Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Superflat Games
Publisher: Superflat Games
Release Date: September 24th, 2013
Platform: PS3 (reviewed), Vita (included with PS3 version)
In all honesty, a part of me dreaded the thought of returning to Lone Survivor to review the new Director’s Cut on PS3. This is ostensibly a bad thing for any game, but not so for one in the atypical horror genre, in which case it becomes an irredeemable quality. A good horror game is anything but ‘fun’ – it aims to be so harrowing and disturbing that the player is instilled with fear at every turn. But like a good horror film, the player still feels the need to see the ordeal through to the bitter end; the hand is raised to cover the eyes, but they inevitably peek through the cracks.
Lone Survivor is that rare breed of game, rubbing shoulders with Amnesia: The Dark Descent (I still shudder at the thought of being chased by Kaernks). While the limited scope of the retro pixel art may appear ill suited to its purpose, it is bolstered by disturbing, claustrophobic environments and exquisite sound design – be it the soundtrack, ambient sounds or enemies’ screeches – to create a truly unsettling atmosphere.
The Director’s Cut brings some new sidequests, items and lines of dialog to the table. The story is the same as before though, beginning with the anonymous protagonist venturing out of the apartment he’s been holed up in to search for supplies. Next to nothing is known about the character referred to simply as ‘You’, only that he has suffered some kind of psychological trauma as is increasingly apparent. The presentation is very psychological and surreal; the confusing map and labyrinthine corridors leave you disoriented to the point of frustration, and overly long paths make you wonder if you are exploring the location or the depths of ‘You’s’ mind. There are the hallucinations where bizarre characters flit on and off screen and random dream sequences. A case can be made that everything that occurs in the game is a figment of the protagonist’s fragmented imagination.
The gameplay is pretty standard fare. You go around exploring your apartment block, and later the city streets, in search of supplies and items to reach the next area, fending off starvation, exhaustion, and insanity, all the while trying not to die to the monsters everywhere. You are equipped with a flashlight and gun early on, but these must be used sparingly as they attract attention and use up resources. More often than not you will resort to using hiding spots, chunks of rotting meat as bait, and flares to avoid enemy encounters. An average playthrough lasts five or so hours, but there is plenty of reason to start a New Game+.
How the outcome of the story plays out depends on which ending you get. While all the endings shed some light on ‘You’s’ situation and his relationship with the mysterious ‘Her’, in order to get a ‘good’ ending you have to make sure you keep his mental and physical health as high as possible. While not explicitly stated how, it is generally clear which activities should be done to achieve this. However, there are a number of beneficial sidequests you might never find or complete, and detrimental actions that you would never have guessed would have an effect. For example, merely firing your handgun reduces mental health, but there is never any indication of this. Furthermore, the two new endings in the Director’s Cut aren’t even available in the initial playthrough, and it’s highly unlikely you will unlock the ‘good’ ending if you go in blind the first time round (which I still believe is a must, while playing in the dark, with headphones on…)
I’m not sure I like the idea of the game silently rating your performance as you play, although I can understand that it adds replayability, and with the added trophy support gives you something to aim for; in fact, in many ways it reminds me of I Am Alive’s leaderboard system. This mechanic seems rather out of place in a survival horror game, where the fear factor is lost upon multiple playthroughs.
That doesn’t really detract from the high opinion I have of this game, though, or its creator Jasper Byrne. He achieves with Lone Survivor something that too many horror titles fail to – the ability to scare the player out of their wits and genuinely make them uncomfortable. So draw the curtains, put your headphones on and prepare yourself for the horrors that await – just don’t expect to see everything there is to see first time around.