March 27th, 2012 | By Emerson Smith
Survival horror is not lacking in the game industry. Zombie games require a lot more than zombies to hold our attention today. Jasper Byrne’s Lone Survivor delivers in a dark, apocalyptic trek through an infected apartment complex with a twist. The last remaining human, known only as ‘You’, is suffering from vivid hallucinations, hunger, loneliness, insanity, and any number of unknown, mind-affecting maladies.
The game starts with a trippy set of objectives that teach the basics of how to play. This sequence doesn’t beat you over the head with the instructions. You start by walking into a room and as you walk by different objects, the ‘x’ button appears over the object. This is how new mechanics are introduced. You simply discover them.
Lone Survivor’s objectives are structured like a point-and-click adventure, but the gameplay works a bit more like a role-playing game. The player is usually tasked with investigating a marked location on the map. To enter that room, you have to overcome some obstacle: the door could be locked, the door could be broken, or there could be a couple of infected between you and the door. There isn’t always a single solution. Ultimately, the way you tackle a decision can come down to what you still have in your inventory.
The apartment complex is fairly large, and walking to and from your bedroom (where you save your game) can be a hassle. Thankfully, not all hallucinations are bad. There is a dusty mirror in your apartment that you can use to warp to and from the last mirror you found and used outside of your room. This keeps backtracking down to a minimum and rounds out Lone Survivor’s pacing, which is deliberate and slow, but always moving forward.
There are chase sequences in Lone Survivor, but it is easy to escape and hide from the infected. They mainly serve as obstacles between you and your next goal. Much like the dark, sophisticated, retro vibe of the visuals; Lone Survivor is a game about thought and reflection as much as it is about survival. Food and water are needed to survive, but instead of giving the player a ‘food meter’ or something visual to judge their performance by, the protagonist simply says “I’m hungry” when he needs food. The game always centers the players focus on exploration and discovery.
Contradicting the title, Lone Survivor, there is a cast of other characters. Without spoiling all of them, there is “Man Who Wears A Box”, Kenny, Draco, the “White-faced Man”, “The Director”, and more. Not all are developed, but some do become more important than others. These characters feel so out of place that the game maintains a strong feeling of isolation while introducing the real, or maybe imaginary characters.
The polish on Lone Survivor’s visuals are something that only someone working purely out of a love for their labor could establish. The thick, pixely graphics are out of the ordinary, but endearing all the same. These are further layered with post-processing effects to highlight the moments where ‘You’ is suffering from a hallucination or stress. That coupled with the rippling, dark soundtrack creates a beautifully dark and memorable presentation.
The weapon controls are a bit clunky, but it has been devised with care. The protagonist is not a hero. He is a humble reflection of who we, the players, are. The humanity that I see reflected in ‘You’ for every action he makes is definitely one of the greatest achievements in Lone Survivor. It carries the isolation and weakness that makes his journey so compelling.
With a dark atmosphere like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Lone Survivor evokes a more compelling desire to explore that is reminiscent of the recently released Journey. I have spoiled enough – to say anymore would ruin the compelling desire to learn more that drives the harrowing journey through this bizarre, captivating world. Lone Survivor is something made to be experienced for yourself.