The Lone Survivor puts you in a post-apocalyptic world riddled by zombies. Despite placing itself well within the horror survival genre, the essentials to survival—food, ammunition, and shelter—are all unlimited. How the main character finds these things or survived the apocalypse in the first place is left up to the player’s imagination, but they aren’t without a motive. Instead of trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, the main character spends the game trying to find another person to die with. You can spend countless days (literally) surviving in the apartment without venturing out—but once you do decide to leave, monsters and horrors await you.
The game has lots of elements that combine many other survival horror games into one—the flares from Alan Wake and the navigation and atmosphere of Silent Hill are some major homages you can find in the game. Despite its side scrolling appearance, it feels a lot like traditional RPGs, where you have to use the clues given to you throughout the game to figure out which key item you’ll need to use to progress. The answers are usually obvious, though finding places to use them can be tricky as you go through the game.
The navigation is very convoluted and you’ll often find yourself getting lost as you roam the game’s apartments and cities. The apartment basement is especially confusing, although this is justified when a beast starts to chase you throughout the level. There’s only a few ways out, and they’re easy to miss, so the chase can be a frustrating sequence—but ultimately worth the price, since it keeps you on your toes, and in the end, it’s a horror game.
Lone Survivor handles game overs and exits in a unique way—instead of dying or exiting the game like usual, you black out and wake up from the last bed you slept in. This is one of the few places where the ‘it-was-all-a-dream’ hand wave actually works—since it explains why you get multiple ‘lives’ in the first place. There is also one area where you become trapped in a small room, forcing you to restart as any of your actions will result in the main character saying how scared they are, adding a unique spin to the game: the one circumstance where the main character actually would die is a simple situation that the gamer puts them in.
The plot of the game is very difficult to piece together, and it has to be played multiple times in order to see the full picture. This isn’t a case where you miss subtle things—they’re obvious plot points that just make no sense on first inspection, possibly because of the creator’s poor grasp of the English language. You receive visions of different characters depending on which of three drugs you take, and they give you corresponding supplies. At the end of the game, all of the contributing factors add up to give you one of three endings—and only one of them is good.
Overall, the game was worth its price, but still a little too short for my liking. Its sound design was phenomenal, and the music tracks were very fitting and well-composed, even if you only heard them in specific circumstances for only a few seconds. Even though the bulk of the game was created by one person, it still shines as a magnificent indie survival horror, and is well worth a purchase based on its contents, not its novelty. Hopefully Jasper Byrne’s next game is longer and more detailed—this seems like just a taste of what he’s capable of making.