There’s something implacable about Lone Survivor.
Something otherworldly. Something indescribably chilling. Maybe it’s the pitch-perfect soundtrack. Maybe it’s the sheer amount of crawling horror packed into a side-scrolling, 16-bit format. Maybe it’s because the first time I played it I had the volume turned all the way up on my X-Rocker and practically shat myself with fear because it was right behind me.
If you’re a horror fan, you need this game. You can just close this review right now and go and buy it (But don’t, I need people to read these articles to keep my ego intact).
What makes it so essential? Well, for a start, it’s more Silent Hill than any recent Silent Hill. You play as an unnamed protagonist, alone, desperate, and slipping slowly into madness. An infectious disease has transformed most of humanity into twitching, shuddering mutants that aimlessly wander the world, accompanied by a crackling, distorted radio sound that serves to drive home the fear and panic that your character feels when he’s running for his life. The harsh realities of day to day life in this twisted world are broken up by chilling interludes of madness as the survivor is gripped by hallucinations.
Stealth makes up the majority of your exploration. While you get a pistol quite early on, ammo is typically limited and and you should only really use your gun when you absolutely need to. Sneaking past by using rotten meat as lures and picking your way through the darkness is what the game will force you into, and while these mechanics are solid almost 100% of the time, it’s not where most of Lone Survivor’s genius emerges. There are optional activities to engage in – like befriending a lost cat, taking care of a plant, and eating healthily. They all have a positive impact on your mental health, and the game records all of this to put together in a psych evaluation at the end.
Obviously, there are things that swing it the other way. Chief among these are drugs – red, green and blue pills which you can collect and abuse for different perks. Stay awake for longer, or pop some hallucinogenics for dream sequences with the game’s bizarre cast of characters and get some exposition on the game’s fractured plot. You might get some extra advantages from drug use, but there are often penalties later on – you’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to play the game straight or go for the Fear and Loathing approach.
What makes it all the more interesting is that it’s all done in 2D – and yet, I felt far more psychologically taxed than I did in the majority of Alien: Isolation’s calm darkness. The survivor will complain of weariness and hunger at a frequent rate, and while these are things you need to attend to, it’s not actually as dire as the game makes it out to be. The repetition of his pleas for food and rest seem more an attempt to just layer on the stress. It works, but for some people it might just become frustrating after a while.
Environments are rusted and derelict, enemies are all the more terrifying for their lack of discernable details (The low-fi look leaves way too much to the imagination) and a perfect soundtrack accompany your terse steps through Lone Survivor’s tragic, lonely world. The sound design in general cannot be praised enough – it turns the game world into something thick with plague and dripping atmosphere, strangling the last few sparks of human resistance. A love of Silent Hill shines through, rusty, blood soaked industrialism and a rapidly receding barrier of normality. The lines between the real and the hallucinated are thin indeed.
The beauty of Lone Survivor is its simplicity. It’s genuinely brilliant, a truly special thing that will only continue to unravel and expand the more you play it. You’ll be left with more questions than you started with after your first playthrough – there’s so much to discover and do (If you’re brave enough) and the sheer quality of the Twin Peaks via Silent Hill style narrative is enough to sell the game alone.
Jasper Byrne is an unsung genius, and Lone Survivor should easily take a place among the greats of the horror genre, showing up the big names with alarming ease and basic graphics. It does more in three hours than Silent Hill: Downpour did throughout the entire middling story . It’s amazing how much has been done with so little – and it just goes to show that particle effects and anti-aliasing aren’t the measure of what makes a good game.
You owe it to yourself to play this game – it’s one that will stick with you for a long time (and permanently put you off of radio static).
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.