May 02 2012

Review of Lone Survivor


Do you know when you’re playing a game you really enjoy and you’re getting to the end of it and you say to yourself “As soon as I finish this game I’m going to start it again, that’s how good it is!” But then you finish it and you don’t? Well, Lone Survivor isn’t like that. When I finished Lone Survivor I was firstly surprised I had even reached the end, then I thought “Huh, Wait a minute…what just happened?” and then I immediately and instinctively started a second play through. The deliberately hammy named Lone Survivor puts you in the aftermath of an apparent zombie-like apocalypse but makes you ask the questions; What if the rotting flesh-eating monsters aren’t the sick ones, what if the those monsters aren’t really monsters, and most importantly, what the hell is going on?

Not really to be honest

Lone Survivor is a very dream-like game. The blurred and blocky graphics, eerie sound track and umm, dream sequences all contribute to a very dark and hazy grasp of reality.  But the dream-like existence of the main character has a few anchors to the material plane, like the need for food, sleep, and the companionship of other human beings. The end of the game will make you question the preceding 3 or so hours of game play. Or maybe it won’t and you will just become angry and probably should go back to playing COD or some such boomfest. This is because Lone Survivor truly is the thinking man’s survival horror game. Actually it’s more like the David Lynch fan’s survival horror game.

The opening scenes of Lone Survivor sees “you” the aptly named main character almost begrudgingly escaping his apartment. “You” seems pretty nonplussed about the zombie-like apocalypse. Wandering around the apartment he doesn’t recognise the shoes on the floor or the things in the wardrobe. Details like that get lost in your first play through, but they are there to be read into as much or as little as you like. There are much weirder details to read into along the way, but I don’t want to ruin them. That’s the best thing about Lone Survivor, all the peripheral strangeness that the conspiratory part of your brain can chew on. There could be a lot of hidden depth to Lone Survivor or maybe everything is just random occurrence giving an impression of a back story that isn’t there. Who knows for sure but none the less it’s greatly entertaining.

Hint: Hosptials are for sick people

Enough of hinting at hidden depths lurking beyond the surface of Lone Survivor. What is the actual surface like? It’s a pretty blocky surface. But blocky in a very effective way.  I really like the art direction in the game. It allows the brain to fill in details left out by the low resolutions and bad lighting. Horrifying and disturbing details that wouldn’t be there with a snappier and glossier presentation. I do have a slight complaint about the fact that the low resolution makes the face mask “you” is wearing look like a massive grin. Also, one strange effect of the low resolution is that going back to your desktop after playing for a couple of hours and it feels like you’re using a super mega computer of the future due to the difference in resolution.

“You” ventures from his apartment, out into the greater apartment building and then further more into the city. Progressing forward is half Silent Hill and half the Sims. There is quite a remarkable amount of depth given to what the slightly un-hinged main character ingests on his journey. You could subsist on cheese and crackers, or you could take the time to cook some ham, or make yourself some real coffee. It may not seem important other than the off-hand remarks “you” makes but every bit of nourishment is actually tracked. This tracking goes further than food, taking note if you took the time to communicate with certain characters, if you played a gameboy, gulped down handfuls of “red pills”, or if you blew the brains out of every monster you saw rather than simply sneaking past them. A big part of Lone Survivor is not just simply surviving and getting to the end, but how healthily, mental or otherwise, you got there.  The Silent Hill part of the game does a sterling job of mastering 2d survival horror and mixes tense action/sneaking scenes with a nice sense of exploration.

I did find it a little hard to wrap my head around the game’s mapping system. The map presents the world in a top down view but the rest of the game is purely a 2d plain. The two don’t seem to intuitively play off each other very well and can cause confusion at first. Whether this is intentional is up for debate, but I feel the map system could have reflected the rest of the game better and some of the disorientation done away with.

"You" look pretty shifty standing there

For a very indie 2d game Lone Survivor does a very good job of being an atmospheric, creepy, and tense survival horror game. If that’s all it was though I would be pretty disappointed at the short gameplay length. Fortunately Lone Survivor does more than just be a survival horror game. There’s much more going on here than just a simple zombie game and Lone Survivor begs multiple playthroughs to peel back the layers of madness to find your own interpretation of what exactly is going on. I highly recommend checking it out so I’m happy to say Lone Survivor gets a 4 out of 5 stars.



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