Video Game Review: Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC, Mac OS X and Linux)
Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Superflat Games, Curve Studios
Publisher: Superflat Games
Price: $12.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: September 24, 2013

In a world where most modern horror games rely heavily on action and frantic combat, Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is a breath of fresh air. This is a game that manages to crank up the suspense while providing an intense, creepy atmosphere, all while being presented in a pixelated 2D environment.

The game tells the story of You, an unnamed protagonist (in his words, his name “doesn’t really matter anymore”) who is seemingly the lone survivor after a disease wiped out the rest of the population. Tired of being stranded in his apartment, he decides to head out in hopes of finding someone, anyone, who might still be alive in this post-apocalyptic world.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Of course, our hero isn’t really alone. Just outside of his apartment, he finds a truly repulsive, faceless monster whose presence is punctuated by piercing static and muted screams. Initially armed with nothing but a flashlight, the only way to get past this ghastly creature is to hide in the shadows and attempt to sneak past it. This is a common occurrence, as the monsters become more and more frequent in their appearances. Eventually, you’re able to get a gun, providing an alternate method to deal with enemies, but ammo is so scarce that it is often best to be as stealthy as possible.

Much of Lone Survivor takes place in the dark, and strategic use of the flashlight is necessary in order to find your way around. Again, supplies are scarce, so it’s best to conserve the battery. This can make it tricky when scoping out an unfamiliar location, as even the slightest glimpse of light will cast the creatures into a frenzy, chasing you until you reach a new room.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Perhaps even more frightening than the relentless enemies is the rapidly deteriorating mental health of the protagonist. In order to stay in good (or at least acceptable) shape, you must eat often while also getting a proper amount of sleep. There are food items scattered throughout the in-game world, some good (fruit salad), some bad (squid on a stick), but all are beneficial for keeping your stomach full. There are no health bars or other HUD reminders — the only way to know if you need to sleep or eat is through random text prompts. Wait too long to do either and you will begin to hallucinate, which is never a good thing. You can also talk to plants and stuffed animals to keep your sanity, and if you play your cards right, you might even be able to befriend a *real* cat.

The frequent reminders to eat and get some rest only add to the already riveting tension, and with a possibly insane protagonist, it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what’s merely in his head. As such, the game has an intriguing cerebral element, becoming something of a psychological thriller in its own right.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Now, while the game absolutely succeeds in providing a haunting atmosphere, it does have some noticeable issues with its core gameplay. For one, there is a lot of backtracking. In order to save progress, you have to frequently go back to your apartment and rest, although this is helped somewhat by teleporting mirrors scattered throughout the building. Many of the doors are also locked at first, requiring you to explore and find their keys in order to get through them. This can be a tedious affair at times, especially when you find yourself going back and forth between the same two locations. There are also concerns with the game’s combat, as using the gun feels clunky and occasionally unresponsive. The gun can be aimed in three directions, but it’s difficult to actually fire off a good shot in the way you want to. This does make enemy encounters even more disturbing, though it feels like kind of a cheap tactic to do so.

Still, flaws aside, this is a very unique horror experience that is an especially excellent fit for the PS Vita. As the Director’s Cut, this is the definitive edition of Lone Survivor, and it includes new locations, dialogue, music, endings and even a New Game+ mode. The campaign can be finished in just 3-5 hours, but multiple playthroughs are warranted in order to discover new endings and learn more about the game’s narrative. As such, there is a solid amount of value here for horror buffs. Just make sure to play this in the dark and with headphones on… if you dare.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

PC Game Review: To the Moon [2011]

To the Moon [2011]

To the Moon
System: PC
Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel
Publisher: Freebird Games
Developer: Freebird Games
Release Date: November 1, 2011

It’s always interesting when a new game comes out that tries to do something different with the medium. With last year’s indie hit, To the Moon, actual gameplay was basically scrapped in favor of telling an emotional story. Many fell head over heels for this, and it even won “Best Story” in Gamestop’s 2011 “Game of the Year” awards. It’s clear that the game struck a nerve for most. Unfortunately, it seems everyone is grading on a curve here because of the medium and not for the actual quality of the game.

