With triple A horror slowly turning its hand toward action, and the vast majority of independent productions being very hit-and-miss with their levels of quality and design, it’s exceedingly rare to trip across something that’s truly worth picking up. Jasper Byrne however, producer of both Soundless Mountain 2 and Rockabilly Head, designed something in early 2012 that would attract nothing less that critical acclaim once it was unleashed upon the world.
In Lone Survivor you’re given control of a nameless protagonist, who’s been somehow holding out against the inevitably of a mysterious apocalypse just outside their walls. Not only is the setting perfect, the ‘new game’ option tells you to wear either earphones or headphones for the best experience. Assuming you followed that request like a good gamer, then your ears are in for a treat (but your heart and eyes will probably want to strangle you later on).
As 2D pixelated survival titles go, Lone Survivor pulls no punches. By dropping the player right into the moment when the Survivor decides to venture out of the safety of their apartment, and into the festering block beyond, you are plopped into all colours of nasty, abhorrent creatures. The walk from screen to screen, as things scroll past, is not only wonderful to look at because of the clear dedication in the art design, but also absolutely gut wrenching.
Remember how sound design used to be a critical focus in most titles? Lone Survivor brings that ethos to a whole new level as every screen in the game, as well as most items the Survivor encounters, have their own unique sounds and songs. Even if there is an enemy not visible on screen, it’ll still be whispering into your ears, gurgling and moaning while you stick to the shadows.
Because of this choice to have unique audio bites everywhere, the attention to in-game mechanics is instantly heightened. You suddenly start to fear every tiny noise that’s a little indistinct or unfamiliar; it’s perfect for a horror title. The music design seems to dictate how scary the gameplay is, which is perfect because it doesn’t throw scares at you willy nilly. The atmosphere is built up and crescendo’s at the terrifying moments that will leave you either pausing the title entirely or breathless. Even the gameplay, with options for violent kills later that pit you against foes bigger than the Survivor, is based around stealth, allowing for totally non-violent play throughs.
On top of all those layers of impeccable design, is the story and how the Survivor perceives the destroyed world around them. Horror narrative tends to be a little too simple when choosing a theme, or the total opposite when it tries too hard to be intelligent at times. But Lone Survivor doesn’t do either of those things. As progression is made, the story naturally unfolds and there are branching paths, hidden notes to be found, all that impact how the title ends. But best of all is the enigmatic cast of characters you’ll meet along the way as the Survivor gradually starts to question the very world they see.
Horror isn’t limited by graphics or budgets then, instead it’s constrained by the strangely cliched ideas list that a lot of developers seem to draw from nowadays. With a mixture of 8 and 16 bit art, some of the best music in an indie title ever made, and a brilliant setting, Jasper Byrne created one of the most authentic and chilling games to date, and one that’s sure to rattle any player in some way.
Lone Survivor – 10/10