When I heard there was a game coming out called Those Who Remain I was concerned that somebody had done the unthinkable and made a game about Brexit. Fortunately that was not the case. Developed by Camel 101 and published by Wired Productions Those Who Remain is the latest entry into the crowded horror/survival game genre. It is described as “an up close psychological horror set in the sleepy town of Dormant. (where you)Confront uncomfortable horrors, keep your sanity in check and survive the night.” So is Those Who Remain an exciting, groundbreaking new entry into a crowded genre? Read on and find out.
Those Who Remain sees you playing as Edward, your stereotypical mentally tortured horror game protagonist. You join him as he sits at his desk contemplating taking his own life as he metaphorically surveys the mess he has made of his life. Before he can do the deed however he is interrupted by a message from his mistress asking him to meet her at a motel on the outskirts of a town called Dormant. Edward decides that now is the time to break off his affair and try and sort his life out. On arriving at the motel Edward finds it completely deserted. After a little bit of searching and detective work he manages to enter the motel room his mistress has rented but she is nowhere to be seen. The phone rings and a spooky voice tells Edward to “stay in the light”. On exiting the room he is just in time to see an unknown person steal his car and drive off in the direction of Dormant. Following on foot Edward soon discovers that all is not well in this archetypal small American town.
The idea that you need to “stay in the light” is quickly established and reinforced by the presence of the menacing shadowy figures with glowing blue eyes who populate the darkness both outside and inside the various buildings in the town. Carrying pitchforks, knives and axes, they tend to get a bit stabby when you get too close to them. Despite finding them quite menacing at first, I found that after a while they lost their scare factor and did not really pose much of a threat. All you needed to do was to solve various puzzles to activate light sources or illuminate dark areas to get rid of them. I must say however that having to slowly inch into a room and aim the cursor at a light switch so as to not get stabbed remained fairly nerve wracking throughout the game. It was also quite frustrating as there was not much margin of error and walking too far into the room without turning on the light led to instant death and returning back to the very start of each area. These fairly unforgiving and not particularly generous checkpoints did dampen my enjoyment of the game somewhat.
In the initial stages of Those Who Remain I did start to think that there was a fairly large and glaring plot hole in the game. Surely if I stayed put in the light then the shining blue eyed stabby people wouldn’t get me and I could simply wait things out till morning. However very early on in the game you meet a teenage girl called Annika. It is quickly made clear that Annika is dead. Bizarrely Edward doesn’t appear to be that fussed by this and is content to follow her around as she leads him forward and pushes him to investigate those who were either directly or indirectly responsible for her death. You find yourself inexplicably asked to act in Judgement over the tortured souls of those responsible who are being held in purgatory whilst awaiting your decision. Both Annika and a strange chap in a silver mask (who looks like he has escaped from We Happy Few) push you to make your judgement after you have searched for clues about the person in the particular environment you are in. Your choice is to either condemn or save each of the townspeople and these choices will effect which of the three endings you will get at the end of the game.
In addition to your role of Judge Jury and Executioner you are pursued by two fairly persistent demons who pop up on various levels and try to hunt you down. The first creature/demon is fairly inept but rather random in its movements making it hard to predict which path it will take making it tricky to stay out of its way. The second is far more menacing and announces her presence by weeping and wailing and chasing you at speed. Encounters with her often involve chases down infinite hallway loops with slamming doors or lockers. After a couple of laps you do eventually escape her clutches.
The puzzles in Those Who Remain predominately involve searching for objects by moving furniture and opening the vast amount of drawers, cabinets, cupboards, desk, lockers and other assorted storage that appear throughout the game. With the game having more furniture than an IKEA superstore this can become quite tedious at times. Some puzzles have a rather more interesting element in that they involve you passing through portals in the game (often hidden in the ubiquitous furniture) to a parallel version of Dormant that owes a lot to The Upside down of Stranger Things fame. There are no blue eyed stabby people here and actions undertaken in this parallel dimension directly effect objects back in the earthly version of Dormant. Some of these puzzles are very clever and the game would have benefited from more of them. You occasionally find yourself voyaging into Edward’s tortured subconscious and are given tantalising glimpses of what lies at the root of his torment. These sections often act as segways between the various areas of the town.
Those Who Remain is played from a first person perspective throughout. You have no weapons and have to rely on your puzzle solving skills, a bit of stealth and a fair bit of running to survive. Whilst you can pick things up and throw them at the various demons and monsters, it has absolutely no effect on them at all. Another fairly large plot hole is that fact that it is established early on in the game that the blue eyed stabby folk can be defeated by fire. Despite obtaining this knowledge and there being various sources of fire and plenty of flammable objects, save for a very brief period of the game where you are able to wield a lighter, you are simply unable to set fire to your blue eyed foes. To be honest I accepted this rather baffling aspect of the game early on and simply got on with the puzzle solving. The controls are very straightforward and objects are manipulated by moving the small cursor around the screen which essentially tracks the movement of your head. This can be fiddly at times and often leads to instant death especially when sidling into a room and trying to flip the light switch. It can also be annoying when trying to open multiple drawers as you have to line things up perfectly. This can grate given the sheer amount of drawers you have to open throughout the game! The game is very linear but this does effectively help you discover the mystery that surrounds the town and is an excellent way of enabling the story to unfold at an appropriate pace.
Dark, very dark, as can be seen from the screenshots. That’s the only way to describe the graphics in Those Who Remain but then that essentially is the point. This can be remedied by adjusting the settings and this is the only way you can actually see what you are doing. The lighting effects are good and contribute to the foreboding atmosphere. The piercing blue eyes of the tortured souls/town residents are very striking and add to their menace. The various locations such as the Diner, library and police station are well rendered although everywhere has an excessive amounts of storage (can’t make finding keys etc too easy!). My only criticisms would be that frame rate drops a fair bit especially when things get a bit hectic onscreen plus the NPC’s (especially the pursuing “monsters”) are not particularly well rendered and come across as a bit blurry and cartoony. It’s a shame as a lot of effort has obviously gone into the locations and the lighting effects.
As with most horror games the audio in Those Who Remain is used to good effect and helps add to the atmosphere of the game. I particularly liked the areas of the game where there were radios playing and in particular the jukebox blaring out in the deserted and obviously abandoned diner. For me this loud noise in the otherwise silent and deserted town somehow made it even more creepy. The voice acting in Those Who Remain is solid but nothing spectacular. Edward’s regular wise cracks did ease the tension but his lack of shock and surprise and seemingly easy acceptance of his predicament jarred with me a little. It’s was not a major issue but did make him seem less human. Perhaps that is the point as he obviously is in a pretty parlous mental state at the start of the game.
Those Who Remain weighs in at a fairly short 5-6 hours long. Obviously with the three different endings arising from the choices you made in the game there is an argument that this encourages you to replay the game. However the game is pretty much the same throughout regardless of the choices you make. The puzzles do not alter and therefore in reality there is not much replay value with Those Who Remain. Curiosity may lead some to play through again to get the different endings but I think they will be in the minority. However given the low price the game can be said to be value for money.
I must admit I am very torn over Those Who Remain. Initially I really enjoyed it however after a while and due to the checkpoint issues and having to repeat some of the more tedious puzzle solving elements it started to become a bit of a chore to play. It has some great ideas but I think it would have benefited from a bit more variety when it comes to the puzzles. However that being said Those Who Remain is a bargain at around £15.99 and with 5-6 hours of game play is pretty good value for money. If you are a hardcore horror game fan you will find nothing new here but for the more casual player it’s worth a look given the price.
I award Those Who Remain a Thumb Culture Silver Award
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.