The horror genre has been on a downward spiral in recent times. The series stalwarts of Resident Evil and Silent Hill have seemingly passed their best and what we are left with is an ever increasing amount of creatures to gun down or cheap shocks we have seen before. Lone Survivor aims to change that by taking a different approach.
Presented in a side on, 2D, 8-bit style, Lone Survivor is the story of a man trying to escape a disease ridden city where monstrous creatures roam the streets and corridors. It’s very much set in the psychological horror mould and uses a subtle script and clever use of music to try to get inside your head. You might wonder how a game with 8-bit graphics can be scary but when it works it certainly does make you feel decidedly uneasy.
Before starting the game it asks you to set up your playing environment. If you can, you need to be in a dark place and to also use headphones. We would say that it’s also much better to play it via the Vita than on the PS3, as when it’s running on a large high definition screen it really doesn’t work as well. You can change the size of the game window but this is clearly a game more suited to the hand held system. It’s also worth working out the best gamma settings as if you get it wrong you are not going to be able to make out much of what is on screen. The settings can be adjusted mid game as well to find the right sweet spot. The 8-bit graphics have their charm but they can be a total nightmare in trying to work out exactly what it is you are looking at.
The game itself plays out like a point and click adventure game where you actually move around. You’ll be looking for items to take to somewhere else, normally to unlock a route or door to the next area. There is also combat and stealth mechanics to get past the monsters. As you might expect, ammo is limited and firing the gun makes all the monsters in the screen come charging after you so it’s often wise to try and sneak past them.
There are also a number of different systems working away under the surface of the game. The main one of these is your characters sanity. At the end of the game you’ll get one of a number of different endings based on how high or low it is. It goes up or down depending on certain actions you take such as eating and resting properly, or taking the different pills that you find around the world.
Food and sleep are also key components in your adventure. If your character doesn’t eat regularly he gets hungry, which can lead him to not sleep properly or collapse. When you sleep you save your game but doing it when you are not tired also affects your sanity meter so there is a constant risk reward systems at play. If you go on a long trek and discover a load of things but aren’t tired you risk either losing sanity or dying in an upcoming encounter and having to retrace your steps.
Luckily for players there are mirrors, which act as teleport points spread throughout the world. This makes moving around a little easier but having to retrace steps to find items lost after death is still a frustration which doesn’t do much to enhance the flow of the game. This frustration also increases when you get stuck in an area you simply can’t get out of without dying.
The other main issue with the game is simply the environment. You are effectively, continually walking up and down dark corridors for the whole game. There are only a couple of enemy types and the game gets more difficult by pretty much just giving you a longer corridor with more monsters in to avoid. This isn’t a major issue until you get stuck and repeatedly die somewhere, then the feeling of repetition can kick in and this takes away from the overall experience.
Faults aside, when it works (and it does most of the time), this is the closest you’re going to get to the feeling of dread and unease found in the early Silent Hill games. It’s creepy and you never for one moment feel safe. There’s a lot to juggle with food, sleep, ammo, batteries and sanity and a number of side quests and different endings to experience. If you’re looking for something different then this is the game for you. Just make sure you play it on the Vita as it’s much more effective in the dark with the headphones on.