Welcome to the Any Button Gaming review of ‘Those Who Remain’, an indie horror title available on PS4, Xbox One, Steam and Nintendo Switch. For disclosure, we were provided a copy for review and this was completed on a PS5 using PS4 backwards compatibility.
Horror is one of those genres that can lend itself very well to smaller, independent releases. Horror often relies on the ‘less is more’ approach that suits smaller budgets. You don’t necessarily need the same size budget as a blockbuster to unnerve and scare as opposed to say, an action packed FPS. In that regards, some of the best horror games of recent years have come from indie studios.
Those Who Remain falls squarely into the indie camp but does it deliver the goods? The game itself is a story driven narrative told in first person. You play as Edward, a character that has been through a personal tragedy and is on his way to end an affair at seedy motel near the small town of Dormont. That is, until the lights go out and Edward is forced to explore the derelict town and why it is infested with creepy and overly stabby figures. Figures with neon blue eyes that disappear when exposed to light.
In this case DON’T stay away from the light
Edward will move through different locales in the town, solving environmental puzzles and uncovering the central plot. You see, light is the main motif of the game. Most of the game is in the dark and Edward needs to stay within the light to survive. This could be as simple as finding the light switch to a darkened room. In other situations, you may need to find more creative ways to illuminate the your way through. The game is largely linear and each area has a set of puzzles that move more often than not culminate in choices that you must make as Edward.
Why doesn’t Edward find a torch? We don’t know. In fact, Edward is a typical video game protagonist that doesn’t seem particularly phased by anything that is happening to him. That said, if he had reacted as I would (hiding in the nearest well-lit toilet for as long as it took), the game might have been over a lot quicker.
From a gameplay perspective, Those Who Remain follows the trend of similar horror games of late, such as Amnesia or Outlast. Edward can’t even keep hold of a lighter, let alone fight anything. Instead he must avoid the dark, and in some areas, avoid several lumbering manifestations that will insta kill if they find you. The intention is clear – to keep you in a state of dread and anxiety.
So does it work? Unfortunately, for the most part, the answer is a tepid ‘kinda’. The building blocks of something scary or unnerving are there. The enemies in the dark with their blue eyes and ability to appear and disappear with the blink of a light switch are creepy. The music and sound design are very effective. Graphically, the game isn’t particularly special but it gets the job done and runs smoothly. The game is fully voice acted and the acting isn’t bad either.
At the same time, there are some significant areas that let the game down. Firstly, the controls. Those Who Remain avoids the pitfalls of many first person narrative games by including a good sprint and some good movement but a lot of the gameplay requires opening draws or moving things out of the way. This is the first part that the game really does itself an injustice. The prompt that allows the player to interact with items is very precise and easy to overshoot. The box for opening a door or light switch has to be spot on but the controls don’t allow for it.
This becomes even more frustrating in certain areas where you need to perform actions when under pressure. In one sequence, the player is being chased and has to move some furniture out of the way. The physics of picking up and then throwing the furniture felt like pot luck. Another set has the player having to throw items to knock them out of the way. It took us over 20 attempts to manage it, despite hitting the object square on each time.
This extends to the chase sequences. It is a very fine line that games need to tread when it comes to being chased. Too hard and it feels unfair. Too easy and you lose the sense of threat. In Those Who Remain, these sequences quickly become frustrating. The AI of the enemies is far too random. There is no crouch, or ability to hide. You just need to stay out of eyeline. What that eyeline is, of course, is anyone’s guess. The worst example is a puzzle where the player has to move multiple items whilst hiding from a scary (ish) monster. Carrying makes you walk slower. In some cases, we could walk past the monster by keeping a sensible distance. In others, we got spotted and we were miles away. Boom – insta kill, start the 10 minute puzzle again.
All this means that the tense scenarios the game tries to build falls flat. The first time you try and get away from a scary screaming harpy of hell (or whatever the creatures are) the atmosphere is tense. After the tenth time where you feel like you did everything right but died anyway, any semblance of tension is all but lost.
The puzzles themselves are fairly generic, though not necessarily too simple. However, another complaint is that the environments are large and often rely on finding hidden items. As there is no other type of collectible, you’ll spend a lot of time opening cupboards, drawers and a LOT of lockers. Nineteen times out of twenty, you will find them empty.
On top of that, the story and some of the writing stray into cliched territory. Outside of the creature design, you’ll have seen the tortured (male) protagonist lots of times before. The story the game tells is acceptable but in many ways forgettable.
Those Who Remain – PlayStation 4 Conclusion
Which is a shame because one thing we would emphasis is that the intent from the developers was to make a scary and unnerving experience. There are moments when this works – a couple of jumps here and there, or a moment when the heart beat a little faster. It’s just that more often than not, some fundamental design choices, AI and controls ruin this intention. Coupled with a story that stays just ahead of predictable, it becomes something merely average rather than a must play for horror fans. We’d score it 5/10.
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- Overall - 5/105/10
Pros – Those Who Remain has some great ideas and has some points we really liked. There is good music, sound effects and, in places, some effective staging. Cons – A a shame that it’s often let down by a few gameplay choices that cut through the tension and stop us enjoying the creepy world of Dormont.