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Lone Survivor Review: Time to be You

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Title: Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut
Price: $12.99 (Cross-buy promotion, you get both the PS3 and Vita versions.)
System(s): Vita (Also available on PS3, PC)
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Curve Studios (superflat games and Curve Studios)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Violence, Blood, Language

Have you ever consciously decided to be alone for an extended period of time? I mean truly alone. Go up to some cabin somewhere where you don’t own anyone, and sequester yourself. It’s something I had to do once, deep in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, while helping my parents with our family’s cabin. Even though I had a car, and knew people living in a town 15 minutes away, I’ll admit to going a bit stir crazy.

Which is why I was almost hesitant to play Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut. I was wondering if it would instill a fear in me that would keep me from ever doing the cabin opening or closing errand alone again. Now that I’ve survived it, I think I’ll be able to manage, but I know I’ll never want to be the sole survivor of the apocalypse.

lone survivor the directors cut

Last man standing.

Lone Survivor begins with a rather surreal dream sequence, in which a man with a surgical mask, only referred to as “You” encounters some fantastical characters. Then, he wakes up, and reality is far worse. If it is, really, reality.

Something happened. Strange creatures stalk the halls, nothing looks right, and You insists that he is the last person alive in his apartment complex. He has hope that maybe there could be others though, so he decides to prepare and journey beyond the walls. Partially out of necessity, because there’s very few supplies left, and also because of a need for human interaction.

Except leaving isn’t easy. The ill wander the halls, transformed into unholy, dangerous creatures, and You doesn’t have a gun. He has a stuffed cat and a few basic supplies, perhaps enough to get him through one or two days. He’ll have to find equipment, like a gun and can opener, fresh food, and maybe even things that could be people, if he wants to escape. But, when a room can change every time you enter it, you never know what You will have to do to escape.

lone survivor the directors cut

Being the best Lone Survivor it can be.

That’s where you, as the players come in. Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut isn’t just a game. It’s practically a psychological exercise. Though it is difficult, you are presented with enough equipment and items to keep You alive throughout the journey. The question is, how you will deal with the situation. There are numerous ways to “win,” but when some endings seem shockingly bad, you have to wonder if it was really the right way to go.

This is because the smallest things can influence the course of You’s life. Shooting the monsters is one. Deciding to turn to medication is another. There’s even a stuffed cat that You carries throughout the adventure, and deciding to talk to it and share it with the beings he encounters can change his entire mindset and outcome. Everything influences our avatar’s sanity levels and health. While keeping him at the optimum mindset is difficult, it isn’t impossible and results in endings that feel more optimistic.

Which brings us to the Director’s Cut aspect of Lone Survivor. This is a critically acclaimed survival horror game. We know it’s a tense situation with fantastic 2D sprite work, an unusual storyline, and perhaps unexpected insight into how we would survive in a bleak situation. However, the PS3 and Vita versions are superior as they include a bevy of additional content.

The first thing I noticed was how good Lone Survivor looked and sounded on my Vita. I tried it on my PS3 as well, since it’s part of the cross-buy promotion, but the Vita is where it stood out as an exceptional title. It just looked and felt fantastic to grab my Vita at midnight, scuttle under the blankets, and see how far I could get.

It wasn’t until my second playthrough that I started really noticing differences in gameplay. For example, the game alerts you as to which endings you’ve earned with colored dots. It gives you an idea from the start as to what You should work for. There are new sidequests, locations, and items as well.

The thing is, I didn’t actually see most of the new content. I was searching as hard as I could, but I just couldn’t. I was able to acquire hidden items to make a kind of perfect cheeseburger, and I attribute that and my sharing of Sleepy Cat to the acquisition of the new White ending. With a little guidance from the internet, I ended up finding the Yellow ending, as well as a stereo. I suspect that, during my next playthrough, I’ll have to make use of the new Fruit Drops food to learn even more about You’s world and his situation.

It’s the new locations that gave me the most trouble. There are supposedly eight new places. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s been so long since I played the original Lone Survivor and I’m not realizing some areas are “new,” but so far the only one I’ve discovered is in the Hospital. I’ve been trying and exploring as best I can, but I can’t seem to find the other new areas yet.

Which is the only fault I can find with Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut. It’s a weird thing to take issue with, because it fits with the nature of the game. It isn’t easy. It’s designed to challenge a player, so he or she feels better and smarter for having found these secrets. It’s a reward. I felt frustrated that I didn’t seem to be finding everything new, but realized that discovering the changes shouldn’t be my goal. I should be playing through the game as best I can, and maybe, if I’m lucky and doing my best, I’ll stumble across new content along the way.

lone survivor the directors cut

It’s never been a better time to be “You.”

While I was a little frustrated when trying to find some of Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut‘s new content, I’m awed by the latest incarnation of this exceptional adventure. Jasper Byrne’s game is extraordinary, and the work superflat games and Curve Studios did on the PS3 and Vita adaptation amounts to perfection. In fact, I’d say playing it on a Vita is the only way to go. I believe that hiding under the blankets in bed, late at night, with headphones and the Vita on, is the way Lone Survivor is meant to be played. It’s the closest we’ll ever get to being You, and I’ve enjoyed discovering old and new content in this manner.

Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut

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