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Preview: Jasper Byrne’s Lone Survivor

March 24, 2012
Screen Shot 2012-03-24 at 18.55.17

I had the privilege this week of playing through Jasper Byrne‘s newest indie title, Lone Survivor, which comes out next Tuesday. I have many thoughts to share on the game, but most of them would spoil your own experience with it if I shared them now. Thus, today I will be speaking briefly about the game, leaving a more complete analysis for Tuesday or Wednesday, once the game has been released.

Before I begin, I would like to suggest that you consider not reading this at all, and to play the game fresh, knowing as little as possible about the game before you play. Personally, I think that this is the best way to play any game (or see any movie), but if you’re not sold yet on the idea of Lone Survivor, or aren’t concerned about how much you know beforehand, then read on.

The Setting

In Lone Survivor you play a man in a desolate, desperate city infested with monsters. The loneliness and the lack of food have taken its toll, and we can see the weariness on his face. Each day you set out, scavenging your apartment building and the neighbourhood for food, for a means to escape, and—probably most importantly—for other survivors. Nothing is in high supply, so every can of beans, ammo cartridge, battery, or—at last!—raw ham is cause for celebration. When I finally found the gas for the apartment’s oven, I was already starving with no cooked food on me, and raced home to cook my ham.

This man’s days are troubled and lonely. Notes on scraps of paper contradict one another, and instructions for medication give you directions to go to a specific room in the apartment building. He has delusions of parties with friends, of strange people in dreams, and recurring images of a girl. Things are not going well for him.

Lone Survivor screenshot of man with a box on his head

Mysterious characters abound, appearing in dreams and in reality.

Temptations

Very early on, and despite the many creatures in the building, you are presented with the idea that perhaps it would be better to not kill the monsters after all—what sort of person would you become if you gunned down every thing that stands in your way? So do you save your ammo, sneaking behind the creatures and luring them away with rotten meat, or do you get rid of them for good? What if they’re standing in front of something valuable, and you can’t lure them away? And wait a second—why do you even care: they’re monsters, aren’t they?

Lone Survivor screenshot depicting a fight with a monster

Using up those precious bullets.

Among other, story-based choices in the game, there are two pairs of things that you are constantly deciding how to balance:

  1. Kill vs. Sneak
  2. Pill vs. Sleep
For the second one, red pills help to keep you awake, allowing you to keep exploring instead of returning home to sleep. This can be particularly useful when you’ve used flares or meat to get past monsters but will have none left for a second trip down to where you are. But the pills have untold side effects, so you can’t be sure what you’re risking by staving off sleep.

Summary

Lone Survivor is an immersive experience as you try to understand what’s going on, make sense of the visions and notes, and hunt desperately for food. The game draws you into the mindset of a man who’s lonely and breaking down. The visuals are great—particularly the dim lighting and especially the man’s appearance: the mask over his mouth makes him look like he’s constantly grinning, which is a cruel juxtaposition in the bleak setting. And the sound effects are often unsettling: playing the game in the dark with headphones on, I feared being discovered by monsters, which causes them to cry out as discordant tones play in the background.

At only $10, it’s a great deal, and I’d recommend checking it out. There are a lot of things about which to ponder after playing it, giving it a rich experience overall. And besides, you’re helping an indie developer and ensuring that he’ll make more games in the future.

Superflat LogoLone Survivor will be released on Tuesday, March 27th for Mac and PC from www.lonesurvivor.co.uk. The standard edition is $10 (the first 1200 customers receive the OST for one of Jasper Byrne’s previous game, Soul Brothers). Also available is the $50 First Aid Edition, which, in addition to help fund future development, includes an art print, access to bonus mini-game LS3D, and the Lone Survivor OST, by Jasper Byrne himself. Both editions include free updates for life.

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