Thursday, March 20, 2014
Never in a million billion years would I have guessed that a 2D pixel art sidescroller would be more Silent Hill than the last...oh, five games in the series. And yet, Jasper Byrne's Lone Survivor transcends the limitations of its mechanics and aesthetics, giving you a true survival horror experience. I'll never try to guess anything ever again!
"You" are the protagonist, a young man in a surgical mask who just may be the only survivor of a mysterious plague that has turned the rest of the world into fleshy, zombie-like creatures. Unwilling to accept this fate, you leave your apartment in hopes of finding others who may yet live...but, as you might expect, it ain't easy out there. During your explorations, resources such as ammo and batteries for your small flashlight are in short supply. Even worse, reality, dreams, and hallucinations intertwine and overlap, so you're never quite sure what's really happening. And, of course, there are those fleshy, zombie-like creatures everywhere.
As I mentioned, fans of Silent Hill will find plenty of familiar elements during the course of the game: shifting architecture, doors that can't be entered until keys are found, weird skin monsters growing out of walls, holes in walls, mirrors that transport you to places both strange and familiar. Lone Survivor adds a layer of difficulty and tension to the already-challenging gameplay by requiring your character to eat and sleep frequently. (Sure, sure, it sounds easy enough...until you're starving and you've got no opener for the can of beans in your backpack.) Your sanity is also at stake here, thanks to the ever-encroaching darkness, the various drugs that are readily available, and the horrors you witness. In the end, your mental health determines the outcome of the game so there's replay value to be had in testing the various levels of wackadoo-ness.
Combat isn't difficult per se- it only takes a handful of bullets to put the creatures down- but as ammo is scarce, sneaking and stealth are your best options. Sure, sure, it sounds easy enough...until you've nowhere to go except through a door on the other side of four monsters and you've only got two bullets left.
Characters both real and imagined appear and disappear. The story feels very Twin Peaks-ish at times (and occasionally it's too ambiguous for its own good) but there's no denying the subtle horror underlying all of it. The setting is creepy, oppressive, and yes, disturbing, even though it's all rendered in a deceptively simple art style. Adding to this is the fantastic sound design and score, also created by Byrne, who's truly a one-man show here.
It's a fairly short adventure, but one well worth taking. As on-screen text suggests before you begin, turn down the lights, turn up the volume, and settle in for a survival horror game that feels straight from the good ol' days. It's available on PC, Mac, and PS3, where it's currently FREE for Playstation Plus members. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go add a can opener to my emergency/disaster/zombie plague kit.