Indie Horror Month Extra: The Story of 'Lone Survivor'

Lone Survivor reinforces its themes by mixing genres.

October may be officially over, but this is still the week of Halloween. That’s enough of an excuse for me to squeeze in one more horror related post about Lone Survivor (as if I needed an excuse) because if any game deserves a second, deeper look, it’s Lone Survivor.

This post contains spoilers for Lone Survivor

As I wrote before, Lone Survivor is a psychological survival-horror game mixed with a survival simulator. It mixes these genres on a mechanical and a thematic level.

A man wakes up in a world overrun with monsters. He explores an apartment building for supplies, encountering weird and cryptic survivors along the way, one of which is a girl that looks familiar who keeps disappearing. It’s clear that the man has forgotten something important, and it’s haunting him. Which isn’t to say that the monsters aren’t real, but it’s hard to tell which monsters/people are real and which are not. Crossing into spoiler territory, in the most explicit ending we learn that the man lost a lover and that’s the source of his trauma.

This quick recap reads like a typical survival-horror story from the PlayStation 2 era, an impressive attempt to mimic Silent Hill 2. It’s an archetypal story about a character traumatized by loss who must face the horror of a gloomy world. In facing these horrors, he has to come to terms with his new world and try to find some new baseline normalcy within it. In essence, this character is trying to figure out how to survive emotionally in a new and darker world.

This is exactly what the player does through the simulation, but we come at it from a physical angle rather than from an emotional angle. When the game begins, we’re thrown into a frightening and unfamiliar world. Our survival and the quality of our survival depend on how well we can adjust. If we ration our supplies properly and explore enough to find the proper tools, we can establish a shockingly normal standard of living within this monster-infested world. Or we can live day-by-day, meal-by-meal, and always remain an outsider in this world.

Both the character and the player are searching for their own kind of peace, and the results of our search inform the character’s search. The better we are at adapting to our new life, the better the character adapts to his new life. This is the narrative that surrounds the core gameplay conflict of playing it as a stealth game or an action game.

Do you fight against this world, killing as many monsters as possible? This offensive approach changes the world to suit our convenience, preventing us from adapting. As a result, the character never comes to terms with his loss. He never finds out the identity of the mysterious girl.

Or do you sneak by monsters using the endless supply of raw meat in your fridge? This defensive approach is all about adapting to the environment. We learn enemy movement patterns, we learn where the safe rooms are, and we learn how to bait enemies away from important doors and items. We learn how to live within this world rather than to change it. As a result, the character remembers his past and accepts it.

The best thing about Lone Survivor, however, is how it avoids the standard “good” ending and “bad” ending. This even applies to the third ending in which it’s implied that the character kills himself.

All of these scenes actually end on a rather happy note since the character always comes to terms with his new world, if not his loss. The “offensive” ending has him looking over the city with the mysterious girl at his side, confused but happy. He accepts a life of ignorant bliss. The “defensive” ending has him looking over the city in clothing suited for a funeral, alone but content. The third ending is actually the same as the “offensive” one, suggesting that the two lovers might be happily reunited in death.

Each ending provides its own kind of closure that is unconcerned with morality, subverting our expectations of “good” and “bad.” The game doesn’t portray the protagonist as a hero or a villain, but instead as a guy working through his problems in his own way. Just as we are doing in the sim.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.