Horror fans know that genuine fear is not generated from big budgets, overproduced effects, or excess gore and violence. Fear is psychological. A good horror will pick through your brain and exploit your fear of the unknown. Lone Survivor, the latest game from Soul Brother-developer Superflat Games (a.k.a. Jasper Byrne), offers a mysterious journey that contains genuine scares from beginning to end.
The story of Lone Survivor follows a single human in an abandoned apartment, identified only as "You." Taking elements of I Am Legend, the survivor is in the middle of an apocalypse. The source of this apocalypse is shrouded in mystery, but the apartment is crawling with undead. It's up to "You" to find out what's going on, how the present world came to be, and if there's anybody else left alive.
Lone Survivor's look is the essence of simplicity. On the surface, it touts old-school, 16-bit era graphics. The undead look like anthropomorphic chunks of pink meat, the locales and characters look as if they were pulled straight out of a Sega Genesis, and the text-based conversations might seem outdated compared to current-gen offerings. Anyone turning their nose up simply due to Lone Survivor's presentation, however, are doing themselves a huge disservice.
Everything else about the game captures the essence of horror. The hallways and corridors are intentionally dark, so as to hide what's up ahead. Sometimes I would walk across an undead creature looking to swipe at me. Other times, the screen would suddenly flash red with a monstrous image while the background music hit a chilling crescendo. The game's sense of timing is impeccable -- strategically using its soundtrack to build tension and throwing in mind-blowing visuals when they're least expected. An example of this was when I looked into a mirror and suddenly saw a demonic image briefly flash before my eyes, just as the screen turned red and the music increased a couple of decibels.
Lone Survivor is also evidence that Byrne knows how to craft survival-horror. The game's protagonist is far from superhuman. Ammunition and weapons are incredibly scarce and once they're gone, they're gone for good. When confronted with an enemy, I was presented with the choice of shooting at it or baiting it with rotten meat and hiding in the background. The scarcity of ammo often had me leaning towards the latter. Throwing in a sense of realism, the game's main character was also prone to hunger and coffee-cravings. With food also in short supply, I felt a greater sense of tension and urgency. It's all of these elements combined — not knowing what's ahead, limited means of defense, racing against time, and not knowing how I even got here to begin with — that help make Lone Survivor such an intense experience. On top of that, the game features multiple endings, so it's an experience that I'll be reliving several times.
Jasper Byrne has worked on Lone Survivor for more than eight years, and the amount of time and love put into this game shows in the final product. Though it suffers from a few missteps–such as an unfriendly map system–it's everything I want from a survival horror game. Filled with psychological mind-games and a tense soundtrack, Lone Survivor is a game meant to be experienced with headphones and not a game I'd recommend playing right before bedtime.
This Lone Survivor review is based on a PC copy of the game provided by Jasper Byrne.