Lone Survivor review
13 October, 2013

Oh, god, not another zombie game! Actually, I'm not sure the monsters in this game are even zombies. I'm not sure of much about this game, aside from it being really easy to stuff up. I wrote about this game's ending in an earlier post (Video game endings that make you say, “What the…?”), which you should not read if you plan on playing the game, but the spoiler-free version is “I found the ending frustrating.” It's a game that lets you screw up, but doesn't tell you until you get all the way to the end, although it does at least give you a detailed report, even though it doesn't tell you which of your actions counted against you, and which actions improved your mental health. At this point you can either quit and uninstall the game in a fit of rage, or restart and try to do better. I didn't replay it, partly because of the slow pace of the game, but mainly because I couldn't figure out how most of my actions affect the character's mental health. I'm not making this sound like a fun game, am I? It is fun, it really is, it just makes a few missteps.

The intro sets the mood perfectly: you have been holed up in your apartment for so long since “the outbreak” (so they are zombies?) that you can't remember how long it's been, and now you're almost out of supplies, leaving you no choice but to venture out in search of supplies and other survivors. After a night terror, you wake up and the game starts. Pretty early on it becomes clear that your grip on reality is shaky at best. Your vision blurs and shakes; you meet people who quickly disappear with a flash of the lights; you enter physically impossible, gore-filled places; you find yourself talking to inanimate objects as if they were people; and worse.

Not being able to save without a penalty, and each save overwriting the last keeps the game intense. If it let you save scum, then none of your choices would have any impact on the game, since you could just jump back a bit and call do-overs. If you decide to abuse psychoactive drugs for hallucinatory freebies (no, really), you pay the consequences, you don't get to go back to your former self and decide to reform (or abuse a different drug). Although this doesn't go well with the obscure scoring, which affects which ending you get. You'll have to have really enjoyed your first playthrough to want to play it again to try for a better ending. It can be really trying at times, especially because you're penalised for saving (sleeping) “for no good reason,” so you can only save (without penalty) when your character is tired, but at least you can pause. (There are some other counter-intuitive things I won't mention, to avoid spoiling the game.)

I suspect this game is one of those games that you'll either love and replay again and again, or it will drive you batty and the ending will be a relief. It's hard but fair at some points, and unfairly hard at other points. Hard but fair is great, because that's fun and challenging. Unfairly hard is when, say, you get instakilled without warning several minutes from a save point. There's no test of skill there, it's just padding by forced repetition that you can avoid only with clairvoyance or a walkthrough. (There's nothing this brutal in Lone Survivor, don't worry.) Everyone's tolerance for this is different, and some people even like it (hence the popularity of Demon's Souls), so whether any given player will find this game a brutal but fun challenge, or a sadistic chore will vary greatly.

During my research for this review, I discovered that a “Director's Cut” re-release of Lone Survivor has been released on PSN (some Play Station platforms), with Windows and Macintosh ports to be released, so this review may be more relevant than I originally thought (since my reviews are ridiculously behind the times, intended for latecomers and tightwads). This re-release is mostly the same, with more additions than changes, so this review still applies. It adds a New Game Plus mode, which adds two endings, so maybe one of those will be more satisfying than the original three, but, again, you will have to have really enjoyed your first playthrough to want to play New Game Plus.

Lone Survivor is an amazing game for a solo project, and probably worth grabbing on sale for horror fans, but only those with plenty of patience.