Magnificent And Important Advent Calendar: Day Nine

By RPS on December 9th, 2012 at 5:00 pm.


Survival of the infinitest is the rule by which Horace lives, and it one which we should all acknowledge. But we can’t all be endless, and that’s a truth which is evidenced by our ninth advent calendar window. Open it. OPEN IT.

It’s… Lone Survivor!

Adam:

“It’s time to face the outside world…”

There’s a world of trouble in that ellipsis. It’s a hesitation, a journey outside that is already threatening to push back on itself and turn inward. Here there be monsters, skinless and shuddering, but anxiety, and an inability to connect and interpret are the greater dangers. Lone Survivor’s safe zone is an apartment, a cradle in the night, a place of relative order and sense. But the world outside is fractured and sharp.

Like Hotline Miami, to which Byrne contributed a shimmering collection of soundscapes, Lone Survivor is a singular vision. Both titles allude to other games and wider cultural artefacts, but they conspire with and against their inspirations, acknowledging and mutating them. Lone Survivor is infected with themes and moods that would fit (un)comfortably in Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill, but everything from item pick-up noises to the shifting of realities is in a slightly different key.

The first great tonal deviation occurs early in the game when the player character, only ever referred to as ‘You’, discovers a party, the music spilling out from a brightly lit room into the rotting corridor. It’s a moment of brightness that colours the remainder of the game, a scene almost indistinguishable from the nightmares, dreams and medically-induced hallucinations that punctuate the daily struggle to survive.

Lone Survivor is, for me, a game about hope. The darkness, grime, rust and blood cover a world that is still capable of surprising with joy and beauty. There is immense warmth and pleasure in a can of beans, heated on a barely functioning hob, a remedy for the crunching, dessicated snacks found in abandoned rooms. There is a cat to care for and to love. The world may be ending (then again it may be carrying on just fine without You) but that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to cling on to the good that remains.

Almost everything, from the sophisticated gloom and warp of the graphics to the story’s more personal elements, is the work of one man and Lone Survivor demonstrates the strength that can be found when a game entirely forgoes the industrial process. Although sometimes obscure, the possibilities suggested by the narrative are of horror without a supernatural element. Byrne understands that the most memorable monsters are metaphors, and that unnerving and confounding an audience is far more rewarding than a hundred sharp shocks. In doing so, he delivered a game that lingers in darkness but finds its most brilliant moments in the occasional flickers of light.

It’s the sort of game that can lead to wide-ranging conversations. Whatever comes next, it’s almost certainly going to be intriguing.

Nathan:

My experience of Lone Survivor might be described as somewhat… atypical. It’s a game I’m pretty sure I needed at the time I played it, and I thank Jasper Byrne tremendously for that. I’d just hastily packed my bags and moved to San Francisco – far away from my birthplace and home of 22 years – and I was pretty much lost. Don’t get me wrong: I’d relocated to an amazing place, but I felt like an outsider. I didn’t know anybody, and I felt woefully unwanted. It seemed like every face I passed on the street was glowering disapprovingly at me for the simple act of existing. I was, yes, quite lonely. I didn’t deal with it particularly well, either. I frowned and sighed and never stopped working and lost track of things like eating and hygiene. Because you can always rely on the good ol’ human brain to bellow, “FUCK SURVIVAL I’M SAD.”

Then Lone Survivor came out. It sounded super interesting, so I flung my depression zombie husk body in its general direction and eagerly latched onto its clavicle. And I hated it. For the first couple hours, it frustrated the living daylights out of me. I kept dying, progress felt negligible for how hard I was fighting to earn it, and my character wouldn’t shut up about his dumb problems. “I don’t even recognize myself anymore.” “I’m losing it here.” “I’m tired all the damn time waaaaah.” Dude, seriously? Just deal with it.

And then something clicked. I realized I was treating my character like I was treating myself. I was angry at myself for handling my move so poorly. Furious, even. But I didn’t think I deserved to be depressed, because I was in one of the greatest cities on Earth. What was I even doing? And whatever it was, why wasn’t I doing it better? Guilt had wrapped its oily tendrils around my eyes and mouth and throat. I was suffocating.

I stuck with Lone Survivor. After my lowest, cursing-est, spitting-est point, I had nowhere to go but up. What really hit home for me, though, was how my character reacted once I finally got my act together. Slowly but surely, his disposition became more cheerful. He pointed out how well-rested he felt, how much he enjoyed his daily coffee, how wonderful it was to simply scarf down a warm meal. It wasn’t just about survival anymore. He’d remember how much he loved living. So he ventured further and further out. He adopted a helpless stray cat. He did his damndest to save some poor man from transforming into a gurgling wad of screaming flesh. And eventually, he confronted the source of all his suffering and guilt head-on.

Or I guess I did. But on some level, I needed that example. I needed something to show me that I could regain control, walk out into the sun, and do some actual good with my life again. Lone Survivor gave that to me. It woke me up.

