Lone Survivor is a deeply unsettling experience. It's not exciting, nor fun, nor any of the other things you might expect a video game to be. What it is, however, is disturbing.
That's a compliment, in case you were wondering. Lone Survivor is so harrowingly grim that playing it eventually results in a sort of fatigue. How many games can you honestly say that about?
This fatigue is a mixed blessing, though, as your unease becomes indecision, despair, and just a hint of anger.
I'm a survivor
The lone survivor of the title isn't quite alone. He's been closed away in his apartment for a while now, but he's very much aware of the monsters and death that have surrounded him in the meantime.
This is the story of his escape, and his journey to find someone, anyone. Armed with a flashlight, a smattering of food, and a weak handgun, he steps out into his apartment complex in a bid to escape.
Lone Survivor is oppressive. The darkness, the mangy creatures, and the many locked doors and blocked passageway all work in unison to set every bone in your body on edge.
But it's the soundtrack that really does it. From the roaring drone of enemies to the general twisted ambiance, the noises insinuating themselves into your earholes serve to make the gorgeous, grimy lighting effects even more effective.
The aesthetics of Lone Survivor are essentially perfect. You'll wonder how a game in which you can see every single individual pixel at work can scare you so deeply.
Need ammo here!
Lone Survivor's sense of horror is heightened by its need to give you the bare minimum in luxuries.
Ammo, food, batteries for your torch - they are all in very short supply, and you'll spend a lot of the time creeping around in the darkness so as not to waste previous torch-time.
Your quest for the air outside is also hindered by every single damn way forward seemingly being blocked off. You spend a good portion of Lone Survivor simply trying to find ways around obstacles, and gritting your teeth whenever you have to open another door into an unknown, potentially deadly area.
The story itself is intriguing. You're clearly aware throughout that there's more to this survivor than meets the eye - his dreams and visions give you the sense that something far more sinister is going on in the depths of his memory.
Lone Survivor is the full horror package, but I couldn't help but feel that the despair this game induces works to its detriment.
When you first bump into enemies, it's horrible and entertaining at the same time. Halfway through the game it becomes just plain horrible, as you try to work out how to get past yet another monster that's blocking your path.
It just begins to feel quite samey after a while, as every passageway looks and feels the same. The entertainment factor drops off, yet the nastiness is still there - and nastiness on its own isn't such a turn-on.
It doesn't help that there's a fair bit of backtracking involved. You can travel between mirrors, but even so I found that I had to wander down similarly dingy passageways multiple times.
After a few hours I was forcing myself to play the game. That initial intrigue was gone, and now I was just creeping through corridor after corridor of darkness, wishing I could play something little more lighthearted.
Horror fanatics are going to get a real kick out of Lone Survivor, and if you have the stamina to push on through its later stages there's plenty to like about this skin-crawling experience. Just don't expect it to be fun.