Whilst playing through Lone Survivor you could be forgiven for not really knowing what is going on. Whether it’s trying to entice a stray cat to come and live with you, drinking copious amounts of coffee that you prepared yourself or hiding behind a stack of rotting carcasses so that a zombie doesn’t see you whilst having extremely strange dreams when you sleep. That’s not a criticism of the story though – which is simply brilliant – but more indicative of the sanity (or lack thereof) of the central character and the crazy experiences that you have to go through simply to survive.

The game revolves around you, a survivor of some sort of nasty business which has gone on and you are locked in your apartment. Sporting a surgical mask and fast running out of rations in your flat you are forced into exploring to survive and along the way piece together not only what happened, but trying to locate any other survivors too. Incredibly claustrophobic, this title is a survival/horror game set in a post-apocalyptic world and you have very limited tools at your disposal to aid you in your quest.

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Naturally, your surroundings have limited visibility so your best friend throughout the game will be a flashlight, which runs on batteries. As all Vita owners know batteries don’t last forever so you will need to make effective use of it. Keeping it on all the time will not only drain the charge, but will also alert the zombies to your location. Not having the torch available will make it very difficult to see your way around, obtain items and more. Early on in your adventure you will have to use stealth to avoid the monsters but you will find alternative means quite quickly to help take them out in the form of a simple hand-gun, but they way you play the title will greatly affect your experiences and interactions as well as the ending. The game requires that you keep your basic needs up to a reasonable level and ultimately the decisions you make throughout the game and the way you play will have a dramatic effect on your mental state. Killing monsters will push you over the edge, as will starving or sleep deprivation. But keeping a sane approach with stealth, regular sleeping and making sure that you are well nourished is easier said than done, given that supplies are hard to come by.

Exhaustion is the easiest to solve out of the symptoms you will suffer, by way of sleeping in your bed. This serves also as a checkpoint system with the game saving each time you rest. Your whole flat serves as a complete central hub, with the means to replenish water, cook, sleep and also communicate with other helpful characters via your radio (or your dreams) as well as returning to your last location via a magical mirror. Each mirror you encounter in your journey will send you straight back to your home, and from your home to the last one you used. This trick will become second nature to you if you don’t want to replay sections of the game because you died. Which can happen a bit.

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Your fridge has a constant supply of rotting meat (which is used to distract zombies) and your bedroom has a leak which can be collected to give you an unlimited supply of water – but food, ammunition and batteries are much scarcer. You will encounter these on your travels, but you can also engineer the appearance of these by taking either a green or blue pill prior to sleeping and after a surreal experience with either the “Man who Wears a Box” or “The Seated Man” you will find a boost in your supplies. Other characters will be encountered to boost your supplies showing that you are not entirely alone on your journey.

Bizarre moments littered through the game and will keep you wondering not only what is going on, but what will happen next and even how much of it is real. Exploration is crucial, and the temptation to search whilst knowing that you have limits really adds to the tension. You can of course blast through the game quite quickly, but looking for every item or viewing every ending will take some doing.

I felt that the visual style really suited the game. You will either be a fan of the 2D sprite look or you won’t be, but it’s all very beautiful and really well done. It’s dark, but detailed and remarkably effective. You really have to see it in motion to get a true feel for it. You could be forgiven for thinking that it wouldn’t quite have the same effect shrunk down onto a 5 inch screen, but if anything it heightens the experience. It’s had a few new fancy lighting effects thrown in to take advantage of that screen and really feels the part. Especially with the sound up. Oh yes, the music and sound effects truly hit the spot. Moody, eerie and atmospheric and it all adds to some serious tension. Especially when you are running away from a massive monster that just won’t give up. In the dark.

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Love them or hate them, trophies are a big part of games today and Lone Survivor has some quite imaginative ones among the 37, although without a trophy list you’ll be hunting for a while since the majority are hidden from view. the title also doesn’t unlock trophies immediately either, they will only unlock when you sleep or finish the game, this way they do not interfere with the experience. And yes, the game does have a platinum one!

So should you get it? I’d say that’s a simple yes. I’m not usually a fan of the horror genre, but this title is so much more than that. It’s charming, well-written and addictive and is a true pleasure to play, and once you have completed and tried to make sense of the ending you will want to go back for more to see what you have missed. For those wary of the price tag ($12.99 / £9.99 / €12.99) all I can say is that With five different endings in total and so many things dependent on the way you play seeing everything will not only take you a while but really give you a challenge too.

  • Brian Sharon

    As a fan of indie games & horror titles this game looks like a must-buy. Additionally really appreciate that the game chose to go with a more cerebral form of horror rather than twitch jump scares.

  • Kyle Wakeling

    I’ll probably be picking this one up as well; I love horror games and they don’t make enough good ones anymore. Nice review, Paul. =D

  • Jonathan Harding-Rathbone

    Really want this so will be picking it up when the the wallet isn’t filled with moths.

  • fatdog21

    Another great game for vita. Man im so back up with games now that have to wait (plus my 32gb memory card is completely full lol)

  • JonofPDX

    This is a game I was really intrigued by when it was on steam but the Vita price tag has kind of turned me off.

    I mean, let’s be real–$12 isn’t going to kill anyone. But I feel like the decision to price over the $7.99-$9.99 mark hurts it as an impulse buy. It pushes into the next “bracket” of games in the $10-$14.99 range and I feel like there are games there I want MORE (Strangers Wrath HD–I’m looking at you; and Guacemelee is a great example too). And if you are the kind of gamer that is motivated by trophies or is really compelled by the narrative I can see someone going through the story multiple times. I can see someone really wanting to know EVERYTHING and getting a lot of “fun” (is that the word for a game like this? Stimulation, maybe?) for its $12.

    But from the outside–interested but not sold on how much I’ll really enjoy the narrative (and really, most of these types of games have pretty simple narratives–it’s all about ATMOSPHERE)–it’s hard for me to justify $12 for a relatively short (I rarely play games multiple times) 3-5 hour pixel-art exploration game. At least, it’s hard when it’s up against some very stiff competition in its price bracket and below.

    Just my thoughts though–if I see it for around Machinarium’s $7.99 price tag (and I feel like, however different these games are, they are similar in WHY you play them–to experience them) I will likely snatch it up. That $4 price difference is nothing of course, but it FEELS like something when it’s next to the other games on offer in the PSN Store.

    Maybe I’m just being absurdly cheap 😉 .

  • Mauricio Quintero

    When it was released?

  • I didn’t expect much from this game, but its amazing use of sound – especially when using headphones/earbuds – is truly unsettling. Great game!