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Review: Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut

Lone-Survivor-Directors-CutThis is waaaay overdue. But as Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is coming to PC and Mac in but aweek (for free if you own the original!), I can pretend that I knowingly timed this perfectly. Or I can blame my inexcusable tardiness on plenty of events, circumstances, and people. But I’m choosing to blame it only one person instead – Jasper Byrne, you devious bastard. Why did you have to make this game so alluringly cryptic? And why am I about to praise you for it?!

Lone Survivor: Director’s Cut (PS Vita, PS3, PC, Mac)
Developed by Superflat Games, Published by Curve Studios

I played Lone Survivor back when it was but a quiet release on Steam, and it remains a special event for me. In my memory, it was a quiet day away from work, exploring a game I knew almost nothing about as quiet rain bled down my windows. It was the kind of experience that was so perfect at the time that I’m worried it didn’t happen exactly as I remember, that I’m somehow embellishing it to match the emotions I felt at the time. As I dig deep into my recollection, I’m realizing it was never raining at all.

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You may have heard that Lone Survivor is the best Silent Hill in ages. I can understand that sentiment, but I also think that that undermines what has been accomplished here. Though Silent Hill, Twin Peaks, and other horror mainstays have had a strong influence here, the game feels like a personal project in a fashion rarely seen in the industry. You can feel that the graphics, music (oh my goodness, the music), and overall design is the product of one man’s vision. Kudos to Curve studios to leave this vision untampered, only adding slight changes to help the cohesiveness of it all.

As of late, indie gaming has been saturated with sidescrollers. Lone Survivor eschews the platforming that permeates most of these games, and instead feels like a PS1 or PS2-era survivor horror game, albeit with only two dimensions. Instead of the typical left-to-right trajectory in sidescrollers, You (the main protagonist) is exploring 3D spaces from a 2D perspective. Initially this is slightly jarring, but once you adjust to this different type of spatial awareness, it becomes quite natural.

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Better lighting was one of the improvements touted for the director’s cut. It looks great, and much smoother than it did in the original release. In fact, the entire fare looks much better, benefiting from the smaller size of the Vita’s screen. The pixellated style isn’t for everyone, but I love how much it leaves to the imagination. Dark rooms look so much more sinister when you’re wondering exactly what it is you are, or aren’t, seeing.

THIS GAME MUST BE PLAYED WITH HEADPHONES. The sound design makes Lone Survivor terrifying. Just like in Corpse Party, an art style that isn’t often used in conjunction with horror is elevated because of expertly placed audio cues and effects. Instead of telling you how much I love the soundtrack, I’ll just tell you that it’s been sitting in my car’s CD player since the original release. Even when you aren’t exactly positive what just happened, you’ll find yourself emotionally moved by the great mix of ambient tracks, more rock-based tunes, and even a bit of jazz. I WAS SERIOUS ABOUT THE HEADPHONES.

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You can expect to beat the game in about three hours if it’s your first time, and maybe an hour and a half if you really know where you are going. If you’re dismayed by this seemingly short length, worry not – you’re going to play it more than once. The endings are so brief and tantalizing that there’s a good chance you’ll immediately start it up again after the credits roll. This isn’t a game of length, but of depth. There are multiple ways to play, and there may be deeper consequences to your actions than you’ll first think. That’s about all I’ll say regarding that.

So much of Lone Survivor is best experienced with no previous knowledge that I find it difficult to choose what information to divulge.  Jasper Byrne himself was alarmingly cryptic when talking about the new content that would be added to the director’s cut. I greatly appreciated the new lighting, attention to detail (pixel-perfect little icons for the Playstation buttons!), and all-around smoother gameplay, but I couldn’t figure out where the new story bits were. It wasn’t until a week and a half or so with the game that I finally began to unravel the tightly-wound mysteries. Though I was oftentimes frustrated about this, the amount of satisfaction I bathed in upon obtaining all the endings was something I hadn’t felt since Dark Souls. I avoided message boards, strategy guides, and the like, so all relevations were mine and mine own (look at me, look at me!).

You might think this self-congratulatory rant is rather conceited, and you’d be right. But this long-missed feeling is one that I play games for. The way games are advertised now, you’re lucky if you haven’t seen 60% of a game before you’ve even got your grubby mitts on a controller. This maddening, tight-lipped attitude towards releasing a game as personal as Lone Survivor is what I wish all games could strive for. I want mystery, discovery, and pride upon completion. I know I’m not speaking for everyone, but I am a selfish git, and these are my desires. Desires that Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut fulfilled perfectly.

Final Score: 10/10 Weird shudders in the dark

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