.

43 Comments »

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  1. pistolhamster says:

    I’ve been meaning to try this, but this little Magnificent post pushed me over the edge. Buyinating it for Xmas

    Btw: The steam trailer music is that part of the actual game?

    • Premium User Badge

      RedViv says:

      Indeed it is. Completely consistent with the endings and normal music that would fit in a Silent Hill game, for the most part beside that mentioned tonal shift.
      The best Silent Hill game since SH3, basically.

      • Jake says:

        After seeing all these comments comparing it to Silent Hill I guess I have to pick it up. Silent Hill 2 is my favourite game but I had never really considered Lone Survivor largely due to the graphics I guess, the steam video is actually quite painful to look at on a giant monitor and the retro style/super deformed head thing really doesn’t appeal to me either. I know people say to look past the graphics and it’s not like SH2 looks amazing these days, but I still have to admit they put me off.

        • eclipse mattaru says:

          Silent Hill 2 actually looks pretty fantastic, considering its age.

          But yeah, every time this game pops up I recommend it by stating that, pixel art notwithstanding (I’m with you here, I really dislike these kinds of graphics), it’s more of a Silent Hill game that any Silent Hill has been since the second one.

          • MattM says:

            I’ll stick up for SH3. It wasn’t as good as 2, but it still got what made SH so great and its visuals were amazing.

          • Jake says:

            I’ll stick up for SH3 (it’s great!) and also The Room (it’s not bad!). They missed some of the subtleties of the story but had great visual style and were still creepy as hell. SH3 has some horror set pieces that are worth the price of admission regardless of story, for example the fairground bunnies or that room with the big mirror in the hospital. I might just play the SH games again to be honest.

          • eclipse mattaru says:

            I admit that 3 and 4 (hell, even Homecoming to be honest) had quite a few *awesome* set pieces, but they were just that: Set pieces. They came up at random without much cohesion or deeper meaning or much of anything, really.

            And oddly enough, lacking a deep background the stories *still* came off way too conservative: I mean, they don’t have the solid backstory of 2, but they don’t dare to go for the full fledged insanity of 1 either, so they just stay in a very safe and rather dull middle ground, and they end up being the same thing as any number of horror movies of the last 20 years (Homecoming of course being the worst offender by a huge margin, turning into a full-fledged Hollywood comedy halfway through).

            The worst part, however, is that they have quite a few great opportunities gone to waste –especially The Room, which had a very interesting thing going on by making the player a witness and having the villain be the actual protagonist of the story. Unfortunately, they take the “villain” thing too literally and in the second half of the game they turn Walter into a cookie-cutter Saturday morning cartoon bad guy, complete with evil laughter and whatnot. A shame, really.

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        • SavageTech says:

          I’m fairly neutral when it comes to pixel art; I like it when it’s done well and hate it when it’s used as an excuse to not make decent, well-styled art. I thought Lone Survivor used it well. The lack of detail actually made things scarier for me, kinda like a horror movie where you only see glimpses of the killer/creature in the shadows until the very end.

          It also looks better in motion than in the screenshots thanks to a host of visual filters/effects. There’s a sort of TV static/film grain mixture that makes it harder to discern whether the movement you’re seeing out of your peripheral vision is dangerous or not, which again adds to the creepiness.

  2. Treebard says:

    So many great games this year, but this is the one I keep finding myself thinking about. As you said, Adam, Byrne really understood hope, and it was those small comforts throughout that made me want to explore every nook and cranny.

    Fantastic, fantastic game. I’ll certainly be replaying it several times, which is rare for a survival horror game.

  3. Premium User Badge

    fredcadete says:

    I bought and tried this and I agree its atmosphere has no parallel.

    It works so well that I am too scared to launch the game again and I only played it twice.

    • AJ_Wings says:

      Me too. I absolutely loved Lone Survivor, it brought me back memories of Team Silent’s Silent Hill games.

      Problem is I never played beyond the first two hours due to lack of time. Now I really feel like playing it all through in the weekend.

      Also, the music is absolutely phenomenal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d95T7noQlNQ

    • stupid_mcgee says:

      Oh dear… I’ve been having the “too scared to play” problem with Amnesia.

      It doesn’t help that my cat likes to jump up onto the back of my chair and paw-tap me on my shoulders. Then there’s the random sounds of her scratching the chair or rug, which also sends me into a panic. Perhaps having the cat out of the room while playing would help, but probably not. I had a hard time with the game even before the cat started to call my bedroom her home.

  4. Premium User Badge

    daphne says:

    This year’s Advent Calendar is depressing me — not due to the picks revealed so far, but it reminding me of my ever-growing backlog (and my languishing pace in handling it). I’ve been having so many “Oh! Right! I was supposed to play this, too!” moments here and elsewhere. :-(

    Lone Survivor, too, is one of these games.

    I guess I should learn to better make use of my free time.

