So last night I got home to a house without electricity.
Since Fiji is dangling on the tail end of a tropical cyclone we've been getting constant power and water cuts. This really sucked because I was looking forward to playing the brand new game I bought yesterday by the amazing indie developer Jasper Byrne.
I first came across Byrne's work when I got my hands on his Silent Hill 2 demake title; Soundless Mountain. For something only 8 pixels high, that game did more to quench my horror gaming needs than most AAA titles.
His latest work is a labor of love that took more than a year and a half for him to put together, all by himself. It's called Lone Survivor and it's been killing the review scores on a lot of game sites across the interwebs.
I didn't get to play this thing till about 5 in the morning when I woke up to find the electricity had come back on. After splashing a bit of water onto my face I sat down at my pc in my darkened room, with the wind and rain strangling the windows, the perfect backdrop to one hell of a game.
The first thing that pops about Lone Survivor is the graphics. The game is done in beautiful (and I use the word loosely) pixel art, reminiscent of an old school NES game. I took a great liking to it, I actually still play Splatter House 2 over and over on my NEO GEO emulator, so Lone Survivor looks like a gem.
The story is very simple; you are a Lone Survivor of some sort of disastrous outbreak that has left the entire city (and maybe even the world) in ruins. The only other thing 'alive' out side are these hideous mutants that stalk the dark corners looking to make you their new chew toy. The lead character has now name and is simply known as "you" in the menus.
The gameplay consists of you having to explore this derelict world to find items to help you survive, and maybe find out just what happened to everyone else.
The game is intended to be a survival horror in the purest sense of the phrase, focusing on scavenging, exploring and coping with being alone. In fact the game does a really great job of making you feel alone, and it even has these little events that make you wonder just how well your troubled little mind is dealing with the events that you're being faced with.
The controls are very simple and everything is very nicely explained without feeling like the game is explaining too much. You save the game by taking a nap and you need to eat and drink to keep yourself going. Combat in the game is very simple, but is often encouraged to be avoided. In stead of shooting there are stealth elements to resort to. Plus things like shooting noises and the light from your flash like only attracts unwanted attention.
To fight the isolation there is a plush cat that you can talk to. This doesn't always help though as some times you get these mad hallucinations. At least I think that the guy with the box head and the other one with the white face aren't real. I've screen of finding a real cat at one point... I can't wait for this.
The game has these mad bits where the world around you sort of shifts into this eerie 'other world' and it's really creepy when this happens. I think that the sound plays a huge part in the scare factor too, this game has some mad music and sound effects that really hit the mood home.
It's hard to explain what it is that really gets you hooked on Lone Survivor, but what comes to mind is that it reminds me a lot of Silent Hill. Its got a sort of "mess with your head" thing going, and as you play and explore you're not sure why you're going on except to find out what else might be out there for you to find. There's a real sense of dread that hangs over the whole game as well, that feeling that even when every thing looks safe, you can sort of sense that there's something lurking not to far away that wants to get you.
Lone Survivor really feels like the type of horror game that got me hooked onto the genre in the first place. There's a great review for the game over at Destructoid that you should check out if you want to know a little more about it, and if you like it you can buy it for yourself here.
As far as horror titles goes I strongly believe that this games deserves a place right up there with games like Silent Hill or ... actually I can't think of any other title this would sit comfortably with. Most other horror titles like Dead Space or Resident Evil are a lot more in your face when it comes to horror elements, and though Lone Survivor has plenty of blood and gore, it's not an action game. Instead it opts to be very subtle and a lot more crafty with it's scares.
I guess you could say it's like the Journey of horror games.
The thrill is in the experience that Lone Survivor creates. The individual elements are nothing compared to the sum of its parts. It's some thing that needs to be played because just looking at these screens don't do it justice. Definitely the coolest horror title (indie or other) that I've had the pleasure of playing in a long while.