Light has traditionally been viewed as a safe harbor from the darkness in just about every narrative, be it video game or otherwise. It's no different in Those Who Remain, a first-person psychological horror game that drums up influences from games like Alan Wake and Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
Revolving around puzzles that require you to stay in the light while avoiding dimly-lit areas (and the monsters taking refuge within), Those Who Remain is a game with potential in the horror genre, but it never truly delivers on the ideas it presents. Though it starts off fairly strong and even disturbing at times, it quickly grows into a doddering mess that just isn't fun to play.
You play the role of Edward, a man who isn't having a great time of things. When you're first introduced to him, he's seen looking over a photo of himself with his wife Andrea. He realizes his life has hit rock bottom as his marriage is on the rocks. It's time to break things off with his mistress Diane to stop hurting Andrea and try to get back to normal. He brandishes a gun and moves away from his desk, rife with bottles of whiskey, to end his affair with Diane in person.
His destination is a motel outside of the town of Dormont, where he resides. When he gets there, however, the entire place is empty, with no cars around to be seen. After finding a way into Diane's room, Edward is greeted by a ringing phone. Upon picking it up, a voice urges him to "Stay in the light." The shower's on with water running. Diane is nowhere to be found. There's nothing left to do but leave.
When Edward leaves, he sees his car peeling out of the parking lot into the darkness of the night. He must head out on foot to find help and (hopefully) Diane, but he's met with strange beings with glowing eyes. They stare out at him from the darkness, but disappear as soon as there's a light source introduced. Thus, Edward's odd journey begins.
This introduction has a very Silent Hill 2-like feeling to it, but it's nowhere near as scary. You are introduced to the strange beings who inhabit the darkness fairly early though, which lends a strange sense of foreboding to what would otherwise feel like a lackluster game. At least things kick off pretty quickly.
Light up the night
Most of your time as Edward is spent wandering around the outskirts of Dormont initially searching for clues about Diane. The entirety of the town, conveniently, is completely covered in shadow, except for the moments where you have an exploding car or a flickering street light. If you wander too close to the darkness, you'll be met with the glowing-eyed spirits waiting for you ominously.
They're terrifying until you realize they "turn off" and back on again when you place a light source near them. Try flipping a light switch near darkness where they're located and their creepiness is reduced tenfold. All they really serve to do is keep you from going to areas you're not supposed to be in at the moment, and offer little more creep factor than that.
While avoiding these specters, you need to complete puzzles to make your way through each area, whether that's an abandoned gas station, garages, or clinics. The gameplay loop is pretty cut-and-dry. You need item X to open up door Y, or some variation thereof. Occasionally, this requires you to travel through different dimensions and back to figure out a puzzle. This can occasionally be entertaining, but not especially challenging.
The thing is that you don't have anything to defend yourself with, so these puzzles and finding notes and items throughout the game will take up most of your time. The "dual-world" mechanic finds Edward performing actions that affect items in both realities. This includes finding a way to free a car from from foliage in one dimension by using a vial of herbicide in the other. None of these situations are particularly interesting or challenging, and aren't nearly as clever as most other survival horror games' puzzles. They end up feeling like busy work instead of intriguing happenings that keep you on the edge of your seat, and I found myself needing to play in short bursts to keep from getting bored.
Puzzles and creepy spirits with glowing eyes aren't your only adversaries. Edward will eventually meet up with a teenager named Annika and a few other individuals who Edward must soon judge accordingly, sending them to hell or letting them live in an odd turning point for the game. There are also massive, surreal enemies such as a large monster with a spotlight for a head, There's also a variety of other ghoulish demons like a massive naked woman and one that resembles the Witch from Left 4 Dead. These monsters are cool-looking enough, but they're really not too different from what we've seen in any other pedestrian horror game.
Perhaps the puzzles and occasionally gruesome encounters would be more meaningful if the game didn't feel so disjointed and dull otherwise. You learn very little about Edward over the course of Those Who Remain, and by the time I was an hour or so in I admittedly didn't care. It's hard to remain invested in Edward's plight when the story continues to shift away from him and onto other characters so often.
The game has a decidedly low-quality, copycat horror feel to it that permeates every facet of its being, so it's hard to look past that the further you get into it. It's made well enough to accomplish what you need to, but it's simply not that entertaining beyond the first few areas, which I initially found exciting during the preview. Doing the same exact thing over and over throughout the course of a game isn't something I want to do, especially when it doesn't feel like there's much of a payoff at the end.
Time to pass on
Those Who Remain begins with a cool premise that can keep it intriguing for a while, but that quickly fizzles out. There's just not much reason to stay and finish the game out, despite the fact that it can be completed in a few hours if you can figure each puzzle out quickly.
I'm a massive horror gaming fan, so it's disappointing when games continue to take the same paths in a bid to scare players. Those Who Remain is an example of wasting an interesting beginning and stretching it out over the entirety of a full-length adventure. It's just bland and mediocre – not awful – but forgettable, especially when there are so many better horror stories out there to be told.
This review is based on a PC download code provided by the publisher. Those Who Remain is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Those Who Remain
- Interesting premise to kick the game off.
- Occasionally fun interdimensional puzzles.
- Can intermittently be legitimately spooky.
- Protagonist's plight doesn't continue to be engaging.
- Tired horror gaming mechanics.
- Puzzles do little to hold your attention.
- Glowing specters squandered as a way to keep you from using certain paths.