Thursday, May 1, 2014

Scary and Moody to the Last Pixel

Quick Note: Proving less is more, Lone Survivor: Director's Cut is perfect for anyone who enjoys pixel art, survivor horror games, and a moody, interpretive story. Gamers who are looking for a quick jaunt in 2D survivor horror on the Vita or PS3, I highly recommend this game.

Lone Survivor is a game that sticks with you. Weeks after beating every ending and earning the Platinum trophy, I'm still mulling over the simple gameplay and the thought provoking story. It leaves you with the sense of inner turmoil and peace, wanting more from the game, yet being satisfied that it is over, all at the same time. Having only just being introduced to the survivor horror genre, I am happy to say that this game will keep me coming back to a genre that, in the past, I would never touch.

Do they have aspirin at the end of the world?

The game places you in the role of the Lone Survivor, or 'You'. The world has fallen apart and is filled with monsters, but You has no idea why. As a matter of fact, You doesn't remember much of anything. Armed with nothing but some pieces of rotten meat to distract enemies, You journeys forward, searching his apartment building for signs of life and answers to his questions. This simple premise unravels as You slowly progresses through the hallways and rooms of his apartment complex, running into colorful characters, such as an item peddler known as the Director, and Chuck, You's plant, while also avoiding the creatures in the dark. Depending on the actions the player takes, the story can end in one of five ways, with each ending being it's own continuity, making the game more interpretive with each play through. Often times leaving more questions than answers, the story resides solely on You's mental health. Depending on how good or bad it is, he may see things that aren't there or believe he belongs in the dark. I don't want to spoil anything that happens, but know that if you are looking for a tight knit story with all your questions answered you will not find that here. This tale is very loose, but definitely enjoyable.

The gameplay in Lone Survivor is simple, yet leaves the player with many options. Being a 2D game, You moves left or right to navigate across rooms and hallways. These areas are all interconnected to create a 3D space, which can get a little confusing without the map (or a guide), but after an hour of play it's pretty easy to pick up. To handle enemies, players must either use rotten meat or flares to distract enemies, sneak passed them using hideaways in the shadows, or unload a clip from the pistol You finds early in the game. Despite using these simple options, the game is very dynamic, leaving much up to player choice. This is important, because these decisions are what helps shape You's mental health. Killing enemies kills them for good, so you won't have to deal with them while back tracking (which you do quite a bit of because of how small the game space is), but also negatively effects You's mental health, where as sneaking is better for You's mental health, but requires the player to deal with the enemy any time You comes back to the area. Combine the player choice with interesting environment creation and enemy placement, and these simple systems build into a complex game that makes it easy to come back and play through again and again to get every different ending while trying out new things.

You merely adopted the darkness. I was born in it!
On top of the exploration and enemy interaction, You requires sustenance. While exploring the world, You comes across many types of food and items. Simple snacks are the easiest to find and eat, but degrade You's mental health over time. More complex food, like canned goods and meat, are better for You, but require specific items, such as a can opener and gas, to prepare and cook the food. Pretty much every food can be combined with one another as well, resulting in a diverse system that takes some experimenting to fully understand. I had to save my game to the cloud and just play with each ingredient, as some are so rare you only obtain them once. But once you get that perfect meal combination, it is immensely satisfying.

Visually, the game uses a pixel art style, making it feel unique for a horror survival game. It works well for it, as monsters are harder to discern, leaving your imagination to wonder and create much scarier entities. I often found myself more terrified of the shambling creatures in this game than any of the newer creations in horror games, including the infected from Left 4 Dead or the Clickers from the Last of Us. However, the font is also pixelated, making it hard to read from time to time, especially when You's mental health is really low and the screen dims to reflect that.

I love you Chuck
The music also works really well with the game, building up for big events and slowly dissipating during exploration. I think my favorite touch has to be when You kills creatures. Entering a room with a monster in it results in this unsettling noise that grows louder as you get closer to the foe. However, once You has vanquished every foe in sight, there is no sound at all, making the room feel empty and reflecting the degrading mental health of You. Such a simple touch, but so powerful. 

All of these things are what makes Lone Survivor a special game. This short experience is far more complex than you would expect, but has no fat either. Everything is there for a reason: to bring you into the experience. Like I said at the top, this game has stuck with me for weeks. I still find myself thinking back on all of the endings and figuring out what happened to the Lone Survivor. For anyone looking for a great, compact experience or fans of the survivor horror genre, I highly recommend this game. Just turn off the lights, pop on the headphones and dive in.

9.0 out of 10

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