Alone in a dingy run down flat, at the top of an aging, poorly designed edifice. The electricity was shut off days ago. The cooker’s bust and there’s a legion of flesh eating mutants roaming the halls waiting to consume your flesh and maybe even desecrate your corpse.
Each day is a bleak, soul-destroying and ultimately-maddening cycle of coping with the sudden disappearance of your family whilst scraping by to find enough food, ammunition and other rudimentary tools you need to create some semblance of normalcy whilst the world crumbles around you.
This is the set up to Lone Survivor: Directors Cut, the 2D psychological survival horror game by Jasper Byrne, which has finally made its way to the WiiU courtesy of Indie porting powerhouse Curve studios.
Although on the surface it sounds like the trials and tribulations of a middle aged man going through a particularly rough divorce, there’s a level of ambiguity to the storytelling that makes you question not only the sanity of your pixelated pal, but whether or not the world around him is really as it seems,
As you stalk the hallways and abandoned apartments of the squalid tower block where the game is set, your flash light clearing a path through the darkness, your only companion is a palpable, almost omnipresent sense of dread. As you edge along the screen, you’ll find yourself praying that the game’s soundtrack doesn’t shift from its usual moody-yet-minimalist beats to the kind of merzbow-inspired ear torture made famous by Silent Hill. It’s at this point that dread turns to panic and desperation as faceless mannequin-esque monstrosities lurch out of the darkness towards you.
You can choose to fight or to hide, and that’s about it. If you fight, be aware that your gun is a glorified pea-shooter and ammo is very scarce and all-too-finite in its supply. However, hiding from the hordes brings its own set of challenges because you do so in pre-designated recesses, and more often than not you’ll be ambushed by something lurching out of the darkness before you even have the chance to be sneaky. More often than not, a swift tactical retreat is the best option, and if you find yourself outnumbered, let’s just say that anything other than dashing through the nearest door is going to result in a trip to the game over screen with all your progress since the last time you had a kip being erased. A harsh reminder of the realities of the situation, come the zombie apocalypse. You fuck up, you die.
That isn’t to say that the game is wholly unfair or doesn’t attempt to ease you into the action. Quite the opposite. Exploring the first floor of the apartment complex is actually pretty simple and does a wonderful job of introducing new players to the game’s crafting, stealth and combat systems, whilst making you feel pretty bad-ass at the same time. Like the early days of a break up, you’ll feel elated, feeling able to survive this harsh new reality. Sure it’s not perfect by any stretch, but you’ll get by.
However, as soon as our hero ventures down the stairs and attempts to slowly reintegrate themselves into society, things change. Much like the sudden, stark realisation of two in the morning, after the day’s bottle of rum has begun to wear off, that she’s never coming back,the poor bastard finds himself overwhelmed. The beasts that surround him swiftly grow in intelligence and size and his surroundings become all the more decrepit and decayed. Food runs low, ammo scarce and the radio ceases to be a helpful companion and more a portent of doom and betrayal. Drugs become the only way to sharpen his senses and dull the pain. Plumbing the depths of the apartment complex becomes not just a search for an exit and a new life outside the horrors of the hovel he finds himself a prisoner of, but more importantly answers to how his life became so bleak in the first place.
Like most great journeys of self-discovery, where your character ends up both mentally and physically by the end of Lone Survivor’s 4-6 hour run time, is up to you. It’s the culmination of every action you’ve taken leading up to the game’s climax. What is revealed, come the credits, about not only our lone protagonist but the grim new reality he finds himself in is well worth the hard graft to get to, even if you might not like what you find out when you do.
Tense, haunting, and it’s a trip you’ll want to take more than once (for the sake of the multiple endings if nothing else) Lone Survivor: Directors Cut is another welcome addition to the WiiU’s growing library of quality indie titles: Best played on the gamepad, in the dark, with the volume turned up.