Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is a survival horror game ported to PlayStation Vita and PS3 by Curve Studios, the same folks responsible for the PlayStation Network gem Stealth Inc.: A Clone in the Dark. You play the last surviving human in a post-apocalyptic world full of infected, though as you play through the game, you may end up encountering several suspicious-looking people. Whether these apparitions are real is somewhat left up to the player’s imagination–like the innovative Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem before it, Lone Survivor is loosely governed by the need to manage the main character’s sanity. Here, the protagonist wears a surgical mask–suitably creepy, especially since, at a passing glance, the game’s graphics make the surgical mask appear to be a smile. In a world so dark and horrible, it’s a strange, somewhat fitting effect.
As the story begins, You–not you, the self-referential main character–are in your apartment bedroom, confused about a dream you had the night before. Resolved to explore the world and find out if you’re truly the lone survivor of a cataclysmic incident, you set off to navigate two-dimensional, highly stylized areas drawn in compelling pixel art. The imagery throughout is intense and serves to keep the action utterly terrifying. There’s nothing quite like seeing a wall replaced by a beating heart as you walk past in complete darkness–there’s nothing so palm-sweatingly compelling on PS Vita, and few things on PS3, for that matter. A host of items to aid your survival can be picked up along the way, but a chief concern is your flashlight: a continuous supply of batteries is required to light the way through dark and flickering environments, but the infected will attack you if they spot the flashlight’s beams.
You’ll need to carefully balance when you should and shouldn’t use your flashlight, but this creed holds true for much of the game. Returning home to sleep is necessary for saving, but pills prolong the amount of time you can go without it. The downside is that pills contribute to your ever-disconcerting madness. Spend a lot of time exploring the world beyond your apartment, and you’re bound to find useful items (including things necessary for progressing the story), but there’s no guarantee you’ll find supplies to replace what you’ve lost along the way.
Supply management is disincentive enough to avoid reckless, over-long trips into the wild, but the terror and dread that the game’s haunting soundtrack, effects, and visuals instill is even greater. As you boot Lone Survivor up, the game recommends you play in a dark room with good headphones. I couldn’t agree more–intensity is built as a combination of the game’s varied, unfamiliar design choices, and the character’s name (You) hammers home immersion in every screen. I truly felt like I was fighting for my life in every second of my time with this game, and the terror I felt guiding You through the pixelated environments is the most in a generation.
My terror also stems from how literally the "survivor" bit of the game’s title is meant. Besides sleeping, you’ll need to eat and drink water to keep your character alive. It’s a very cool idea, though it means you will often be backtracking to your bed. This process is sped up by mysterious two-way mirrors that can teleport you back, though it’s annoying to have to do so much backtracking at all–and if you’re gunning for a Platinum trophy, you won’t be able to use the mirrors at all. Other items you acquire, like a gun, keep your discoveries surprising, though little explanation is given for how you ought to use them.
It’s a testament to the atmosphere and construction of Lone Survivor that I could only bear to play the game in brief chunks–the terror of ploughing through was simply too much. And I’m all the more impressed for it. Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is an incredible experience and one of the best titles available on PS3, let alone PS Vita. Regardless of the version you play, you’re getting amazing survival horror action with all the Director’s Cut trimmings, including new endings, items, and New Game+, which introduces meaningful changes and additions to puzzles, items, and story alike. At £9.99 ($12.99), it’s a riveting steal.