Horror is a challenging concept to do well. Many games (and movies) go for the thrills simply because it is easier than taking the time to craft a chilling universe. There are a multitude of methods of doing so, some with greater effect than others. I don’t pretend to be an expert on horror as I can’t stand the movie genre. Ironically, the video game genre of horror intrigues me. It doesn’t help that I don’t like blood and guts. So I go for the psychological version. I have currently gotten my hands on one of the most intriguing and truest psychological horror games in recent years: Lone Survivor on PC.
Lone Survivor follows a young man with an unknown name. He lives in an apartment building overrun by zombies. Tired of fleeing for his life, he decides to search for other survivors because he doesn’t want to die alone. He hears a radio message that there might be people on the other side of his floor and decides to investigate. There he finds a roaring party and a friend talks to him on the fire escape. But when he returns inside, there are two dead bodies behind two zombies. What is going on with this apocalypse? Is this all real, or is it all in his head?
It’s no wonder that game works as well as it does. Several years ago, Jasper Byrd (the developer) created a demake of Silent Hill 2. In that short demake, his eye for details and feel are quickly apparent as it turned a pseudo-NES game into a brilliant use of horror tropes. The same is true for Lone Survivor on all levels.
The game is a pixel-inspired game taking place on a 2-D plane. The spaces are dark and grimy. Mounds of flesh pulsate on the walls. The zombies look like hairless dogs (in a horrifying kind of way). Worse yet, the darkness surrounding your character is foreboding, creating an atmosphere where anything, just anything, might jump out at your character. Whoever said a high polygon count is needed to create tension needs to play this game. If it wasn’t for the map function, I would get lost very easily.
Sound design also sells the tense atmosphere. There are weird mechanical-swirling along with … chewing sounds (or whatever it sounds like) indicating that zombies are near. The soothing rest music with a twinkling synthesizer creep me out a bit. There is no voice acting, though there is a good chance it could have helped the game move even further.
On the positive side, Lone Survivor is an adventure-survival game through and through. You have to find the proper key to unlock the door, find a pair of sharp scissors to cut through a mound of flesh along with food and bullets to make it through OK. Mirrors are used as a quick transportation system, though it will only take you to the last one used. Combat is a bit clunky, though it certainly is forgivable since the protagonist is supposed to be an “every-man.” Unlike other horror games that give players the option of melee and firearms, there’s only the latter. And if you run out of bullets, then you either need to hide or run. It certainly makes things very tense to run into a small horde of zombies and be unable to properly finish them quickly.
So is Lone Survivor worth your time and energy? Yes, it is very much worth your time and energy. It isn’t a perfect game as it is easy to get lost and can get a little frustrating at times trying to figure out what to do and how to get there. If you have the time and patience to dive into this game, this is one of the more rewarding psychological horror games available on the market. How many one-man teams can say that?