Being alone doesn’t seem that lonely.
Lone Survivor is a strange game, there’s no getting around it, but it wears that distinction with pride. As a horror it’s not very scary, as an adventure game it’s not very clever or innovative and as a narrative it is a strange, (literally) drug-fuelled trip that stays very ambiguous right to the very end (might only be the ending I got to be fair), but I love it for it.
Lone Survivor is a horror/adventure game played on a 2D plane that tasks you with escaping the hell you are in – a tower block – filled with nightmares, hallucinations, strange characters that may or may not be real and mutants that would like nothing better than to kill you. You play as a lone survivor – a man wearing a surgical mask (you) – of a disease that turns people into mutant zombie-like creatures. You are left completely in the dark as to whether the people you meet and see throughout the game are merely figments of the character’s imagination, hallucinations or if they actually exist or have at least existed. Despite this ambiguity however lies a strong narrative in which you just need to leave the area and perhaps find this mysterious girl in a blue dress.
To be honest though, this narrative struck me a long while after I completed the game, when I was playing I was just as much in the dark as the character you play, which lies in both the strength and weaknesses of the game. The game is perhaps too ambiguous for its own good and at times it can just feel a little confusing as nothing is explained in any real detail.
The ambiguous nature of the game does thread through into the game-play, intertwining with the narrative. You are given a blank map for each area of the game and as you explore you find little nuggets of information on pieces of paper or through radio telling you where to look, in order to progress the narrative. However, there are a few distractions throughout, all involving the improvement of your homestead; for example finding a kettle to boil water, but to boil water you need to collect it from a drip in the ceiling, and when you collect it up you need something to carry the water. It’s these little touches that improve the game; you never actually have to do any of the extra things, but they are there for completionists and those seeking to achieve every one of the (now) six endings.
How the game plays gels the experience into something truly unique. It’s a horror-cum-adventure game wrapped up in lovely retro artwork played on a 2D plane. You spend the majority of the game wandering around, using your torch to see in the dark (which can run out of batteries) and hiding, or fighting the mutants. It’s entirely up to you how you deal with the enemies; you can shoot them with the very handy pistol (which can run out of ammo), hide in the shadows or distract them through placing meat on the floor or using flares. When not dispatching or avoiding enemies, you are looking for anything to pick up in order to survive, and this often comes in the form of food.
Food plays a seemingly large role in the game, as if you do not eat the protagonist starts talking about it, making you feel that you must eat food pretty much constantly (the amount you eat can affect the ending you get). However, beyond serving as health refills, food does not serve a huge purpose, only making you think that you must eat in order to survive. It’s a shame really, as eating in order to survive could have really upped the stakes and make you fear everything that much more.
Lack of fear in fact is a general problem with the game. It’s just not very scary. Sure there is one tense chase sequence towards the end of the game but other than that, enemies are fairly easy to kill or avoid and although you can run out of ammo, it does seem in a never ending supply if you know how to get it – it’s made quite obvious how. The lack of tension, lack of punishment and the general ease of saving (getting back to your bed) mean that you never really fear death unless you have gone for ages without saving; even then, the game makes it clear when it wants you to save, with constant reminders when tired. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an easy game – chances are you will die quite a lot – but the survival aspects of the game never seem fully realised.
The game bases itself around exploration, and for a horror game, this exploration becomes slightly more nerve-racking than that of a game like Oblivion (although that is pretty evil beyond a certain level, but that’s not the point). It is therefore something of a godsend that the game has teleportation by way of mirrors. In your apartment is a mirror, and throughout the game lie mirrors dotted around the place, which always send you back to the mirror in your apartment. These mirrors are marked down onto the map, meaning you should be able to make your way back to them fairly easily. This is not the case.
The map provides the one major problem with the game-play. As the map provides an aerial view of the area, it is confusing to know what way you are going at times. You’d think perhaps you would simply get used to this issue, but no. Throughout the whole game it turns out you are going the wrong way, requiring constant use of the map. Truthfully, it just makes the experience of trying to get places more annoying than it needs to be.
What the game lacks in terms of game-play it makes up for with fantastic character interaction, use of humour, self-referential material and the budding relationship between you and a cat. Conversations are great throughout and everything you do ultimately does affect the ending you receive.
Lone Survivor is an odd experience from start to finish – all six hours of it. It struggles with its use of map, it is not very scary and the survival aspects are wasted potential but its strong narrative (although a tad too ambiguous), adventure game aspects, character interactions and impressive use of style stop the game from being the mediocre experience it so could have been.
You will be just as confused as the main character, but it is worth it if found cheap.