Available on PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3 and PC. Reviewed on PlayStation 3.
The Indie scene has, over the past few years, shown itself to be a thriving and audacious environment for games. Armed with a passion for interactive media, originality, experimentation, and a very apparent love for conveying art and entertainment through the medium of video games, these small studios are adding their own dimension to the industry. What these studios and games are really showcasing is not a preliminary field for ambitious game designers to get hired by larger companies, but rather a unique genre of its own that has the ability to express something extraordinary. Jasper Byrne’s Lone Survivor is no exception. This 2D survival horror title takes gamers to a surreal and intriguing world that captures the imagination with an intense level of curiosity accompanied by a minimalist approach to visuals and phenomenal sound design.
Lone Survivor is a dimensional and dynamic experience in gaming. My time spent with the game felt more like a psychological exploration than it did a survival experience. Though the title does require you to make careful decisions with items, food, ammunition, etc. the general intrigue about what exactly had happened in this world and just who your character really is was what kept me playing. In many ways, Lone Survivor has more in common with a title like Journey than it does with other survival horror titles. Very quickly you’ll realize that there’s an entire wealth of information going on behind the scenes only conveyed to you through what seem to be very out of place, surreal experiences. What makes this so intriguing is that you’re given very little in terms of what’s really going on in the world—leaving you with several theories and attempts to explain what it was all about, even after the game’s multiple endings.
Presentation in Lone Survivor is exceptional. The use of retro-style 2D graphics creates a very minimalist and quaint atmosphere. It’s something that seems to fade to the background during the more horror-like moments, but accentuates the bizarre and dreamlike moments that flavor this post-apocalyptic world. Though you may be unsure what to make of the graphic design during the first few moments, it starts to become clear that the game’s ambiance would be quickly lost without it. It’s a critical part of its identity and adds to the often-strange nature the game seems to embody during its more attractively bizarre moments.
The one thing that stands out the most in this title, and perhaps the most enjoyable component of the game, is the sound design. The choice of music and the creative use of static and distortion create one of the most impressive aural experiences I’ve ever had in a game. The stark and sudden usage of noise to create fear works in a way that needs to be experienced, as the game suggests, in a dark room, undisturbed, with the sound turned up. The music is perhaps one of the most gravitating features of the game, and decorating notable sections of the game with its own unique aura.
Perhaps the only aspect of the game that I felt detracted from the overall experience was trying to find my way around the map. Despite being in 2D, the game requires you to think in 3 dimensions through the apartment complex and the outside streets. Without a clear understanding of which way north, south, east, and west are, often times I would have to move a little bit and then open the map to see which direction I was heading. This created a few moments of confusion and since the game doesn’t pause when you look at your map, it was at times slightly aggravating.
The game’s multiple endings are dependent upon the choices you make throughout the game. How you communicate with some of the people you come across, utilize your items, and how often you resort to you gun will determine the outcome and it’s hard to say which ones are “good” or “bad.” It’s an ending that, although somewhat abrupt, implored me to really try and understand what had happened. The mental puzzle in understanding this world is as much a mechanical component of the game as the item management is.
Lone Survivor is yet another fantastic addition to the healthy and growing Indie game scene. The uncertainty of the situation your character is in, and the riddle of what’s really going on alongside the survival horror mechanics makes for a whimsical and memorable experience. With multiple endings a few different ways to play the game, there’s good reason to go on this puzzling adventure all over again