An Uneven But Enjoyable Horror
Those Who Remain is an interesting medley of ideas, some that work very well and some that really don’t. Early on, the game feels rough around the edges and you’d be forgiven for thinking a lot of the mechanics are tacked on or thrown in for the sake of producing an Indie horror flick that ticks all the usual boxes. Feeling like a combination of Twin Peaks, Lights Out and P.T., Those Who Remain is a game that requires some patience to get to the good stuff. If you can get past the opening hour as the mechanics are thrust on you seemingly at random, this Indie opens up in the best possible way, bringing with it some genuine scares, intriguing and challenging puzzles and a world-hopping journey that makes a lot more sense toward the end of your 5-7 hour play-time.
The story itself sees you take on the role of Edward, who arrives in the sleepy town of Dormont and quickly learns all is not what it seems. Alone and stalked by strange spectral beings that prey in the dark, you begin to explore Dormont and piece together what happened to its residents and just why these shadows seem to be stalking you. That journey begins out on the road, with an abandoned house and farm area, before progressing through to Dormont itself. Don’t expect an open world here though, this narrative-driven adventure breaks up its areas with loading screens that teleport you to a different section where you complete the same gameplay cycle (more on that later) anew. As the game progresses, you find yourself haunted by the spectral presence of a girl called Annika who warns you that “Mother” is coming.
The final couple of hours are easily the highlight of the entire experience as the puzzles, horror and story all combine in satisfying fashion to actually provide some clarity about what’s happening rather than feeling like random elements thrown together. Those Who Remain is a title that gets better the more you play and if you can get past some of the initial jankiness then for the price this is certainly worth a play.
Visually, the landscapes themselves look good and there’s a distinct muted colour palette to a lot of the areas that gives off a grim, murky design for the town. Each locale is pretty detailed, with numerous items dotted around that you can pick up and throw. The visuals lend themselves nicely to the audio too which remains atmospheric, unsettling and creepy throughout. The voice acting is a bit of a mixed bag at times though, with some lines feeling forced and over-acted while other times nailing the feel perfectly. The music is decent though and that’s one element that really shines here, with discordant violins and creepy piano numbers depending on what you’re doing.
The character models and animations are where this game slips up the most. The assets aren’t all that appealing and actually feel closer to PS2 graphics than something you’d expect from current-gen consoles. Given fellow Indie Someday You’ll Return managed to nail this earlier in the year, it is a bit disappointing but care has clearly been taken to keep some of these models at a distance. However, there are a few notable sections that see close-ups of our antagonist and it really doesn’t do the game any justice.
This is only further exacerbated during the unskippable in-game cut-scenes with repeated animations that feel like something you’d see from NPCs in Morrowind. Thankfully, aside from a few different characters, you don’t really encounter anyone beyond the spectral shadows so it’s not too distracting to the experience.
Most of the different areas and levels apply the same gameplay loop and you’ll know pretty early on whether this is a game for you. Whether it be a house, farm, post office or police station, you begin by exploring the area and switching on lights in darkened rooms to eliminate the shadows lurking within. This oftentimes requires precision as most light switches are inside the rooms and each different section require you to explore chest of drawers, desks and other items to find keys, bolt cutters or any number of other items to help progress.
The first area gets you accustomed to this inside a simple house and serves as a taster for some of the more challenging areas late on.
Adding to this are the puzzles which range from physic-based to environmental, with the latter requiring you to pick up items dotted around the landscape to help you proceed. Whether it be a valve to use on a pipe spewing fire or bolt cutters to get into a locked compound, Those Who Remain combines this nicely with the darkness navigation to add an extra element of challenge to the game. This is partly why the later segments work so much better than the early ones, and the inclusion of a strange other-world enhances this further.
The choice-driven dialogue and options included here are one of the more clumsy inclusions and to be honest, it’s something that doesn’t really enhance the game beyond enticing you to play through a second time. Through your journey into Dormont you’ll come across a masked, suit-wearing man who tasks you to gather clues and cast judgment on different people who may or may not be involved in a young girl’s death.
These come in the form of simple orbs that float before a caged character who you can choose to either save or condemn. This ultimately plays into a Good or Bad ending as the truth is revealed but given how obvious these choices are, I actually think the game would work better with morally grey decisions without the good/bad solution to add to the shock and gravitas of what’s happening at the end.
On top of these choice-based decisions, level exploration and puzzle solving are several clunky stealth sections that take place in the aforementioned other-world. Strange creatures stalk you but the field of vision and general navigation is simple enough to get past most of these without many problems. However, these sections also feel like busy-work a lot of the time and a way of padding the game out rather than actually adding meaningful gameplay mechanics. One such puzzle sees you creeping away from a giant stone golem while collecting 6 lion statues to place on pedestals dotted around a pretty large area but no part of this puzzle actually adds anything meaningful to the story.
Late on though, the other-world is used in a much more strategic and clever fashion, with quick glitches between the two worlds boasting challenging platforming sections and strategic navigation of the spectral shadows. These elements are easily the best of the game and as you start to descend further into this nightmarish world, so too does the game open up and become more confident and clever in the way it presents its ideas. The horror is unnerving here, and the chase sections become a lot more imaginative as items move around and endless hallways of doors become dread-inducing spells of panic as you struggle to find the way out in the wake of the antagonist chasing after you.
At the time of writing, there are a few graphical glitches, the aforementioned throwing mechanic can be exploited to throw small items through walls or disappear into the ground completely. One game-breaking bug required us to email the developers directly to inform about which includes falling into the floor late on and forced to manually restart the game. The unskippable cut-scenes are a pain when you’re forced to re-watch these after dying and the stealth sections feel cumbersome and unnecessary.
Those Who Remain certainly won’t be for everyone and there will undoubtedly be a good portion of players that take one look at the early, clunky mechanics and outdated character models and turn this off. That’s a shame though because if you can get past some of the initial jankiness, Those Who Remain opens up to produce a pretty enjoyable (albeit flawed) Indie horror experience. The sound design is great, there’s some nicely placed jump scares in here and the story is engaging enough to actually answer the numerous questions raised early on about what’s going on and why this town is blanketed in a nightmarish veil of despair.
This won’t win any awards for being the best horror of the year, nor is it likely to be a title you return to in a hurry when you finish it. For £15.99 though, if you can look past some of the graphical issues and bugs and take to the story being told, there’s enough here to make for an enjoyable enough play-through that’s actually worth experiencing despite its flaws.
Published: 28 May 2020 at 2:00pm on
All of our videogame reviews are also featured on OpenCritic