Lone Survivor Review

The main aspects of Lone Survivor are inventory management and exploration. You’re constantly moving forward — heading to check out strange places, trying to restart the basement generator, looking for a certain key to a specific door. In order to be able to keep making forward progress, you have to keep track of all you have; you really do need to survive. You need to eat at regular intervals. You need to sleep often (which also serves to save your game). And you need to gather the component parts necessary to accomplish relatively simple tasks, like cooking and searching dark areas.

Lone Survivor is a fully 2-D game, which poses unique and, ultimately, brilliant challenges of its own. If you run up against a monster, you must kill it or flee the room, because if it stands to your right you can’t pass it. The only way to sneak by is when there’s a recess set in the wall on one side of the room, allowing you to inch past. Even these moments require extra effort on your part, using lures and other objects to draw the monsters where you need them so you can get by. Every problem is a potential disaster and every hiccup in your progress requires a deliberate solution.

Despite this, the game clips along at a solid pace, even though you’re constantly having to double back to your apartment to keep from passing out in exhaustion. The backtracking is handled by an interesting mechanic of its own — any time you find a mirror, you can look into it and find yourself whisked back to your apartment. Not only does this teleportation system make it easy to get back to base, to quit the game and to pick up where you left off quickly, it also furthers the feelings of confusion about what’s real and what isn’t. In a game in which you find yourself often having to stop and do menial, normal things like eat and sleep, being teleported around feels just weird enough to make you question the reality in which you’re playing.

Along with the generally creeptastic gameplay, the monsters and the art style, Lone Survivor has some great moments in its writing. Many off the character interactions remind of scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, as ghostly figures begin to populate the Overlook Hotel. The same sort of feeling persists with all the characters you encounter in Lone Survivor, and it’s impossible to tell who is real and who you can trust. It doesn’t help matters that some characters appear in dreams when you take certain drugs; when they leave you with physical items you find in your backpack when you wake up, things get even weirder.

There are a couple of issues with Lone Survivor, although on the whole it runs well. Developer Jasper Byrne has reported in a blog post that he’s dealing with a lot of support questions in which players are finding their screen basically going black, and I had a similar issue in which I could get lost in the transition between rooms in a few places. Later in the game, I experienced a glitch in which the character wouldn’t move and I couldn’t open any of the menus, although music and animations still played — the result was shutting the game down and losing my progress. These instances were really rare, however. They don’t come up too often, which is nice, but they can be really frustrating when they do, especially if you just finished doing several tasks in a row that will need repeating.

In the modern gaming world of three dimensions, Lone Survivor finds the means to be different in using just two. Even better, it still manages all the same great horror experiences a 3-D game could provide, and uses the rules of a 2-D world to create them. It also does a better job of forcing the player to distrust their own senses than most other games that use that device — something I wish other developers would do more often. Byrne borrows quite a bit from Silent Hill, but it’s clear all the way through that he’s doing so from a standpoint of loving the game and maximizing its best qualities. The result is a horror title that hits all the right notes without cheap jump-out scares, and adds novelty by managing to scare you while using the old conventions of Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Pros

  • Great low-res art style
  • Beautifully atmospheric
  • Great soundtrack
  • Expertly uses the language and tropes of a 2-D world to create survival horror
  • Interesting story keeps you guessing as to what’s real
  • Inventory management is a smart system that keeps you fully aware of how dead you could soon be

Cons:

  • Navigating the game map can be confusing
  • Occasional technical glitch can leave you on a black screen or frozen
  • Save system adds to the game’s atmosphere, but it can also be irritating

Final Score: 85

Lone Survivor is available for download on Superflat Games’ website, found here.

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