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Review

Lone Survivor Review

  • Game release: April 23, 2012
  • Reviewed:
  • PC

A gripping narrative and an irresistible atmosphere of spine-tingling dread make Lone Survivor a compelling horror experience.

by

When you think of "intense" games, you might recall some shooter's bullet-laden climactic scene, or a particularly impressive combo in a fighting game. But intensity doesn't just exist in moments of over-the-top violence or during awe-inspiring displays of skill. It can come from the way a game affects your mood and your mind as you play it. In that sense, Lone Survivor is one of the most truly intense games in recent memory: it's a game that, from the opening menu, grabs a hold of your senses and keeps them locked onto your monitor until the adventure is over.

You play as the nameless title character, seemingly the only human left after a plague has turned most of the population into faceless, shambling zombies. Despite this devastating catastrophe, you encounter other "people" with whom you can interact: a white-faced man, a man with a cardboard box on his head, and a few others, but how real these people are (and whether or not they're outright malevolent) is a matter of perspective. See, the main character is in a constant struggle against not only the mutants outside his apartment, not only his own hunger and fatigue, but sanity itself. Choices you make in the game--whether or not to carry on a conversation with a stuffed animal, for example--have real effects on how the main character keeps his marbles together; although to the game's great credit, it's not always clear what will be beneficial and what will be detrimental when you choose.

However you treat your character's mind, though, you face a series of challenges once he inevitably decides to sally forth from his lonely apartment into the world beyond. The halls of his apartment building are home to some of the aggressive mutants, but you are presented early on with a radio broadcast urging survivors to head to an apartment on the other side of the building. To be sure, you have to come back to your apartment over and over to sleep (which is also the only way to save your game) and because it serves as a base of operations for everything you do. Apart from trying to sort out the aftermath of the zombie plague, your character can focus on smaller, side-quest-type goals, like repairing a stove to cook more-palatable food (good for your sanity) or taking care of a houseplant--and all of these are centered on your apartment.

It's life's little surprises that keep you going during a zombie apocalypse.

Fortunately, a series of mirrors placed throughout the gameworld let you teleport to and from your home base instantaneously (and also serve to give you a sense of your overall health and sanity). Unfortunately, the game's mapping system leaves a great deal to be desired. For one thing, the maps are rendered in an overhead, bird's-eye-view format, while the game itself is entirely side-scrolling. This leads to a lot of going the wrong way as you try to spatially reorient yourself. Merely annoying most of the time, this disorienting discrepancy between map layout and gameplay perspective is absolutely hair-tearing during a couple of chase sequences in which you have to figure out where you're going, orient yourself properly, and avoid being killed, all in real time. Opening the map does not pause the game, and you can easily become zombie food while you're trying to remember whether it's a right or a left you need to take.

Such chase sequences are few and far between, thankfully, and most of Lone Survivor's gameplay involves sneaking past zombies, solving item-based puzzles, and uncovering the storyline. The main character does acquire a pistol fairly early on, and you have to engage zombies in combat, but this is intentionally made difficult because of your character's awkwardness with the weapon (and the sparsity of ammunition), and should be done only when absolutely necessary. You get past most zombies either by sneaking around them via recesses in the walls or by dropping rotting meat as a lure to distract them--or simply by finding routes that circumvent where they are.

Shooting zombies in the head does extra damage but isn't easy to time.

Mapping issues aside, Lone Survivor presents you with a world that's constantly engaging. The atmosphere is unceasingly depressive and nervous, with periodic hallucinations interrupting the gameplay and the main character's own frequent complaints about hunger, fatigue, and loneliness adding to the sense of urgency. The visual style evokes the old 2D adventure games of decades past, with modern flourishes that add to the oppressive atmosphere. In fact, excellent use of lighting (you are given a flashlight at the outset of the game) and shadow, along with rust-colored filters and generally putrid color tonality, contributes heavily to the palpable sense of loneliness and terror that your character must be feeling.

