For an 8-bit game, Lone Survivor is pretty unnerving and creepy. Its not so much scary as it is unsettling, but it hints at things you’re not too sure you really want to know about this dark, infected, monster-infested world.
In this side scrolling, survival-horror adventure game, you wake up in an apartment not sure of anything except for the fact that you’ve been hiding in this place for awhile now. Hiding from the monsters and some disease that’s taking over everywhere. It’s taken over the entire city, presumably. Are you the last person left now? Not sure. You’re starting to go crazy, the hallucinations are coming more often now and supplies are running dangerously low. You need to look for some survivors, and some food, before you really start losing it.
The game play is all about navigating a broken world while trying not to go insane from being alone for too long, not die of starvation and not pass out from fatigue. Trying to keep the precarious balance of these things while trying to make sense of what’s happening around you makes for a very unique experience. You can find food and snacks while exploring to keep your stomach full, and you can find various things to interact with to keep your sanity up (toys, plants, etc), but make sure not to talk to inanimate objects too often! I’m pretty sure that’s not healthy for your sanity either.
There are monsters waiting for you in the dark too. These monsters were humans who had been infected by the mysterious disease and have now mutated into these weird, sometimes, humanoid forms. These monster designs really remind me of the Silent Hill monsters; grey-skinned, weird proportioned and at times have orifices where there shouldn’t be orifices. These monsters can’t see in the dark, but if you get too close they can sense you and start clambering to kill you. To get around them, you can hide and shuffle past them in crevices in the wall. You can also lure them with rotten meat you find to get access to places they might be patrolling. You can also kill them with a handgun that you find early on in the game, however ammo is hard to come by, so make sure to pick your targets.
To combat fatigue, you have to head right back to your apartment, at the beginning, and sleep in the comfort of your bed — this will end a day and start the next one however. As you travel to different places, there a mirrors that you find which will warp you back to your apartment and the apartment mirror will warp you back to that last place you used a mirror. This is tremendously handy as you’ll avoid monsters you passed previously, so make sure to use them.
Lone Survivor has a lot of interesting game mechanics that act as story mechanics too. How your game plays out depends on what choices you make. For example, for some inexplicable reason, someone leaves you coloured pills in your bathroom every night. There are instructions that explain what they do, but will you use them? Who’s leaving them for you to take? Taking the ones that make you sleep sometimes trigger dreams where you’re sitting in a chair on a stage, next to a man who’s doing the same thing. You have conversations, but what is going on; who is that man and why are you on a stage? Why are you having these dreams when you take that specific pill?
This game is amazingly well presented. The visuals are superb; I’m a sucker for 8-bit styled graphics. The lo-res graphics definitely enhance the world of Lone Survivor though. With the help of the amazing soundtrack and clever sound design, I had a couple shocks. When a monster is coming towards you there’s this loud, industrial kind of static that plays and it’s a really unnerving sound. Sometimes when you pass through doors, there will be a monster waiting right there for you and that sound effect plays. I let out a yelp every time that sound played after opening a door and saw a monster which was within arms length of me in the room beyond. Kudos Jasper Byrne, you got a few scares out of me.
I have a few issues with this game that made playing Lone Survivor a little difficult to get through. Trying to navigate the map in a hurry is a pain. It’s a side scrolling game so you can only go left and right, but the map is in bird’s eye view. Depending on where you’re standing, the map may show your left as right and your right as left, or your left as up and your right as down, or your left as down and your right as up, or your left as left and your right as right. It’s just as confusing as it sounds and when you’re trying to figure out where to go in a hurry it just doesn’t work out well for you.
Firing the gun can be irritating too, but I got used to it eventually, so it’s not too bad. You press ‘c’ to bring out your gun and ‘x’ to fire. The thing is, once you draw the gun you’re locked facing that way. So if you’re looking to your right and draw your gun, you’re stuck looking right. You can move back and forth with the gun drawn, but you’re stuck facing in one direction. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve drawn the gun facing the wrong way, panicked when I got attacked, fumbled trying withdraw my gun to change the way I’m facing and died just as I drew the gun looking at the enemy.
The last gripe I have is actually about the story, but this kind of a personal gripe and really not that bad. The idea is amazing, the world is fantastic, but sometimes it felt like it was weird and disjointed just to be weird and disjointed. A lot of questions are put out there, but they’re left unanswered. Is this game all some weird psychotic trip? Are you already dead and trying to come to terms with things before you pass on (ala Jacob’s Ladder), or is this really all happening and you’re already insane and you’re just going with it? Argh, I just want to know! I could speculate until the cows came home and I would still never know and to me, that makes the game feel incomplete. In some games, the answers are all implied and hinted at. Lone Survivor has all the hints and implications, but to what? Its like following a trail of crumbs and finding nothing at the end.
But, I’m just being overly critical I think. Lone Survivor is really very, very amazing. If you haven’t delved very deep into survival-horror games before, this game is a perfect place to start. It has the right combination of weird, creepy and atmospheric desperation. Also if you’re a fan of the original Silent Hill game (I totally am), this game is a must get. Again I have to say the graphics are awesome and the music is so well made. I think I may have to buy the soundtrack!
Lone Survivor is available for PC and Mac and well worth the $10 it costs.