To the Moon tells the story of a dying old man who has a lifelong dream to go to the moon. In a setting not unlike that of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, there is a company that allows artifical memories to be constructed, letting its recipients live out their dreams. Two employees of Sigmund Corp. — Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts — are sent to help this old man get his one wish.

To the Moon [2011]

In order to do so, they have to go back through his actual memories in reverse chronological order by picking up “mementos” along the way. This allows the scientists to learn about the man’s life while discovering exactly why he wants to go the moon. Without getting into spoilers, it isn’t a happy story, as the old man has suffered from a number of traumatic events throughout his life. In fact, by the end, this becomes a bit of a tragedy, with a few scenes included specifically to tug on the ol’ heartstrings. Unfortunately, these big reveals feel forced, and I felt little empathy for the old man, who wasn’t much of a likable fellow.

The game’s dialogue, mostly between the two scientists, is laughably bad. Neil, in particular, is a poorly-written character who acts incredibly immature — to the point of sheer annoyance. The writing is full of weak attempts at humor, as well as references to internet slang and acronyms that will surely be dated in a few years. In short, it comes across as amateur, and it is a significant cut below the films and novels that undoubtedly influenced it.

To the Moon [2011]

As for the actual gameplay, there is little. It mostly consists of walking around different areas in the old man’s life, talking to characters and picking up random “mementos” throughout. There are also half-assed attempts at sliding puzzles between each stage of his life, and they never increase in difficulty. There are a few diversions here and there, such as a brief “whack a mole” mini-game and a segment that involves riding a horse, but they just feel tacked on, and they add little in terms of entertainment.

While I am willing to overlook certain gameplay limitations if there is a good narrative to back it up, To the Moon lacks in both areas. It’s clear the emphasis here is on the story, but it cannot hold its own when compared to other dramatic works. Are we so starved for quality plot devices in video games that we are willing to grade anything resembling something different on a curve?

To the Moon [2011]

I will give the game credit for its aesthetics. Despite using the dated RPG Maker engine, the 16-bit graphics work well in this setting, and I enjoyed the throwback to days gone by. The original music score is beautiful and fits with the game’s more serious moments wonderfully, even if the title theme is played a bit much.

I hate to talk down an indie game, especially one that tries to differentiate itself from the rest, but To the Moon doesn’t come close to reaching the stars it so desperately seeks. The in-game writing, highly praised by most, would get laughed at in any other medium, and the actual gameplay is far too simplistic. At a brief four hours, at least the game doesn’t overstay its welcome.

5/10

Humble Indie Bundle #3 is now available!

Humble Indie Bundle #3

It’s no secret that the indie game world is expanding every day. Some of the best games being released today are indie titles — see last week’s Bastion, for example. While the Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network and WiiWare markets are loaded with great examples of such games, there are a large number of computer-exclusive titles that are just as impressive.

This is where the Humble Indie Bundle comes in. Every six months or so, a group of independent game developers come together to release a collection of games with a blank price tag. That’s right — you can pay as much or as little as you want, and you have full access to DRM-free downloads for any platform (PC/Mac/Linux). These collections have been mammoth successes so far, and past titles have included excellent offerings such as Braid, World of Goo and Penumbra: Overture. The third Humble Indie Bundle was just released this week, and it is already making bank to the tune of over $500,000 in the first 17 hours alone. Hot damn.

Here’s what is being offered in the latest batch:

Crayon Physics Deluxe
Crayon Physics Deluxe – Puzzle game similar to Scribblenauts except that you draw shapes and objects in order to solve puzzles and complete levels. Grand Prize winner at the 2008 Independent Games Festival.

Cogs
Cogs – Steampunk puzzle game where you build a variety of machines from sliding tiles. Grand Prize winner at the 2010 Indie Game Challenge.

VVVVVV
VVVVVV – A 2D puzzle platformer that allows you to manipulate gravity to make it through the various levels. Much has been said of its extreme difficulty, but it has also won many prizes such as the IndieCade 2010 award for “Most Fun and Compelling” game.

Hammerfight
Hammerfight – A Russian 2D physics-based game that is focused on battles with badass flying machines.

And Yet It Moves
And Yet It Moves – A physics-based puzzle platformer with a unique papercraft visual style. This is also available on WiiWare.

To purchase the Humble Indie Bundle #3 and/or obtain more information, please visit the official homepage.