Genre: Psychological horror/thriller
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, Playstation, PC
Developer | Publisher: Camel 101 | Wired Productions
Age Rating: PEGI 16 | ESRB 17+
Release Date: May 15th 2020
Review code used, with many thanks to Wired Productions!
When I first started Those Who Remain, I wanted to love it. The premise of saving a cursed town and using light to your advantage conjoured up images of a Silent Hill and Alan Wake love-child. While the game has it’s fine points and freaky moments, it’s bogged down by trial and error frustration and clunky mechanics.
This first person psychological thriller takes place in the seemingly abandoned town of Dormont. You must make your way through various dimly-lit areas, using basic physics and any available lighting to navigate your way. Following you every step of the way are blue-eyed figures hiding in the shadows, unmoving and staring. Getting too close ends badly, an instant game over and checkpoint restart. They are one of the few things in the game that add any tension. The first time I gazed into the shadows and saw those blue eyes staring back at me was a genuine shock and watching them disappear and reappear with the flick of a switch is eerie.
The story of what happened to the town is a tragic one. A mother and daughter are shunned by the entire town as outsiders. One day, this goes too far. The climax of the game takes a sharp turn into the supernatural which somewhat ruined it for me. The fact that all the women in the newcomer’s family have skill in witchcraft and summoning is dropped very late in the game and seemingly out of nowhere. This goes wrong and leaves the town in the deserted and dicrepid state the protagonist Edward finds it in.
Meandering through the town’s various areas you need to solve puzzles, avoid stalking emenies and make the occasional “moral” choice relating to the town’s dark past. There’s enough exposition throughout to keep the story moving, the game dropping hints at what happened to the town as well as the protagonist’s past.
Edward has enough depth that you can empathise with him as his story is dropped in tid bits throughout the game. What happened to him and his family could’ve happened to anyone and you really feel for him as he tries to forgive himself for what he’s done. The same, however, can’t be said for any other character you come across. All other people in Dormont look odd up close and the people you are meant to judge have only one aggrivating and one mitigating factor to their character, meant to balance them out and make the decision a tough one. This unfortunately has the opposite effect. The traits that define them are so generic and tropey that they seem all the more two dimensional, forgetable and shallow.
The controls in Those Who Remain are basic; you have the option to sprint and you can pick up and interact with objects. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the inability to defend yourself helps the (barely existent) tension.
The main source of frustration for me was the lack of a stealth mechanic. Why was this frustrating, I hear you ask? I have two words for you: patrolling enemy. The main enemy you have to avoid is a jerky, bipedal monster with a headlight for a face. It sounds random but it does tie in with Edward’s story, albeit in a very Silent Hill 2 ‘Pyramid Head’ kind of way. The enemy itself does a good job of looking creepy and I’ve gone out of my way to avoid it as much as possible. The main gripe I have with this enemy is how it was implemented.
The problems arose when I ended up dying because I didn’t know I had to take cover behind the bookcase tucked into the corner of the room or I hid behind a corner and the enemy suddenly and randomly changed direction. It’s worth noting that you also can’t peek around corners or throw anything to create a distraction. Stood staring at a wall until an enemy leaves isn’t exactly what I’d call nailbiting tension. If I’d been able to peek round a corner to see the headlight barely missing me, or throw something so I could quickly dart past I would’ve found this enemy much scarier.
Puzzles mainly involve picking things up and carrying them to another location. Puzzles don’t always have to be complex riddles and matching odd keys with odd doors, so I didn’t have an issue with this…at first. About an hour in, I found myself having to locate and carry lion statues around a maze while avoiding the gaze of a giant. This isn’t too difficult as the area is fairly small and the giant is easy to spot. When you can actually see him. The lion statues take up a massive portion of the screen and you can’t run when you’re carrying them. I had to drop them and run more than once. Unfortunately, as they’re the same mudane grey as the rest of the map finding them again is a pain. There are no checkpoints mid-way so if you’re caught you have to start the whole segment again.
