Lone Survivor Review
Are You getting hungry?
Have you ever wondered what Silent Hill might have been like if it had been released in the 16-bit era? This, I feel, should be enough to get you interested in Jasper Byrne’s Lone Survivor but leaving it at that would hardly do this game justice. While it may be styled after the games of yesteryear, Lone Survivor contains a number of elements that break some of today’s popular gaming conventions. Be prepared to be dragged into the shoes of the main character in a way that even the most ‘realistic’ modern games simply can’t match. Be prepared to be the Lone Survivor.
The thing that everyone will notice about Lone Survivor, from the first glance, is the art style and while it may seem like the idea is to go with a “retro” style, there’s actually a clever depth to the visuals. Where games of the 8 and 16-bit era featured characters, monsters and buildings built out of a small handful of pixels, Lone Survivor’s environments and items feel like they were painted in detail, then run through some sort of pixel filter. Where retro games, or retro styled games, are boxy and basic looking Lone Survivor conveys much more with its graphics.
In Lone Survivor players take on the role of You (not you, but You, that’s his name), a survivor of some sort of disease outbreak that is turning people into monsters. The action takes place in 2D environments, which may make seasoned survival horror veterans wonder how you could possibly avoid simply shooting everything that moves. Well, the monsters you’ll encounter are mostly blind, but can detect You if he gets to close or has his light on. Switch your light off, however, and you’ll be able to melt into the background, in certain spots, to evade enemies. Sometimes this requires baiting and quick reflexes and was one of my favorite parts of the game. This is a simple solution that has me picturing myself, back against the wall, shimmying sideways past a monster every time I do it in the game.
While some of the survival elements have been lost in a lot of modern horror games, Lone Survivor keeps the action tense, the quarters close and the ammo sparse. I found myself tensing up and running for the door in panic a number of times, something I didn’t picture happening when I saw the first screens of the game. “How could you really get sucked into a game that looks so primitive by today’s standards?” I thought. Careful game design and thoughtful scenario planning is how. My only real complaint is how often You needed to eat and sleep. Often it was just when I was getting into a new wing of a building, eager to explore, You would begin complaining of being hungry or tired and I would have to eat something and then backtrack for a snooze. This is somewhat alleviated by the frequent placement of mirrors, which can be used as a simple form of travel between your room and the last mirror you’ve found.
Byrne sets each scene perfectly with a mix of horrible monsters, things only slightly out of the ordinary and things that look normal but feel wrong somehow. You’ll go from “oh my god, I just shot a monster” to “where am I going to cook this ham?” in rather short intervals. While it’s easy to sit here and draw comparisons to Silent Hill for every element of the game that simply wouldn’t be fair. The looming possibility that You are going slowly, or not so slowly, crazy always looms larger than the monsters in front of you. Dream logic, self medication and loneliness factor in heavily, as well, to create a fantastic atmosphere and story that will always leave you wanting just a little bit more.
There are no multiplayer modes in Lone Survivor.
Lone Survivor is a must buy for all Survival Horror fans and at just $10 (both direct and on Steam) the price is more than right. While the pixel art style graphics may have turned some of you away already I assure you they’re one of the highlights of the game, if only you’ll look a little deeper. Lone Survivor serves to remind us that solid game design trumps million dollar special effects any day.