Sat in the Curve studios in East London, Jasper Byrne is proudly explaining the game when, despite moving as smooth a silk, the character in Lone Survivor stops walking and he snaps into alignment with the pixels. I feel this probably not the time to mention I absolutely hate pixel games, but that is the graphical style of the game. They’re not small pixels either, we’re talking big chunky almost ZX Spectrum-esque squares.
In fact the game is very reminiscent of a Speccy game: animation is jerky, the main controls are limited to directions and a single button and all the characters speak via boxes of text that pop up on the screen. Now that may sounds quite horrendous to gamers today, but it’s actually quite charming.
The story finds the unnamed protagonist in an apartment block, seemingly the only person left alive after the population has been decimated by a virus and turned into shambling mutant creatures. With supplies running low you must venture out and discover what has happened whilst battling fatigue, hunger and some serious mental health issues. You are never quite sure what is real and what your character is imagining and this unceasing feeling is exacerbated by the characters who haunt your dreams: a man with a box on his head and a character sat on a blue throne.
Your equipment is limited to a gun with a small amount of ammo and a torch with batteries that run out far too quickly. Wading in all guns blazing will end in a quick death so you have to use your wits and lure the creatures away from doors by dropping piles of rotting meat and then hiding in the shadows as they pass.
Dotted around the rooms are mirrors which act as teleporters and transport you across the levels – every time you sleep the game saves. During these naps your trophies (of which there is a Platinum) will appear, Jasper and Curve somehow managed to persuade Sony that the trophy “ping” would ruin the atmosphere of the game so any virtual PSN trinkets you achieve will be awarded as you snooze.
As you explore, new rooms will be unlocked and items will be found, the function of which is normally quite simple – a gas bottle is used to fuel your cooker for example. However each and every action will affect how the game progresses and more importantly, the mental state of your character.
A special mention must be made of the music as whilst the graphics are resolutely retro the soundtrack is bang up to date with eerie chords mingled with stuttered scrapings which are enough to set your teeth chattering.
As for the additional content found in The Director’s Cut, most of that can only be unlocked once the game has been completed once and the New Game Plus mode is activated. Jasper has promised new items, new story paths and a brand new ending exclusive to the PlayStation version of the game.
As much as I hate to admit to liking a pixel game, Lone Survivor has got me hooked. I still have no idea what is going on, who the Director is or what the kitty is for, but I want to find out and having the game in my pocket on my Vita means I can drop in to the weird mind of Jasper Byrne whenever I feel like it.
Lone Survivor is Silent Hill on a ZX Spectrum in your pocket, featuring a soundtrack by an ex drum and bass DJ and an adoptable cat. It’s as weird and wonderful as that sounds and we will have a full review very soon.
Note: Unlike Curve’s previous Indie conversions, Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut will not being appearing as part of PlayStation Plus, but the game is cross-buy so you get both the PS3 and PS Vita games for one price.