It’s always fascinating to see the different approaches taken by creators of horror games. Do you go for high-octane thrills, filled with jump scares and action-packed set pieces? Or do you take a more slow-paced but no-less chilling approach that taps into the more psychological side of the genre?
It’s the latter style of horror that Those Who Remain features, as Edward finds himself caught up in the reality bending schemes of a trickster demon.
Edward’s not in a good place in his life. Recently divorced, an alcohol problem, and dabbling with suicidal thoughts, he’s likely at his lowest ebb. Things get even worse for him as he gets a text for a booty call, luring him to a motel where his lover, Diane, isn’t answering the door. Still, a little bit of ingenuity later (AKA rifling through the motel’s front desk and office for a key), and it’s clear that nobody is there. His lover wasn’t in the shower and unable to hear him, she’s completely disappeared, and why was there nobody at the front desk?
That’s when the really weird things start to happen. His car gets nicked, only to be left crashed and burning a little way down the road, but all of a sudden you notice shadowy beings in the darkness, their pinpricks of glowing eyes staring at you. In some ways, they feel like a Doctor Who monster of the week, with all the positives and negatives that conveys.
While ominous, they’re not overtly threatening to you, so long as you don’t venture too close to them. They just stand and stare at you, completely motionless as you inch out of the light and into the darkness that they inhabit. Even as they start to shimmer, a kind of heat haze effect twisting their forms, they don’t feel that dangerous until you get just close enough for them to strike and kill you. Clearly it’s best to stick to the light.
Those Who Remains revolves around this relationship between light and dark, as you explore the environment trying to find sources of light that push back the darkness and make these being vanish into thin air. You’ll have to puzzle out how to manipulate the environment to that end, whether it’s flicking a light switch to illuminate a room, finding some Christmas lights to plug in (they really hate Christmas, FYI) to get at a door, and finding spare keys hidden around to let you get in through back doors. Yup, just like in a Deus Ex, all of the vanished inhabitants of Dormomt love to leave little notes to each other letting them know exactly where the keys are being kept.
If finding keys and flipping light switches were all you had to do, Edward would have a mildly spooky night wandering around town, but for the trickster demon Morota. You see, paired with the real world is a Stranger Things-esque Other Place. It looks just like ours, with the same buildings and vehicles, but it doesn’t bow to the same laws of physics, there’s huge creatures flying around in the sky, and it’s all drowned in a blue shimmer that looks like you’re underwater.
Parts of each world bleed into the other, leading to puzzles that force you to step between the two. A car that’s wrapped in thick vines in the Other Place can’t be opened in the real world, for example, and you have to hop back and forth using light-filled doorways to do so.
We got to see the opening half hour or so of the game, working through the opening puzzles as it introduces each new idea, but it’s clear that Those Who Remain hasn’t shown all its cards by this point. As the demo comes to an end, Edward meets a woman dressed all in black, warning that Mother is coming, forcing you to flee. Who is Mother? What does Morota want? How is it that Edward’s miserable existence has become entangled in the supernatural? They’re all questions left hanging, but you will have a degree of control over how events unfold, with three game endings dependent on your decisions and actions as you play.
I think my main wish from Those Who Remain would be for the beings stood in the darkness to feel more alive. It would be much creepier if they were only really seen out of the corner of your vision, if they moved around, flitting from shadow to shadow, or even if they simply animated to give the impression that they are conversing and judging you.
Still, there’s some interesting ideas wrapped up in Those Who Remain, blending light and dark in its environmental puzzles with supernatural world hopping and a demonic presence that’s more playful than outright malevolent. It will be interesting to see how developer Camel 101 can play with those ideas through the rest of the game.