Grab your best flashlight friend, some green medicine, and your fragile sense of sanity for the startling scary surrealism of Superflat Games’ Lone Survivor. Designed by renowned indie developer Jasper Bryne, and taking influences in everything from Mario and classic Nintendo and Game Boy games to Resident Evil and existential horror, Lone Survivor weaves an intense and unique narrative using fun and simple gameplay, delightful graphics, and an 80’s anime style soundtrack. If you’re looking for an innovative, yet nostalgia riddled, horror game, this is it! Originally released for Windows and Mac on October 31st, 2013, Lone Survivor is an excellent way to celebrate the Halloween season or any other dark and dreary evening throughout the year.
Taking place primarily in a desolate apartment building (and within nightmarish visions of impending madness) Lone Survivor is a post apocalypse horror unlike any post apocalypse horror you’ve ever played before. Mutant enemies are only one of the rising tides of problems in this scary burnout apartment complex. The need for sleep, grotesque hallucinations, and the inability to tell the difference in them and the real world all plague “You” as you make your way through the game. You will have to solve puzzles, locate items, and sneak your way around the monsters that have invaded your home to have any hope of survival. Below we’ll take a more in-depth look at just what separates this title from the slew of other horror survival games on the market today in our Lone Survivor game review.
You play as “You”, an unnamed survivor, the titular last survivor of a mass infection which has rendered the rest of the world terrible, brainless, mutations of their former selves. Outfitted in a surgical mask, “You” begin the game in your apartment, number 206, unsure if anyone else has survived the infection. The first area of the game, assumed to be a dream or hallucination, takes place in a room with a checkered wall which only holds a lounge chair and end table with a cup of coffee on it. To the side stands a silent man with a box on his head. Your first choice of the game is to drink the cup of coffee or leave it on the table. After drinking, a finger snap is audible, and you awaken in a hallway with a monster. After sneaking your way past, you find yourself at an open black curtain. Upon entering you meet a lady in a blue dress who will not answer when called out to. After asking what she’s holding and reaching out to her she promptly disappears, dropping a flashlight in front of you.
When you activate the flashlight, it illuminates a man with a single bullet hole wound just in front of you in a flash, before you awaken in your bed. In the waking world, the flashlight is your only friend to accompany you as you explore the scary world outside. As you venture out into the apartment complex a call for help over the radio leads you to apartment 203, the home of “You’s” friend Chie. On your way across the complex you’ll have to move past monster mutants roaming the hallways by sneaking into open walls. Journal pages found along the way begin to fill in the horror story that has occurred within the building. A mystery figure known only as Draco puts words to the palpable paranoia and creeping horror with each new addition of the journal you find.
Upon reaching Chie’s apartment you find her, along with two other neighboring tenants in an oddly mellow mood relaxing, partying, and drinking. After presenting Chie with a doll from your inventory she asks you to meet her outside to get what you came for. Out on her balcony she gives you a pistol before disappearing. “You” describes the city below as devastated for miles around from the spreading disease.
After re-entering Chie’s apartment, you find that her guests have both become the same hideous, scary monsters that stalked you through the hallways of the apartment building. Once “You” has dispatched the two creatures you head back for your own apartment through a portal in the broken mirror in the hallway.
On hand written instructions included with a bottle of pills found in your apartment, or rather the apartment you’ve been staying in, it is cryptically suggested that you search apartment 205 for what it is you need. Upon entering 205, you are greeted by a wall scrawled with ‘No Other Solution’ in blood. “You” drops to his knees in pain and thinking he is on the verge of death lapses into another vision of the box headed man in which he tells “You” that sleep is comfortless when you are hungry and that if you need to see him again take the green pill. When the dream ends you again wake up in your bed in apartment 206.
With clever homages to iconic existential horror classics such as Twin Peaks or Silent Hill game series, Lone Survivor manages to paint an engrossing narrative in which you begin to feel like the truly terrifying horror is the face that stares back at you from the mirror. This title packs in twists and turns while providing scary surrealism and thought provoking plot points that will leave you wondering just what will happen next and pondering over everything that has happened before for days on end. Lone survivor is a stand out storytelling marvel that certainly demands more from its players than the average horror survival game.
