Weep and you weep alone.
Lone Survivor, a horror game developed almost completely by one guy, Jasper Byrne, opens with a disclaimer that you should play it in the dark, with headphones to get the full, creepy effect. Yeah… uh… I’m not sure I want to be that scared, which may be an odd description for a game with a pixel-art aesthetic.
Lone Survivor feels like a combination of Twin Peaks and the best of Silent Hill, delivered by way of a classic Lucasfilm SCUMM adventure game look and context-sensitive controls. It’s a side-scrolling survival horror game with a fatigue and hunger system and a heady psychological element.
As the game begins, you’re told that you’re the only survivor of a plague, and the lone survivor, the protagonist, won’t even give his name. What’s the use in a world without other people? Then as you venture out, you begin to find notes that indicate that there just might be others out there.
There just might be. Lone Survivor doesn’t exactly follow a linear thread of character development. Sleep in your bed and you might wind up in a hallway with a long curtain and a pair of mysterious figures seated in chairs behind it. Look into a mirror and it may take you to some other place where a man with a cardboard box suggests that he has his uses.
Then there are also the flashes—sudden appearances of characters and items that disappear an instant after appearing. It’s pretty clear, early in the game, that whatever sort of plague is out there that the game is as much about the main character’s fractured psyche as it is about surviving a viral post-apocalyptic wasteland.
The pixel art look and side-scrolling screens are perfect for the sudden jumps and psychological hiccups, since it doesn’t have to change focus or perspective. The emphasis is also clearly on exploration and discovery rather than combat. It also has quite the nasty approach to death, usually requiring you to restart the game completely when it occurs.
But these elements are perfect for the game and create a genuine sense of dread and terror at the mummy-like infected and the un-reality of the protagonists’ situation. Is he going crazy because of what’s happened to the world around him, or does the world appear fractured because he’s suffering a psychotic breakdown?
Lone Survivor, pixel art and all, is clever enough with its nonlinear approach and context-sensitive adventure gameplay, and scary enough to warrant a look for fans of traditional survival horror and innovative game design. With the Director's Cut, developed by Byrne and Curve for the PS3 and Playstation Vita slated for release this September, they've been able to add more content to the game. This includes new locations, items and sidequests. Even more creepy for your dollar.