I never thought a pixel art game would manage to leave me as deeply unsettled and tense as Lone Survivor. Filled with dark and grotesque imagery, constantly playing with player expectations and reveling in the abstract nature of hallucinations and dream logic, Lone Survivor kept me constantly on my toes, questioning what was real, what was not and what cost my choices were having on my character’s long term mental health.

Lone Survivor is a game that is about more than it appears. On the surface it’s about the last surviving member of the human race following some kind of end of the world viral outbreak, but the game is ultimately more focused on the players personal journey into their own sanity (or insanity). Taking cues from several entries in the Silent Hill series, you’ll find yourself getting different endings depending on what actions you take throughout the game and what they say about the characters mental state. It’s not a clear cut good of bad endings scenario, there are just paths that have their own well reasoned benefits and drawbacks. If you run out of ammo you might pass out and wake up with more, but the implication is that you either imagined using the ammo up or are imagining your extra ammo. These are the kinds of choices that affects how the story plays out, how do you balance your sanity with your safety and the ease with which you progress through the world?

Lone Survivor’s low detail art style, while not necessarily as immersive as some worlds in higher budget titles, definitely has its positives. The lack of detail is, at times, utilised to add a sense of mystery to the world; the biggest example for me being the player character’s face mask. While it’s recognisable as a face mask, it could just as easily be mistaken for a huge, creepy madman’s grin. Sometimes not being sure is scarier than the reality and in this regard Lone Survivor excels at causing tension and unease through a lack of clarity.

By embracing dream logic, Lone Survivor does a lot of things that turn conventional design practices on its head to maximise unsafe and uncertain feelings that the game is riddled with. The game constantly puts things in your path that made me question where the characters Sanity started and ended, from rooms that are different upon revisiting, to hallucinations and nightmares that get more and more vivid as you progress. I never knew what to trust and how far down the rabbit hole it was safe to venture. You can try and stem the tide of insanity by making sure to regularly eat and sleep, but that can only go so far when you’re regularly confronting horror after horror.

The PSN version of the game features several improvements over the standard PC version. Extra content like new quest chains and new interaction options have been added, and the game looks and sounds better than ever on standardised hardware. The team porting the game have gone to great lengths to tailor the experience to Sony devices. Trophy Notifications won’t pop until you’re sleeping at the end of a day, the controls have been optimised for a controller layout and the game supports the all important Cross-Buy and Cross-Save features between Vita and PS3.

The Directors Cut adds a New Game + option (not to be confused with Developer Jasper Byrne’s upcoming game New Game +) which makes several changes that add replay value. I’ll avoid spoiling them here as they’re best discovered as you explore, but there’s some great humor in the game’s new additional content. While Lone Survivor is a fairly short game at 5 hours, there’s a lot of incentive to going back including using a different approach to get a different ending.

Wrap Up

Lone Survivor is great if you’re looking for a survival game that finds horror in its characters more often than the monstrous creatures. Its endings do a great job of reflecting the choices you make throughout the whole story and there’s a lot of depth in the narrative. It’s not too tough, it’s not too gruesome, but it left me on edge and tense the whole way through multiple playthroughs.

score of 8

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About The Author

Founding Member

Laura’s gaming journey began in the 90′s when she was given a SNES by her older brother with Mario paint. From that day video games were all she thought about day or night, be it playing them, designing them, discussing them or writing about them. Why does she want to write about indie games? Because indie devs are awesome and she wants to be their new best friend by telling them how terrible their games are. That’s how it works right? Twitter: @LauraKBuzz Email: Laurak@indiehaven.com

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