The true magic of Lone Survivor lies in the game’s surreal yet engaging storyline. Knowing this, the designer’s seemingly integrated as much familiar gameplay tropes as possible so as to not complicate this focus on the introspective and internal horror of the game. Broken mirrors can be used as quick ports similar to portals found in classic Game Boy games such as Donkey Kong and Pokemon and flashlight batteries must be saved so as not to leave you stranded in darkness with a grotesque mutant on your tail a’ la’ Resident Evil. This reliance on familiar game mechanics is not a strike against the game in the least. The use of aspects that many gamers find familiar is an excellent way to free up some cognitive space to consider the deeper scary mysteries of this game. This is not to say that Lone Survivor is simply a rehash of old gaming tropes however. The title packs its own unique punches in terms of the puzzles it presents players and the multiple options the game offers you for dealing with almost every situation you come across. The plethora of choices given to the player allows you to guide yourself distinctively through the game to achieve one of five possible endings resulting from the choices you have made throughout the game. How you choose to play can have drastic effects on whether you gain the ability to piece together what happened within the walls of apartment 206 or fall ever further into insanity.
A sense of paranoid, creeping horror pervades this game like none other I’ve ever played. Sure, there are jump scares a plenty and the monsters that roam the hallways of the apartment complex are scary enough to incite nightmares in even the most hardcore horror fans but it’s in the small, ever-present, sense of doom that this game really shines. Not getting enough sleep or enough to eat can affect you in ways that range from strange to disastrous and the way you begin to grow distrustful of the very character you’re playing as the game reveals more to you highlights the ways Lone Survivor focuses on scaring you deep in your soul instead of wasting time on cheap thrills.
If you were to take Lone Survivor on its graphics alone you would think the game is a cutesy classic sidescroller callback. However, the game cleverly subverts this visual style to lull the player into a false sense of nostalgic comfort before the story hits you with some heavy notes on depression, loneliness, and desperation. This is in a similar manner to the way the familiar game mechanics allow for a full immersion in the story arc of the game and it’s this use of classic video game tropes where Lone Survivor is at its most clever. The title allows every piece of itself to draw you back into the narrative that is encroaching like the darkness around you. The graphics, art, and visual style throughout Lone Survivor are at once comfortably evocative of classic games and absolutely scary in the jarring horror of its darkness and depth.
Music and sound are one of the primary ways that Lone Survivor emanates its subtle scary vibe. Sudden shrieking screeches in the tensest of moments will shatter your nerves and the scurried grunting of mutants in the hallway will stick with you long after the final stages have been completed and you’ve walked away from your computer. These bumps in the night are experienced to their fullest through headphones and allow you to slip into the creepy, paranoid atmosphere. The Lone Survivor music score ranges from building tension to anime triumph anthems and further adds a layer of emotionality to this tense dream-like horror. For a game that provides its dialogue through text boxes, the music and sound design carry the audio of Lone Survivor without missing a beat.
Should you buy it?
Lone Survivor will undoubtedly be heralded as a storytelling video gaming classic in years to come and as the gem of Jasper Bryne’s incredible body of work. Relying heavily on familiar beats of gameplay mechanics while at once offering a unique and innovative narrative direction, this game wears its influences on its sleeve in the best way possible. A harrowing examination of survival, despair, and the fragility of the human psyche, Lone Survivor is a must play for any fan of psychological horror or scary survival games.
With one of the most compelling horror story arcs in modern gaming, Lone Survivor provides just enough of the old to help the complex scary surrealism go down smoothly. With a plot more akin to a movie or series, Lone Survivor is not your average 2D sidescroller but should be considered a must experience game for anyone who is a fan of creeping terror and psychological horror. Perfectly sculpted pixels give Lone Survivor a feel of having just stepped out of ’89 with the added bonus of decades of graphics advancement. If you’re looking for a surreal way to spend an evening that will keep you considering it for a long time after, look no further! This game will effect you in ways beyond what I can pin down with words in a horror game review. Regardless of your choice in the color of medicine, Lone Survivor is sure to keep your spine tingling and your control fingers twitching long into that dark night.