After an apocalypse, you are a Lone Survivor lurking in the halls of a low fidelity 2D side scrolling, abandon apartment building. There is no power and supplies are limited. Every day you leave the safety of your humble bedroom in search of food and a solution to the mysterious, surrealistic hallucinations that are happening to you.
What lurks beyond your apartment 206 walls are faceless mutants that only have a sense of smell to find you. This sense of smell leads them to find rotting chunks of meat that you can find in refrigerators and leave to bait them. Once you’ve dropped some meat, you can hide in specific areas and watch as they travel past you.
You do find a gun, but ammunition is scarce and these wandering mutants take a few bullets to put down. Firing is slow, reloading is slow, but that comes with the genre. How can you be terrified of a mutant walking toward you when you can instantly kill it? Well how can you be terrified when you have a gun to take them down?
Lone Survivor has all of the makings of a survival horror game or at least a point and click adventure without clicking anything. The game is keyboard only which under normal circumstances, I have no problem with, but I do prefer a controller. The real problem is there are plenty of keys to use and sometimes finding the correct key in the glow of your monitor can be a daunting task. There are keys for reloading, shoot and interact share a key, left, right, flashlight, map, leave meat, show the inventory and two other things. Eight keys in all and even more for gamma correction and so on.
The game excels in an atmosphere and creepy vibe. Flesh covered walls you need to cut through. Coming across a party going on in a room while there are threatening mutants outside. Having to find a girl’s stuffed animal. Saying hi to a plant as you pass by. Finding a girl locked away behind bars. You are a lone survivor though. How can you be lone and yet have all of these people inhabiting your wrecked apartment building? You’re the only one tat seems to know there’s any danger going on. Every so often you experience a dream or hallucination in the form of a cut scene that plays out and only adds to the odd experience. One cut scene has you and someone else in chairs discussing pills. It adds to the surrealism that the game brings.
The radio in your bedroom and your plush cat toy are your only source of friendship. The radio gives hints as to what you should be doing and you will find cards that tell you what stations to tune into. Its a good way to bring you back to a game if you go long periods without playing. After all the best way to play is in the dark after midnight and who can stay up that late?
I know that your character sure gets tired easy. He gets exhausted as much as he gets hungry and when he gets tired, you need to return to your room every ten or so minutes. Its only a constant recommendation. Something might happen if you take too long, but its never anything that you need to do right then and there.
To make travel easier, you can look into a mirror and teleport your way through back to your apartment. It adds to the surreal nature of the game, and it becomes mandatory because you need to fight the whims of your character. He gets tired and hungry as we all would in a world of sheer darkness and famine, but he refuses to do things like traverse a hole he had gone through before. Its a good way to force you to use the mirrors as a sort of tutorial. Doors are locked and your character mentions coming back there later.
You get a map of the apartment level with all of its rooms. Everything is marked, locked doors, blockages, open doors and so on. It feels small enough to learn your way around over several trips, but you can still get lost. Places to go are marked with giant question marks, but the problem is, these never go away, even long after you’ve explored everything in the room.
There are plenty of items such as can openers, gas tanks for stoves and hams that need to be cooked that manage to still be fine in a refrigerator with no power. You can see an item’s description in the menu. Some things are obvious, but its the food that you need to see if its spoiled before you consume it. There’s also an option to talk with objects, such as your sleepy cat doll. Whatever keeps the crazy isolation away I suppose.
While I do feel the menu is a bit cumbersome to use, it keeps you in the action because its just a minimal series of items at the top of the screen. I’d rather stay in a game like this than hop to a menu. When you see an item that can be interacted with, you still need to delve into the menu and use the item when it could have been streamlined so you just use it at the proper place. I can chalk it up to survival horror game design forcing you to figure out that you need to use a can opener on cans.
You can find red, green and blue pills scattered around here or there. The choice to take them is yours, but I learned from arcade games in the 90s that winners don’t use drugs. They accumulate to a sort of score at the end determined by what food, pills and choices that you made such as pushing drugs on someone.
As a character, you’re alone and sanity has gone with everyone else. You’re wearing a medical mask that might keep out whatever mutating apocalyptic virus there is, but it also makes him look like he has a giant smile in this shambled building shooting “mutants” while downing pills.
Lone Survivor feels like a good, simple game, but once all the mutants are dead the challenge goes with them. New areas have new mutants, but roaming through an empty wasteland for the fourth time can get dull. With an area so small, its never frustrating and the game lays out your objectives in a good manor to keep you going. Other times you’ll need to check cabinets that you’ve already checked previous to being stumped in order to find a hole to crawl through.
Its easy to recommend for its atmosphere, surrealism and simplicity. Its a good environment that takes you to a different place where there are no clear answers only your interpretations.