman talking about wanting to contact her dead daughter through incantations. There are a few pentagrams drawn on the floor, and you come across books outlining how to summon spirits.

That point late in the game is where, for me, Those Who Remain goes too far. I’ve read a lot on the occult over the years, so I’m familiar enough with it that it takes a lot to bother me. Here, the objective is to collect the ingredients in one of the books, and then perform the ritual to evoke a spirit. Once done, Edward places the ingredients on a pentagram, grabs a book, and pronounces the incantation.

If only this was spread more widely.

The soundtrack stands out as one of the best parts of the game. It complements the atmosphere wonderfully. Beautiful, melancholy strings accompany quieter moments, while high tension parts have more noise, giving the scene a more urgent, scary feel.

The voice acting is on the opposite end of the spectrum. To be blunt, most of the acting is terrible. Edward is monotone and hardly enunciates, making him the most boring character in the game. Annika is more middling; not great, not terrible. She delivers her lines convincingly enough, but that’s it. The masked man, however, is a shining light here. His delivery carries the charisma Edward should have, but lacks.

Hey there.

There are two lines in the game that are worth mentioning. Interestingly, Daezach, the masked man, says both. The first one holds one of the few glimmers of hope in the game: “Everyone’s a sinner, but anyone can change.” Granted, he neglects to mention the most essential part of redemption from sin, but what do you expect from Satan?

The second line describes the game’s tone: “The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.” The guilt each character carries is plain. The ones who covered up Annika’s death knew the immorality of it, but they did it anyway. When the time comes to either forgive or condemn them, they are already in torment. Condemning them just makes their trip to Hell official. On the other hand, forgiving them relieves them of their suffering.

The best way I can describe the game, though not totally accurate, is that it’s a journey through purgatory. As Edward finds clues to what happened, his own past and failures hound him. Edward has to learn to accept the reality of events in his past, so he can move on to redemption. However, it’s a better fit to call what the other characters go through before forgiving them as purgatory.

A light in the darkness.

Those Who Remain is not for anyone sensitive to occult themes. But for those who can tolerate it, it’s a solid horror game. Despite its flaws, the dark atmosphere and lighting, soundtrack, and the supernatural elements make for a good and scary experience. It even startled me enough to make me jump a few times, which is a plus for me.

Nice reminder.

The Bottom Line

Those Who Remain is a strong horror game, but it's not for everyone.

 

David Koury

Writer and gamer residing in the wasteland that is Nevada.

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