The scariest game in years is a 2D side-scroller?
The survival horror genre has lost its way in recent years; the heavyweights like Resident Evil and Silent Hill have lost touch with the "survival" part of the genre, opting to go more towards the action-centric gameplay of Dead Space 2. That's why Jasper Byrne's Lone Survivor is such a refreshing addition to a genre that needs to get in touch with its roots. How does this $10 adventure compare against the heavyweights?
What Lone Survivor Got Right
Emphasis on survival - Don't let this 2D sides-croller fool you - Lone Survivor is the very definition of a survival horror. Players will be battling against a number of forces, be it physical enemies or inner demons, along with the need to eat and sleep, just to survive this 3-5 hour adventure. This isn't your typical Green Herb and Typewriter affair, Lone Survivor will test your survival skills to the limit, as each time you leave your apartment becomes a scavenger hunt for supplies.
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Psychologically draining - Alone in an apartment building with an unknown number of zombies on the loose is enough to make anyone a little crazy. The psychological side of Lone Survivor is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the game. There are moments scattered throughout the campaign that will have you questioning what is real, and what is kicking around in your mind. At the end of a playthrough, not only will you be immensely satisfied, but chances are you'll feel a little drained and tired. That's not a detriment to the game, that is the exact experience it purveys.
Scarier than hell itself - You don't need fancy 3D models to create a frightful game. Lone Survivor manages to be scarier than Resident Evil 5 with nothing more that 2D sprites, a chilling soundtrack and ambiance through the roof. Jasper Byrne has a background in sound and music, and his expertise really shows as the game provides a truly terrifying experience. Sometimes less is more.
Multiple endings = multiple playthroughs - When a game only costs $10 you expect it to be over and done with pretty quickly. Lone Survivor will take most gamers 3-5 hours to complete, and each decision will have hefty weight when it comes to your ending. The game gives you a concise rundown of where you went wrong, or variables that could change your outcome during the credits, which gives the player another reason to come back for subsequent playthroughs.
What Lone Survivor Got Wrong
Map system is a chore - Trying to figure things out using the map system in Lone Survivor is a chore that never becomes easier. While the gameplay is a 2D scroller, the map system acts as a top-down view of the current area which is a little confusing at the best of times. What makes rage worthy however, is when being chased by zombies, the map system doesn't pause the action, making an informed escape route seem almost impossible.
Gunplay might as well not exist - You'll find a pistol early in the game, but it might as well not exist. You can aim for the head, chest or the knees, but zombies have to be close enough that you can smell their breath to cause any damage. Bullets are scarce, and most sections can be beaten without bullets, instead using rotten meat to lure enemies away from your objective. It's not broken. it's just not very fun.
The Final Verdict
If you want a real survival horror game; a game that isn't shy of testing your mental strength and demands your full attention to details, then Lone Survivor won't disappoint. It's crazy to think that one man (Jasper Byrne) could get so many things right in this single game that the major games of the genre get so wrong. Genuinely frightening and strangely unique, Lone Survivor is well worth the $10 admission fee.
By Stephen Heller - Tweet @Heller_MMGN