So I just finished my first play-through of Lone Survivor last night. It took me two play sessions and about three and a half hours to finish. Consider this post my review for the game.
Before I begin, I would like to say that Lone Survivor was probably one of the best indie games I've personally played. When it comes to modern games, I like to see stuff that has a retro vibe by emphasizing pixel art, but does some new things that games from that era couldn't, and Lone Survivor captures this perfectly. Another reason I really liked LS is because it's very much like a couple indie games that I've worked on but never finished; both being side-scrolling horror games and one being pretty much Lone Survivor but with Lovecraftian horrors instead of faceless zombies. Needless to say, this game struck a huge chord with what I'm interested in.
First off, the game's presentation is top-notch. The world just drips with atmosphere and ambiance. This is something you don't always find in games, but it's one of my favorite things to see. The UI is simple enough and the pixelated visuals with their accompanying effects are very strong, as demonstrated in both the screenshots and videos, but they look even better when you've got them full-screened on an HDTV. The controls were simple enough that you could easily map them to Joy2Key and interface with a gamepad, which is what I did since I was playing on a TV; it felt great.
As mentioned before, the game's most stunning feat is its atmosphere. This is achieved by the level of detail in the environments, the crisp and rich sounds effects, and the interesting choices of music. This game is what you'd get if you put Silent Hill, the original SNES Clock Tower, and some David Lynch into a blender. The result is nothing short of delicious. Snappy, toe-tapping lounge music springs up in some of the oddest places, you'll hear the scraping shuffle of faceless monsters coming down the halls; the audio in this game is just as important as the visuals when creating the experience.
As for the game's mechanics, they're simple but also effective. It's really nothing new in terms of your standard survival horror fare, but there's a nice extra measure of detail added in. For example, it's fun to cook food on your stove and then eat it. This might be a tedious task in real life, but in this game it's a reward. The game almost revolves around menial tasks from cooking your food to watering plants to feeding cats; it all enriches the experience in a way that's both familiar and rewarding.
The game falls short, however, in terms of level design and layout. The learning curve for establishing a good sense of direction in this game is very steep and it's often not clear which doors will lead where. Cross-referencing your position with the map happens frequently, and it takes the extra effort of translating your place in the 2D side-scrolling world to the top-down position on an X/Y map; it can often be tedious and still remain unclear. There was even the matter of passages themselves not being obvious enough; I went through at least 3/4ths of the game before I found a simple item (the can opener) that would have been essential to my survival from the start.
Speaking to the game's drawbacks, I would also say that the ending fell a little flat for me. Apparently this is a game with more than one ending, but the ending I received provided me with no clear resolution to any of the characters. This felt like a disappointing finale to an otherwise superb game. In many ways, the entire ending felt unfinished; when I got to the last area I was expecting one last zone to explore but it ended up being a linear point-A-to-point-B experience with almost nothing in between besides locked doors that felt like they were intended to hold more precious minutes of gameplay. I don't think I wasn't expecting the ending to come so soon because the climax of the game happened but then there was a marked lull between that climax and the actual end, which would have been even longer provided I had gone off to explore other areas.
All in all, Lone Survivor is a work of art, but is it worth the $10? While the game boasts a lot of detail in an insanely immersive and atmospheric world, it doesn't exactly bring anything new to the genre and fails to deliver in the end. Despite having multiple endings, there doesn't seem to be a lot of replay value; I would have much rather had more content near the end. Though I think for fans of the genre as well as the indie community, the price is acceptable and worth the experience. Overall, I'd rate this game 8.0 out of 10; I'd give it a 9 if it provided more content and resolution towards the end, but it was otherwise a great game.