Something I was genuinely looking forward to was the ‘moral dilemmas’ Edward would find himself in. I use the term loosely as morality doesn’t really have anything to do with it. Everyone you have to judge had a hand in the incident that left Dormont in it’s dicrepid state, which began with the death of a child. Their parts in the tragedy vary from being directly involved to helping to cover it up. Some of them were easy to forgive, such as one of the children who was directly involved, who’s ‘harmless’ prank went too far. How could he have known what would happen? He was just a child himself, taking the grief of losing his brother out on other people.
Others are harder to overlook. The rest of those you must judge are adults, most of who used their positions of power to close the case or stop word of what happened reaching newspapers, but all have a family member who was involved. A couple stand out as truly horrible people. This is why I found the moral decisons irritating, If you condemn any of them you will get the bad ending.
You will also run into the occasional person in Dormont who is not involved in the incident, just trying to escape or keep themselves alive. One such person is a criminal trying to escape in a police car. He has a gun on his dashboard and police men aroud the car are dead. You can help him by finding and giving him the key in exchange for him lighting your way or you can ignite a fuel can next to the car and burn him alive. Is the fact that he has a gun proof enough that he killed the policemen? Kill any of these people and you will also get the bad ending. These decisions can come off as unbalanced and strange, just like the one above.
The main mechanic I really enjoyed in the game was the ‘dream world’. Throughout the game you’ll come across portals you can use to travel to a different reality or location. Sometimes they’re your means of leaving the current area and heading to the next one. Other times, they’re an alternate version of the area you’re currently in. The shadow people don’t exist in this reality, so you’ll usually have to turn on a light switch you can’t get to, or pick up an item you need to take back with you. While I don’t think this was used to it’s full potential and the portals are blindingly bright, it’s an inspired idea that I enjoyed.
Graphics, Sound, and Performance
The game was made using Unity so it looks fine. As stated above, the characters look a little odd and there are some texture pops but the game otherwise delivers visually. The main star of the show is the lighting. From neon lights at an abandoned diner to moonlight passing through trees, it really lifts the atmosphere.
The music also adds to the atmosphere, even if it is a little cliche. Having a choir howl down your ear while you’re walking down a dark corridor or when you turn the corner to find shadow people staring at you always does the trick, but if you’re familair with horror games it’s nothing you haven’t heard before. There were a couple of bugs, such as picking up and throwing items making no sound.
The game has no difficulty settings or options. It has no combat and you can run faster than most of the enemies so there is no real sense of danger. The main issue comes from not knowing what to do or where to go next. Most of the items you need are hidden in drawers or lockers, or need to be found in the dream world, but some are hidden under pots or boxes.
Issues mentioned above, such as the lion statue maze, have led me to take a break from the game out of frustration. The main issue with any of the ‘carry item from point A to point B’ type of puzzle is that if you as much as caress the item against the wall or another item, you will drop it. This is a bit of a deal breaker for me when you’re carrying an item with an enemy in pursuit.
Another issue that had me struggling was trying to reach the light switches. Very often they’re on the same wall as the door you entered the room through. More than once I’ve got an insta-death by accidentally bumping a shadow person’s toe while shimmying sideways into the room, trying to get the interact prompt to pop up.
Aside from the ‘what do I do now?’ bumbling, the game is pretty easy, but that does little to ease the frustration.
Overall, Those Who Remain had some good ideas and freaky monents, but feels like it missed the mark. If there had been a stealth mechanic to deal with the monsters or a portable light source that required batteries to keep them at bay I would have found the game more enjoyable. If the morality feature of the game had been handled differently, where forgiving or condemning the wrong people affected the ending I would’ve found it less frustrating.
The story is an interesting one and is, truth be told, the only that kept me playing. If you’re into games with story and can look past the issues stated above then definitely give it a go, especially with the price. If you’re a horror fan like me looking for a spooky experience then perhaps give it a miss.
An interesting story, decent atmosphere and inventive world-shifting bogged down with mediocrity and frustration makes for an average experience. For those looking for a true horror expereince, Those Who Remain is better off left behind.