    • Premium User Badge

      RedViv says:

      Start with this one. It’s rather short, but considerably thought-provoking.

  5. Wedge says:

    This game would’ve been a lot better if anything you did actually meant anything. It’s impressive the variety of things you can do and ways you can play, but none of it ultimately means anything other than a + or – on a morality meter, out of a very limited ending set =/. Also fuck the can opener.

    It was fun for a playthrough, but had no interest after that.

  6. Premium User Badge

    LTK says:

    When I got to the building’s exit in Lone Survivor, I realised I had been waiting for it to end there, and that I was continuing to play for the sake of closure. That there was even more of the game waiting for me outside just led me to quit it because until that point, it was predominantly boring as hell. That just makes it more puzzling that everyone seems to like it so much.

  7. airtekh says:

    Lone Survivor had a good atmosphere, but I kept getting really annoyed at having to backtrack to pick up mission-critical items that I missed first time around, so I never managed to finish it.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I’m not a big fan of survival horror, but this one I liked. I couldn’t stop playing it until it was done.

    One funny thing is, that on my first playthrough I never took any pills. I was suspicious of them, so I tried to get by without them – that worked, but I missed part of the game because of that. Later I learned of the dreams, so I began a new game and just took pill after pill, to see what happens.

  9. Phantoon says:

    I hated it.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Xantonze says:

    I really wanted to like it, but too much backtracking and a very confusing 2D layout made me give up after 1 hour… I feel bad, but there are so many games around, can’t afford to play stuff more annoying than entertaining/thought provoking.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I had a similar experience. Really enjoyed what I played of it until I hit a brick wall in my progress, got too frustrated and gave up.

      I still listen to the soundtrack though, it is fantastic.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      I liked it as far as it went, but eventually got stuck with no way forward and gave up. I encountered no cat.

  11. MistyMike says:

    That grin…

    • Eddy9000 says:

      It’s meant to be a face mask, but after seeing it described as a grin in a previous article I haven’t been able to see anything else.

  12. Sivart13 says:

    I stuck around long enough for the significance of the Silent Hill-style ending-determining pills and so on to become apparent.

    I probably would have finished it if it was a straight linear Survival Horror, but for some reason the amount of objects/decisions screaming ‘THIS WILL SOMEWAY INFLUENCE THE ENDING’ threw me right off.

    • Phantoon says:

      Ah, thank you. Someone has articulated why I dislike the game.

      Now is it 3deep5me or 4edgy6me?

  13. Premium User Badge

    Clavus says:

    This game is still staring at me in my Steam backlog. Should give it a shot after I’m done with Dark Souls.

  14. Yosharian says:

    Just wanna say that Horace’s message on the downtime page was purrty awesome =)

  15. Ironclad says:

    I still don’t get it… What’s Sean Plott got to do with this?

  16. Beanchilla says:

    If you don’t already own this you should definitely change that.
    I loved the music and think it was one of the most atmospheric horror games to come out in a while. While the gameplay is pretty simple the story is a blast and I hope for more endings.

  17. eclipse mattaru says:

    Nice write up for a fantastic game, but I have to say: “Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill” my f’ing ass.

    The beauty of Lone Survivor is that it takes us back to the times when Silent Hill was good -more specifically, to the things that made Silent Hill 2 one of the greatest games of all times-, and back then Yamaoka was only making music.

    It would be MUCH more accurate to say “Takayoshi Sato’s Silent Hill”. So there.

  18. antoniodamala says:

    The game was almost 90% right. If it wasn’t by the forced pseudo-open/pseudo-deep ending the game would be so much better. A simple pause to think about you have saw and done would be just perfect.

  19. elfbarf says:

    I dropped it after ~30 minutes after I found out that I had passed by a can opener (which like everything else in the game, is incredibly hard to see) earlier on. I was starving at this point and out of non-canned food and I didn’t feel like attempting to backtrack all the way there. I may have stuck with it if the art style was different; I couldn’t stand it. It was too hard to tell what things were and the text was extremely hard to read.

  20. Old Rusty Dusty says:

    This was by far one of the best games I’ve played in years. For those of you who dropped it within the first hour or so, I’d sincerely recommend that you give it another go. The story and atmosphere are absolutely haunting and perfect, and much of the game is just as morbid and foreboding as the best of the Silent Hill games. That, and it’s one of those few games that really makes you stop and think about meaning or significance of little things, like a good piece of literature does. It’s this facet that far too few games these days have any capacity to implement whatsoever– with the norm being to leave everything laid out so openly in plain sight that there’s little if any room left for interpretation or speculation of the story, characters, and events.

  21. yeastcapp says:

    Wonderful post

  22. ScorpionWasp says:

    I do have my doubts that there’s an explanation within the game that:

    A – is possible to be figured out with only elements from within the game and very few “leaps of faith” (unsupported assumptions).

    B – is an explanation the author intended.

    I may (and I hope I am) be wrong there.