I finished Lone Survivor two nights ago. I enjoyed it, and Byrne did a good job of condensing an authentic survival horror into a 2D space without losing atmosphere or psychological weirdness. I feel less AND more strongly about my earlier criticism. As you get further into the game, the SH references stop flowing so thick, which is good. However, there are a few (the item sound) that are always there, and they just stick out more and more as the rest of the game comes into its own. I appreciate nods but I just wish he’d gone his own direction, as the game is good enough to stand on its own.
(Coincidentally it does a LOT of things we did in Shattered Memories, which Byrne had not played at the time he made Lone Survivor.)
While the game is good and Twin Peaksy throughout, I feel in the end it is TOO ambiguous. I read in some interviews yesterday that the goal was really to make the player want to replay the game to see what else he missed, and to fully understand the story after two, or even three, cycles. A very noble goal, but this ambiguity (again in my opinion people) hurts that goal in two ways.
First, gameplay wise. The game never tells you what you should be done–obviously intentional, and obviously used to good effect. It’s survival, and if tutorials keep saying “Eat the Orange to recover 4 health points, 2 stamina points, and 4 water” well… that’s stupid. However, if I replay the game, I sure as hell want to know what I should do differently. There is an end-game tally screen that alludes to some stuff, but I’m still left in the dark on a lot of it. Am I supposed to starve until I can pull together a decent meal? Should I not be sleeping? No idea. And it would suck to replay the whole game just to get the same ending.
Second, story wise. In the end, all the ambiguity left me to “figure out” the story in my own head, using my own life experiences and the game moments that resonated with me (again – good! and intentional, according to those interviews). However, at a certain point don’t we want to know what the author wanted us to know/learn/feel? Yes, of course–thus the idea of replays. However, the story I got was SO sparse, that it just seems like a lot of effort to do that. I don’t have hanging loose ends to wonder about. There are characters I never met, so I don’t know I’m missing out on them. “My” version of the story is complete and coherant in my mind… Byrne’s seems so distant and convoluted (from my point of reference–not in reality) that it’s hard to get motivated for that replay. If there are 3 potential tracks through… Byrne would have been better served to tease each one for all players, so there is something left unresolved in each playthrough, I think.
Then again, I’ve heard Byrne is not a big fan of SH:SM. It’s possible we are both standing on opposite ends of essentially similar game experiences, partial to our own visions
Please don’t take this to mean I don’t like Lone Survivor. I very much enjoyed playing it, and it has a ton of very good ideas and is clever. He handles the “flow” of fear very well, throwing in some weird moments to make you smile. It’s also delightfully retro in sensibility, mixing Japanese console and PC adventure together in a pleasing way. Fans of horror, adventure games, or indie storytelling should check it out.