‘Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut’ Review

Platform: PlayStation 3/ PS Vita (Cross-buy)
Platform Played On: PS Vita
Developer: Curve Digital (original game by Jasper Byrne)
Publisher: Curve Studios
Genre: 2D Survival Horror

When I think “horror games”, I think of 3D worlds where it is quiet, too quiet, and darkness rules supreme. Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut takes this formula, puts it in a 2D environment and couples it with a sad story about isolation, loneliness and insanity. The result is a unique, intriguing and terrifying experience – created by one man – that I will not be forgetting for a long time to come.

The paramount element of Lone Survivor is the eerie atmosphere. Brilliant lighting and sound design intertwine to successfully create a world that feels inhospitable, offering some scares along the way. It’s not so much that there are jump scares in Lone Survivor (although there were one or two), it’s that the lighting is used in situations where there usually would not be that sort of light – random flashes in a cave, for instance. It creates a feeling of the supernatural, and the idea that you do not have control over the situation you are in.

Furthermore, the sound design constantly keeps you on edge. A constant, melancholy score plays in the background as you traverse the abandoned world. The score perfectly provides the player with a sense of discomfort and isolation. Sharp, loud screeches that build up to an event add to the atmosphere because they leave you scared and wary about what’s to come. I have never seen a horror game represented in 2D form before, but the lighting and sound made it a unique atmosphere for exploration.

Lone Survivor’s gameplay consists of the player exploring a desolate world to find a way to escape the city they are in. The world is filled with monsters, food and other items that the player must use to survive. Monsters can either be avoided by luring them and then hiding from them, or they can be shot – it’s completely up to you. I preferred to shoot my way through, but ammo and other survival resources were scarce. The lack of resources exacerbated the survival horror experience. So much so that you begin to cherish everything you find, no matter how important it is.

Considering Lone Survivor was originally made for the PC, Curve Digital has done a fabulous job of porting the game to PlayStation 3 and PS Vita. The controls feel natural and I had no problems with them.

For newcomers to the game, there is a mode in which you can see everything that can be interacted with. This is basically the main way to play. However, for players more familiar with the game, or those who want a more intense experience, the “expert” difficulty removes these indicators and restricts map use. I tried expert mode for a bit, and it definitely feels like the best way to play if you like survival horror because you feel even more helpless and isolated than before; even the game won’t help you.

The gameplay is not without its problems though. There is a fair amount of back tracking in Lone Survivor. Often, I would get to a blocked path and then realise I had to find something to unblock it. So I had to go back the way I came from and explore every room before I finally found what I was looking for. This is not unusual for 2D exploration games (commonly called metroid-vania), but when you are trying to manage your scarce resources it can become frustrating.

The other issue I have with the game is the lack of help it provides new players. Looking back, I’d argue that not knowing what certain items do adds to the intrigue the game aims to create. However, some players may find it frustrating and progression halting for the first hour or so – this is how I felt.

The story told in Lone Survivor is one of the most unique and intriguing tales I have ever seen – that includes movies, books and the like. I feel providing any details about the story, apart from anything mentioned above, will spoil the experience. It is a short, four hour game, but the events will definitely require you to replay the game for it to be interpreted.

After my first play through, I was left confused and felt let down. This was partly due to the events that happen throughout the story. The events often feel disjointed so you do not take much notice of them. However, with a little thought and reflection, you can find potential for everything to connect. In a way, this leaves the door open for every player to have their own interpretation of the story and the situation of the protagonist.

One thing to mention, which I did not realise the first time, is that everything you do contributes to the ending you receive. By everything, I mean everything. Sometimes even things you do without noticing will determine the ending you see.

While Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut has an interesting story, I feel the pacing was a little too slow at times. Being a short game, you would expect there to be a developing plot at all times, but for most of the game I felt that there was no point to anything I was doing. This is due to the back tracking, where nothing is happening, and the randomness of the events throughout the story. Some of the areas – particularly the third area – feel like they could have overstayed their welcome. However, the mysterious world keeps you venturing on.

Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is one of the most unique and intriguing games I have ever played. The tense atmosphere is created perfectly through lighting and audio effects to present a feeling of isolation and insanity. The gameplay further exacerbates this feeling by providing the player with a limited amount of resources for survival. Completing the trifecta is a story that I’ll be trying to interpret for days, months, maybe even years to come. While the game suffers from a few pacing issues and some may be unsatisfied with the open-ended story, there is no doubt that Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is a title which should be experienced by all to show just how differently video games can tell stories.

The Good

+          Unique way of telling a story

+          Intriguing world and narrative

+          Terrifying atmosphere

+          Choices have an impact

The Bad

–          Very slow pacing at times

–          Back tracking

The Score: 8