I love indie games, far more so than big-budget, AAA titles most of the time too. I love giving indie games and developers coverage on my blog, every little helps to get their name and work out there. So it is always a great pleasure to look at an indie game… well, perhaps not always.
If there is one thing I strive for when I review a game, that thing is honestly. I don’t do ‘paid for reviews’ (though I have been offered). I’m always grateful when a developer or publisher sends me a review code. I mean, I get free games, I get to play those games and I then get to write about those games. If they could somehow include beer and sex, I’d have the perfect job. Anyway, recently I played a game that really tested my honesty and love for indie gaming. I played Those Who Remain from developer Camel 101 and publisher Wired Productions.
It’s yet another, by the numbers, completely uninspired walking-survival horror game. Seriously, this genre is everywhere and every indie dev team and their mothers are making them right now. It’s a genre that had already run its course several years ago and needs to be put out to pasture. Now, I’m not saying that the genre can’t still be done well today. It can, I really enjoyed Song of Horror which I played a couple of months back, as an example.
No, the issue is that devs just don’t seem to be trying to bring anything new or creative to the table and Those Who Remain is most definitely one of those games. This is as cookie-cutter a survival horror game as you can get. You’ve seen this all before from other games and done better too. Everything from the very tired gameplay mechanics to the ‘scary’, everything is a dark and gloomy as fuck setting. But it’s not just the stagnant gameplay and setting that is Those Who Remain’s downfall, it’s the god awful controls. The strange thing is that this game has one of the most simple control schemes ever. Here’s a screengrab of those controls.
See, that’s unbelievably straightforward. Yet, even with such a simple control scheme, the game is massively awkward to actually control. Turning around takes way too long and you feel like you’re waist-deep in wet concrete. Just to check, I timed myself turning a full 360° and that took all of 11.26 seconds. It’s just as slow looking up and down too. Doing something a simple as turning is so… frigging… slow. Remember, this is a survival horror game and there are times when you really need to turn around fast… you just can’t. Yeah, you can increase the sensitivity in the options, but even at full, it still feels awfully sluggish (is this just an Xbox issue?).
Then there’s the inconsistency of the aiming reticle as even if you aim directly in the middle of the item you want to use/pick up, it hardly ever registers. Here are a couple of more screengrabs for your eyes.
See, the top one is me standing directly in front of a paper that can be read. But even with me aiming directly at the middle with the little white dot reticle (as you naturally would), the pick up/use icon just does not appear. Yet in the bottom image, I have to aim at the bottom corner of the paper to actually use it. This is something that plagues the game throughout and you’ll find yourself continually fiddling around trying to use or pick up items, as there is no consistency as to where you are supposed to look to get the reticle to change so you can then use any of the items. Sometimes it is the middle, other times it’s multiple places but the middle, then it can also be just one very specific spot that is nowhere near the middle. There is one thing I can say is that the game is consistent with, its inconsistency.
There is one thing that I did enjoy about the game and that is its reverse stealth mechanic. I feel that I need to explain. See, in your average stealth game, the idea is to remain unseen and use the shadows to your advantage. Here, you need to do the exact opposite. With Those Who Remain, it’s all about being seen. You need to stay in the light and use illumination to keep out of the dark. As it is in the dark where you will meet your grizzly end the most. You are stalked by mysterious shadow-like figures with glowing blue eyes that will kill you as soon as you step into the darkness. I admit it is a nice idea for a survival horror game like this, but one nice idea in a swamp of bad ones does not make the game any more playable. In fact, this very same gameplay mechanic that I liked is one of the biggest pain in the arse elements of the game too.
See, in order to keep out of the shadows, you will be flicking lights on via light switches. All sounds rather simple so far, but there is a major issue. Pretty much all of the time, these light switches are in the darkness that you can’t go into, so you have to try and flick the switches without going into the room/location it is in. This of course is tricky when you will die as soon as you enter the darkness. So you have to continually do this sideways walk type thing to first, see exactly where the light switch is and second, to try and then reach the switch to turn it on, all while not entering the darkened area itself. This is where a lean option would’ve been perfect, but no. You just have to keep very slowly and carefully nudging yourself sideways into a dark room and if even so much as a little toe goes into the dark, you’re insta-killed. Then, if that is not annoying enough, just remember that inaccurate use reticle I previously mentioned. Pretty much every time I tried to use a light switch in this game, it was never as easy as just aim for the centre of the switch and press the action button. The use icon would often only appear if I aimed above the switch, bellow it, in the corner, etc… to then just go a millimetre too far into the darkened room and be insta-killed Sweet Jebus, this game is infuriating and badly designed. Worst of all, it’s just so ‘effing dull and dated too. If I were playing this game five years ago, I’d still say it was about ten years out of date.
Full discourse. I didn’t finish Those Who Remain to write this review. Yeah I know I’ll get flack and people saying that I can’t give it a fair review if I have not seen all the game. But let me ask you this. If you are served a meal in a restaurant that tastes bad, do you have to eat all the meal to know it tastes bad or is just a bite or two enough? I played a good three hours or so of Those Who Remain and after that much time, I saw all I needed to see to get a firm grasp of the game. I have seen it all before and knew that things were not going to get any better. The sluggish controls, the inconsistent reticle, the uninspired gameplay and bog-standard puzzles are not going to suddenly vastly improve if I play for a few more hours, those problems are there to stay. I did get to experience some of the game’s more surreal, ‘alternate reality’ bits. But again, it’s been done so many time before by others and better too. Plus I just got so pissed off with the inaccurate and treacle-like controls that I got too annoyed to want to play anymore. Even more so, it commits the absolute worst sin for a horror game… it’s just not at all scary and woefully ‘meh’. Life is too short to play bad games.
There is one thing that I usually avoid doing when I’m playing a game for review, that thing is that I don’t look at other people’s reviews. I don’t want the opinions of others to influence me when I do my write-ups. However, as I got to the end of this review, I felt that I had to look into what other people have been saying, just in case I was missing something major from the game. I wasn’t, Those Who Remain has been getting some very average and below average reviews and scores across the board. The general consensus seems to be that this is a very mediocre title. For me, even it being called mediocre is too high praise. This is way, way, way below mediocre.
When I end my reviews, what I tend to look at how much the game is going for and tell you if I think it’s worth the money. I’m not going to do that here because I got my review code for free and I’m seriously thinking about asking for a refund. It really doesn’t matter how much this game is going for, it’s not worth it even for free. I honestly don’t like dumping on small, indie developers as they need all the help they can get. But I can’t lie to my readers either, I have too much respect for them to do that. Do I recommend Those Who Remain? Yes, I recommend that you avoid it.