Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut Review
With a new release drought coming on, gamers everywhere are checking their backlogs. In the spirit of this backtracking, I thought I'd focus on a few games I missed. This way, while you're looking back, trying to determine which titles you regret missing, you can read reviews I never get around to. See how that works? ;) In the case of the solid and thrilling Lone Survivor: Director's Cut, I have to say it's yet another game you'll probably want to try. On the upside, it's short.
You probably noticed from the available media that this game adopts the pixelated, ultra-retro style. At first, I didn't think it was the best idea for an adventure that thrives on tension, simply because there's more tension when our brains start to really believe what we see. But after playing for a while, I decided that Jasper Byrne intentionally chose this outdated graphical style, just for the challenge of scaring gamers with old-school visuals. The fact that he succeeded is a testament to his outstanding ability concerning design and atmosphere.
Sound is another big factor and again, the team utilized old-fashioned audio to great effect. In fact, at the start of your creepy quest, they advise you to either play with headphones or with the volume jacked on your stereo, because sound is such a large portion of the experience. From the suspenseful soundtrack to the grating static-y noise that accompanies a dangerous encounter, Lone Survivor's audio will keep you pinned to the seat. Believe it or not, with this retro palette, you remain unnerved and on edge throughout. That's no easy feat, regardless of the technological advancement (or in this case, the lack thereof).
Something terrible has happened and as far as you know, you're the - wait for it - lone survivor. You live in an apartment building that has been invaded with deadly, otherworldly beings that are similar to zombies. Their exact design is difficult to distinguish due to the heavily pixelated nature of the game, but that only adds to the suspense. "What's that?" you'll ask, half-seriously and half-frightened. It's all the more terrifying to know that you're hardly a superhero. Letting one of those things get too close is a recipe for disaster and at the start, you've got nothing with which to defend yourself.
You eventually pick up a handgun and some ammo, but this is long after you've come to terms with other, even more pressing necessities: Food, for instance, and sleep. You must find a way to keep the calories coming in, and if you don't get some shut-eye, you could be in dire straits. In this way, Lone Survivor plays more like the adventure games of old, as opposed to more current survival/horror titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. I will say that the title in question has more in common with Silent Hill, as there's a similar sense of dark mystery that surrounds the plot and characters.
You also need to keep your flashlight running and for that, you need batteries. All these needs quickly pile up, to the point where you're always returning to the safety of your apartment to sleep and save. However, herein lies the point of the game: You must continue to push forward; being overly conservative can result in death just as easily as a rash decision. You have a lot of questions that need answers, after all, and you won't find them just wandering back and forth in the same apartment hallways. Plus, if you don't progress, you won't find invaluable new items and equipment, all of which are essential for survival.
I guess one of my complaints involves the lack of supplies during the harrowing adventure. Of course, I understand that equipment is supposed to be scarce; otherwise, where's the challenge? But despite some of my best exploration efforts, I did find myself becoming overly hungry or exhausted too often. Maybe it wasn't a matter of a lack of equipment and items, but merely a matter of time. I think we needed a bit more time before the game told us we had to eat and sleep. Also, we're always so focused on staying alive in this way that we often lose sight of the bigger picture, which is unfortunate.
The other problem is the map: It's difficult to read and doesn't always show you everything you'd like to know. Your character will mark mystery spots on the map, but determining your exact position and precisely where you'd like to go can be problematic. As for the portals (like using dirty mirrors to transport you back home), I think it was a great idea, and made traversing the environment a little easier. At the same time, I almost wish they had produced multiple home bases, so that you wouldn't always have to return to the same location, over and over. Sometimes, it makes you feel like you're not really getting anywhere, you know?
However, that all being said, this game remains a worthwhile adventure. It's unnerving and unsettling, an the dark mystical allure of the plot always comes to the forefront. It's strangely intoxicating: Walking along a dark hallway, wondering what's coming next, and wondering how you'll bypass it. Ammo is scarce and supplies are running low; do you press on and hope to find more supplies, or do you retreat to safety? Doing so means you'll have to backtrack, especially if there's no dirty mirror nearby...is that worth it? Or is it better to take the risk? These are very common questions, and you'll ask each numerous times during the course of the strange quest.
Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut only lasts about five or six hours, but with multiple endings and a ceaseless sense of urgency and fear, you'll keep coming back for more. Besides, the New Game+ option lets you restart the campaign with new items and locations, and you'll even see different parts of the story. The map could've been better designed, I'm not sure the timing is quite right (concerning how quickly you need to sleep and eat), and sometimes the game can feel claustrophobic. But what it does right, it does really right, and that's impressive. This is precisely the kind of thinking we need applied to big-budget horror games...maybe we'll see exactly that with the likes of The Evil Within.
The Good: Excellent atmosphere and style. Adventure elements add a serious sense of tension and urgency. Constant balancing act between progression and retreat. Game rewards patience and tact. Incentive to play through more than once.
The Bad: Map needed to be clearer. You get hungry a little too fast. Tight, very dark quarters can start to feel claustrophobic.
The Ugly: "It's a very special form of retro ugliness, and it works."
4/15/2014 Ben Dutka