By: Jeff Cater
Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut offers a unique approach on a genre that has been wearing thin: survival horror. Developed by Jasper Byrne and published by Curve Studios, Lone Survivor takes the genre back to the ’80s with claustrophobic atmosphere and throwback visuals that combine in such a way that chills are hard (if not impossible) to keep from crawling your spine.
Much like its visual representation, the controls are simple but effective. Guiding your character around his derelict apartment building can be done using the thumb stick or d-pad; neither of which really hold any merit above the other. Your X button will certainly get a workout, as X does damn near every required action for you. Beyond that there’s an inventory button (triangle), the R1 button for bringing up your gun and L1, which will show a quick-use inventory shortcut.
The retro feel of the visuals take a little getting used to. In-game text feels way too big for comfortable reading, but virtually every other section is well done and fun to look at. Gone are the high poly models and stencil shadows of today’s games, replaced by a darkened, 8-bit approach you’ll have you feeling like you’re playing the most badass Super Nintendo or Genesis game, ever. Animation is sparse and usually unsettling, and the environments are packed with plenty of pixilated secrets to uncover.
While the graphics are a throwback, the sound is not. Not that chip tunes are bad, but the developer had a better idea. Rather than flood the game with eerie noises, Lone Survivor never shoehorns spooky noises, and instead it does a great job at portraying insanity through audio and visual cues with extreme subtlety. It’s a far cry from Jasper’s last jam-packed foray, Hotline Miami, but it’s a true illustration that this guy knows what to do, how to do it, and where to put it.
As the Lone Survivor, you’ve been cooped up in your apartment complex for weeks, maybe months. Why not venture out? In short: zombies. The brain eating menaces have consumed every last brain, or so it seems, so your hero simply must survive. As you would expect, survival is pretty tough as you venture through your apartment complex in search of food (so you don’t starve, literally) and anyone with a better idea of what’s going on.
Locked doors, zombies, broken stairs and hunger are just some of the more prevalent issues, as personal sanity factors in quickly. Go too long without sleep or food, and you might not be seeing what you think you are. And once that happens you can easily wind up being ” Last Dead Guy” as opposed to Lone Survivor.
Navigating the apartment complex has an unnecessary layer of complication, however, as the map given to you is from an isometric perspective, whereas the entirety of gameplay is side scrolling. This can make survival much more of a chore than necessary, and evading certain late-game enemies a clumsy affair reminiscent of old cartoons with the hall of doors where characters weave in and out.
Usually I’m not a fan of “hunger features” in games, but in Lone Survivor it’s used as a push you to progress further and explore the apartment complex’s deepest, most hidden areas. The pistol you get is pretty worthless, and it generally seems like a better idea to use rotten meat to distract zombies, though it sometimes seems to glitch a bit and not work.
Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is a damn fun experience with almost no negative qualities to attribute to it. While the experience lends itself more to the hardcore crowd, the game is intriguing and approachable to absolutely anyone with an interest in holding a controller. That, in and of itself, is an indication of wonderful and talented design.