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Lone Survivor: Director's Cut - Review

Updated on November 14, 2013

Lone Survivor is game that's going to embarrass certain people. Those people being a certain group of game developers, namely, those working on horror games. With a pixelated art style that's visually less complicated than an '80s NES game, Lone Survivor manages to creep under your skin, sink its claws in and thoroughly unnerve you.

Unnerve is definitely the right word too. This isn't game that's out to go "Boo!" as you creep into a room, and there's not necessarily all that many "scary" moments, instead Lone Survivor is interested in creating an oppressive atmosphere that weighs down upon you until the closing credits.

Released early last year for computers, this director's cut edition finally brings the series to consoles, along with a few updates and additional endings. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, you're cast as the final survivor of some mysterious epidemic that has apparently left the remaining populace as deformed monsters straight out of a Clive Barker novel. The game's primary influence however, is Silent Hill, in particular the second and third games, as it's clear from the outset that the lone survivor's horrors are not just physical but psychological.

In the director's cut, there's now five different endings. Your interactions throughout the game determine the outcome.
In the director's cut, there's now five different endings. Your interactions throughout the game determine the outcome.

Rather than just use the mental health aspect as an interesting backdrop for the story, Lone Survivor attempts to craft a game mechanic around it. To keep healthy you have to eat, sleep and, if you're especially lucky, talk with other survivors. It's oddly reminiscent of a playing with a tamogotchi at times, as you take care of your nameless protagonist to keep him well fed and looked after. Similarly, killing enemies will harm your well being and cause adverse effects, not to mention affect the final outcome of the story, much like Silent Hill.

At its core though Lone Survivor is a 2D ode to the golden age of survival horror. You find keys, you unlock doors, you solve some puzzles, you progress. Even the blip that plays when you access your inventory sounds just like the one in Konami's series. In fact, it's so similar it could have been named "Silent Hill: Lone Survivor" and it wouldn't seem at all out of place.

Like Silent Hill, the game's horror is made by the sound design, which is all the more important in Lone Survivor with its rudimentary graphics. Horrible fleshy noises, and warbles of radio static are punctuated by eerie tunes that amp up the crushing atmosphere. The monsters might just be a couple of wobbling pixels but that doesn't make it any less frightening once you hear what they sound like.

There's touches of David Lynch's surreal imagery and general weirdness in the plot. My earliest predictions about the game's ending(s) were completely wrong, and, with some elements that draw on Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, you wonder at some points whether the game is going to pull the rug from under you completely and go all Metal Gear Solid 2. Without spoiling the plot, it's well written, but at times seems deliberately too obscure and ultimately is rather hamstrung by the game's adherence to the Silent Hill formula, so much so that the game's actual conclusion can seem a little clichéd for fans of that series. Even the monsters, despite being suitably creepy, are your typical Freudian nightmares; with two even being named mother and father if the message hadn't been clear enough.

Certain events can be triggered at random, depending on your character's mental state.
Certain events can be triggered at random, depending on your character's mental state.
Ammo is scarce so you'll frequently find yourself relying on stealth to stay alive.
Ammo is scarce so you'll frequently find yourself relying on stealth to stay alive.

Whilst the game feels suitably old-school, with its 2D controls and find the key, unlock the door structure, it does slip up occasionally in terms of difficulty. Given that you only have access to one save file, it is possible to effectively lock yourself out of certain areas by not have enough supplies to deal with enemies. A significant proportion of the game's challenge is diminished on a second run, once you understand what to do and in what order.

All that being said, Lone Survivor does push survival horror into new, and surprisingly interesting directions. The addition of side quests in particular, is an impressive touch, sidestepping the strict linearity that usually comes with the genre, while at the same time avoiding the dreadful mistakes that Silent Hill: Downpour made in this regard.

Like its protagonist, Lone Survivor never quite has its own identity, and is constantly working under the shadow of Pyramid Head and company. It still however, remains a breath of fresh air for both modern, and retro, survival horror.

Lone Survivor was released in March 2012 for PC, Mac and Linux.

The Director's Cut edition was released for PS3 and Vita on October 31st 2013, and for PC and Mac as a free update.

© 2013 LudoLogic

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    • JohnGreasyGamer profile image

      John Roberts 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, England

      As always this is a stunning review, and a title that has me curious, even though I despise the pixellated art style of games like these. I doubt I'll try it, but this was an interesting read nontheless.

      Voted up, useful, awesome and interesting!

      PS: Woo! Clive Barker reference!