Lone Survivor is essentially Silent Hill minus one dimension. And while that should be incentive enough for horror fans to jump into their Pyramid Head pyjamas and dance ceremoniously around various accumulated special edition usb sticks – others may look upon Jasper Byrne’s commercial debut and wonder what all the fuss is about.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world teeming with terrifying, bipedal beasties, Lone Survivor explores the subject of isolation, and how prolonged periods can have devastating effects on the mind. When we first meet our hero, he is a broken man, unable to remember his name or past as he holes himself up in a dilapidated apartment block. The player is then tasked with guiding the hero through the labyrinthine hallways in search of food, survivors and ultimately, a way out of the city.
One of the most interesting aspects of Lone Survivor is how it actually deals with the continuation of everyday life in a desperate situation. Using an abandoned apartment as a base of operations, the hero will need to eat and sleep at regular intervals in order to maintain a positive mental state. You can also use scavenged items to upgrade the apartment. Find a gas cylinder and you can use a stove to cook better food. Find a kettle and you can stave off fatigue with coffee. The frequency of these trips home is pretty much up to you, but mysterious two-way mirrors dotted around the word will transport you right back, so it never feels like a waste of time.
Of course, it’s not long before the aforementioned beasties call round for tea and flesh, and surprisingly, Lone Survivor is quite flexible when it comes to dealing with them. The hero carries a handgun which makes short work of the slow, lurching monstrosities, but ammunition is so scarce that direct confrontation is not always an option. In some scenarios it’s better to distract the enemy with collected hunks of rotten meat before receding into the background to sneak by undetected. Another option still is to stagger the enemy by firing at their knees, offering a brief window of opportunity to dash by without taking damage. It’s all very reminiscent of the ideals that triple A horror games have long since abandoned, and it’s nice to see that they can still be effective in the modern age.
That said however, there are still a few instances of clunky and stubbornly old fashioned design in Lone Survivor. The in-game map, for example, is more horrific than any of the monsters you encounter. A clear homage to Silent Hill, it presents the layout of the building from a top down perspective, and constantly updates itself as you stumble upon blocked paths and areas of interest. The problem is that a 3D map depicting a 2D space simply makes no sense. You’ll find yourself taking wrong turns constantly, and plotting a route to a specific room becomes a chore in and of itself. A mid-game chase sequence in which the map fails to illustrate any usable escape route proves to be the final nail in its tiny rectangular coffin.
The fact that the game can only be saved in the apartment also proves to be troublesome. Making the trip isn't an issue thanks to the mirrors, but pulling yourself away from the quest can be incredibly difficult – especially when you feel you are making progress. And so, you’ll soldier onwards, confident in your abilities until you burst into a room crawling with monsters and promptly die, sending you all the way back to your last save. It says more about the over simplification of modern games that this once common trait comes as such a shock, but I really don’t feel the game would have suffered too much had a checkpoint system been implemented.
Narratively, Lone Survivor fares a lot better. Yes, like a lot of horror games, it’s a little incomprehensible and ostentatious at times, but there are still a slew of incredibly interesting moments throughout. Your first encounter with the Man Who Wears a Box springs to mind as one of the game’s most captivating and beautifully framed scenes, and a sexy jazz party which comes to a shocking close is pretty much worth the price of admission alone. For those completionists out there, there are also several endings to unlock, depending on the choices you make throughout the game.
In terms of presentation, Lone Survivor stands head and shoulders above its competition. The game’s score is simply excellent, eschewing those awful Zimmer-mimicking strings and horns that plague the genre in favour of gentle guitar licks and delicious drum beats. General sound design is of a very high standard too, with more than a few nods to Akira Yamaoka’s stellar work on the Silent Hill series. Visuals are what really stand out though – with huge, blown up pixels creating an effect akin to a moving mosaic as you traverse from one area to the next. And while animations are a tad clunky at times, the characters and monsters themselves are well drawn and suitably gruesome.
In summary, if you're one of those people who yearns for the glory days of tank controls and ammo conservation – then you should definitely consider getting Lone Survivor. This game was made for people like you. Conversely, if you’ve never enjoyed a Resident Evil prior to 4, then there really isn’t anything here that will change your mind, so run along now and play with your Legos.
A quick note on the super sexy Playstation exclusive content:
I've completed both the PC and the Vita versions of Lone Survivor now, and so far have found no new content in the latter. It looks sensational on the OLED screen though, and it controls a bit better. The End.