Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Traditional Adventure Games Are Rubbish

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 24 Jul 2012 16:00
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I'm not sure I agree with the Silent Hill 2 comparison, though. It's true they're going for a similar sort of atmosphere with being alone in monster-filled abandoned places and all that, but they play out distinctly differently. Silent Hill 2 was basically a retelling of the Orpheus myth with the hero journeying from safety to the depths of the underworld to rescue the missus, and Lone Survivor is somewhat uniquely structured more like a series of circles than a linear path. You start smack bang in the middle and venture out to explore the surrounding hellworld, constantly returning to the starting point. It's like one of those Spirograph patterns.

The reason why you keep returning to the centre point is to answer your character's need for sleep and food. And if there's one thing that might get annoying about Lone Survivor, it's the protagonist demanding you look after his physical needs every five bloody minutes. The lad must have the metabolism of a pygmy shrew given how often he needs a bite to eat. Of course, this may just have been my playthrough, because somehow I managed to completely overlook the can opener early in the game, and ended up with a massive bounty of potential meals that I couldn't get at. Every time my bloke complained all I could do was shove another cheese cracker in his gob.

But the game doesn't massively penalize you for not eating and sleeping properly, you apparently just take a hit to an invisible stat that indicates your mental health, and you need to keep the mental health nice and smooth to get the better ending. Another thing that makes the mental health take a hit is shooting the enemy monsters dead, and I'm not sure I like that from a thematic standpoint. I would argue that when you're faced with twisted monstrosities that keep running up making unnatural noises and trying to puke on you to death, opening fire is a perfectly sane and rational response. See, this is interesting. Eternal Darkness did the exact opposite; you got a sanity boost if you went out of your way to execute fallen monsters. Partly because you could then continue with the knowledge that the nearby environment is incrementally less fucked up, and partly because it's just therapeutic to beat on things for a while, y'know.

It does make sense from a gameplay perspective, though. Getting the better ending is the greater challenge, and not killing anything certainly is difficult. You have to spend the whole game distracting the things with consumable items like rotten meat and flares. It can get a whole lot more arduous, and it represents an oft-overlooked facet of the challenge aspect of games: challenging not the player's skill, but their willpower. How long will you continue the arduous routine of hiding and distracting when there are some perfectly efficient baser instincts you could be falling back on?

Lone Survivor is by Jasper Byrne, can be found on Steam, and is worth checking out. I'm not just saying that out of solo developer solidarity, 'cos it is unique. I wouldn't say it's particularly scary, that's another thing that justifies the Silent Hill 2 comparison - it's more about the atmosphere of despair and mystery. Still, it can be absorbing. I'd certainly forgive you if you found it wasn't to your taste. Eventually. Send me flowers, maybe.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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