Dealing with hunger and fatigue is the primary and ever-present challenge of Lone Survivor, but it's not just food and sleep that you can use to stave them off. You're also presented early on with a variety of pills, from an unknown "benefactor." Red pills can be used to reduce the need for sleep, while green and blue pills can be taken before sleeping to induce dream sequences. These sequences reveal interesting story information and can even yield items for you to use in the real world, but they can also have significant long-term effects on sanity and durability down the line. Drugs are mysteriously replenished at a stash location in the main character's bathroom, but while drug use is a great way to examine aspects of Lone Survivor that you might not see otherwise, you can complete the game without taking pills--so you have to make a clear decision about what you want to do with the pills you get.

Whether you're under the influence or not, however, the standout element of Lone Survivor is its sound. Frequent use of industrial effects, hideous mutant screams, heartbeats, and quiet static set a bereft tone, but even more powerful is the game's soundtrack. Music is used only in specific instances, but it's so effectively written (in a sort of jaunty-horrific tone) and paired so well with what goes on when it's used that it carries you off completely into the gameworld when it starts playing.

Weird characters sometimes cross your path. Are they real, or just the fancies of a fevered mind?

You can complete the game in about three or four hours. And while the various side quests and minigames (and the game's multiple endings) offer replayability, it's disappointing that a large chunk of actual game time ends up being spent trying to make sense of the map. Having said that, quality is what keeps games memorable and important, not the raw amount of time you spend playing them. And Lone Survivor helps you remember what quality games are really all about: an emotionally enrapturing experience that leaves you with plenty of questions to ponder and possibilities to imagine as you go about your day.

The Good
Pervasively creepy tone
Fantastic sound design and music
Multiple endings and branching pathways
Oppressive 2D visuals draw you in
Involving storyline and deep characterization
The Bad
Confusing mapping system
Terrible chase sequences
8.5
Great
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Discussion

43 comments
HKILLER88888
HKILLER88888

seems a lot like Cave Story (2004)...ofcurse a lot darker...

uncfan21
uncfan21

ok should I try this game on the PC then?? i seeing alot of peoples liking and disliking the game

SolidTy
SolidTy

I have this on PC, I had some trouble getting into it. I need to get back to it.

Cheztaa
Cheztaa

Is there no age rating on this game?

bennehftw
bennehftw

The super nintendo version if anyone doesn't remember

 

bennehftw
bennehftw

Anyone know if this game is like the original Clock Tower game?

 

Kinda seems like it.

CrysisFPS
CrysisFPS

The amazing thing about Lone Survivor is that I somehow cannot imagine it being as scary in full 3D graphics. Those 2D retro-visuals really contribute to the Post-Apocalyptic horror feel. While I think a 9/10 is more in order, this is still a good review by Eric!

Halloll
Halloll

I hate multi endings

 

plutosectomy
plutosectomy

great game, try to play it alone let's see. :D , dont criticize the graphics i prefer to the story.

vadagar1
vadagar1

wow

 

some massive companies that shall go unnamed *cough* EA, Bioware, Blizzard..etc*cough* <yes i have really complex coughs...should take a look at this game (and others like amnesia and grimrock) and then really REALLY take a good look at them selves....

 

if one man can do this, why the hell are some big massive budget games sucking ??!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

alexaad
alexaad

Yesterday have started playing. This game has nice sick atmosphere and great music! =) Very impressed so far.

wyan_
wyan_

I will have to get this game for sure. There aren't any real big budget survival horror games anymore.

Superkuo
Superkuo

I think that the name "Lone Survivor" indicates the game maker himself here. He is the one alone survived among those huge giant gaming companies. That's just my opinion! :D

ThisIsKets
ThisIsKets

Reminds a lot of amnesia with the way the atmosphere is, I will have to look into this

Kungfu_Kenobi
Kungfu_Kenobi

This game deserves tons of buzz. I'm glad to see it reviewed on Gamespot.

cyborg100000
cyborg100000

Reminds me a little of Clock Tower, great game.

sK2003
sK2003

This game is AMAZING, you guys have to give it a try! The feeling of claustrophobia and panic is something I haven't felt since the original SH / RE games from the 90s / early 2000s.

joeborg14
joeborg14

I love it when games made by one person are better than the efforts of multi-million dollar corporations!

borrasj
borrasj

Excelent game, creepy.

tachsniper
tachsniper

give this man a studio and see what he can do (yes the game was made by one person)

franzito
franzito

It has a very good old times SH feel this one.

wavelength121
wavelength121

It's not 8 bit, it's just made to look that way to evoke nostalgia revenue from dinosaur fanboys

edpeterson
edpeterson

It's so refreshing to see a Survival Horror game again, and it's funny how this game is so much more of a Silent Hill game than the new ones will ever be.

capt_karem
capt_karem

This game should be supported. Innovation is what the game industry needs more than anything.

slayerSS-3
slayerSS-3

Take note capcom, this is how a survival horror game should be made!!!And this game is made by 1 guy, yes only 1!!

A must buy :)

axlroselm
axlroselm

Sometimes this Indie game feels like a slap in the face of big companies!

gix47
gix47

does have a silent hill feel to it, the atmosphere of the game and the reply value makes this a great game

joeyrepro
joeyrepro

EH? I think I'll buy back my old VIC 20. No point in asking this lot to invent the holodeck or the matrix then.

( sorry I'm over 40)

lpsyco666
lpsyco666

iiiiiii...and great graphics...hum graphics?!where!

2bitSmOkEy
2bitSmOkEy

Looks interesting, gonna check it out.

winshot
winshot

Great Game... Spooky sometimes..... It's a 8-Bit Gem.... Finished it with a smile on my face... Sadly I still cannot figure out who that "Man in the box" was. A classic on the lines of "To The Moon".

ermhm
ermhm

@HKILLER88888 Hmmm, not even remotely similar, except for the fact both are 2D. This is a survival adventure game, while Cave Story is a side-scrolling platformer. Both are great games though :)

Evanrocknuma
Evanrocknuma

 @uncfan21 More people like it than dislike it.  I was in the same boat, finally played through it in one sitting last night and oh my god.  If you like other horror titles like Silent Hill and story lines that don't hold your hand or explain themselves than get this game.

RealFabioSooner
RealFabioSooner

 @joeyrepro It's funny, isn't it? We "old farts" dreamt of those things happening in the future - which is NOW - while those 20-somethings try so hard to be hipsters by recreating and drooling over the graphics and gameplay we expected so much to be surpassed ASAP.

 

The game is great, but not really due to its retro feel. Retro is for people who didn't live the thing and need desperately to feel part of an established clique. 

t0pheNutz
t0pheNutz

 @RealFabioSooner Oreally? I'm 27 and grew up with an NES, then a Genny, my brother had an SNES. Us "20-something hipsters" are the ones who grew up in the time you speak of...so what exactly is your point?

 

Unrelated but relevant, its funny when people speak of the "golden age of gaming", and say there are too many bad games released these days...crappy games are not a 21st century phenomenon. For every good NES game that is still fun to play in 2012, there are at least 20 that were crap in the 80s are still crap today.

lambofgod008
lambofgod008

 @RealFabioSooner Hey, thanks for assuming that everyone who likes to get a little nostalgia going with some old school graphics, gameplay and style are really shooting for something as shallow as being in a clique. I was around in the atari and nes days, and love old schooling it every now and then. Hey, all I need is the bumper sticker and I'll be set, right? Then they'll accept me in the retro clique? Alright!!

lambofgod008
lambofgod008

 @RealFabioSooner Oh, and by the way, how does playing a single player game, in the privacy of your home, have anything to do with wanting to be in a clique anyway? What kind of video game connoisseur bragging rights could that really give you? It's cool if you don't like the whole retro thing, but don't presume to think you know the reason everyone else does.

Lone Survivor More Info

First Release on Apr 23, 2012
  • Macintosh
  • PC
  • + 4 more
  • PlayStation 3
  • PlayStation Vita
  • Unix/Linux
  • Wii U
7.3
Average User RatingOut of 186 User Ratings
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Developed by:
superflat games
Published by:
superflat games, Curve Studios
Genres:
Action, 3D, Open-World, Adventure
Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Teen
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