As a child I was afraid of what might be lurking in the shadows. At night I would lay in bed, eyes fixated at a corner of the dark room; darkness that I imagined was full of all kinds of demons, monsters, and dangers. Those Who Remain is a game that explores the terrors in the shadows, but ramps the scares up to 11 and then some. It’s another first-person horror game that fits nicely into my Xbox library of fright, but how does it fare when the lights are turned up full?
Those Who Remain is a game I’ve kept a keen eye on ever since I was presented a playthrough of the first level earlier in the year. Now the full release is upon us and I’ve got my hands on this first person horror/adventure. You play the title role of a man called Edward, who at the start of the game is on the verge of suicide. He is drinking heavily, looking longingly at pictures of his family who we think he has separated from. He then goes on a journey to a motel, in order to meet a woman who we suspect he’s been having an affair with. She’s not there in the room though and then someone drives off in his car. That’s as straightforward the game gets, because after that things start to get very strange indeed…
The story of Those Who Remain is an intriguing one, with a setting focusing on the little sleepy American town of Dormont. Inspired by Twin Peaks – and a little bit of Alan Wake – the game takes you through bits of this town in a very linear manner, leaving you to piece together bits of the narrative as you go. And this narrative is a good one, involving a mad mystery centralising on a dead teenager, a Jigsaw-type character and a huge lumbering monster.
There is no combat present in the gameplay and instead it covers plenty of puzzle-solving, exploration, and some horrible stealth sections. First of all though you’ll need to get to grips with the basics, and as previously mentioned this runs in the first person – and with that you run and walk around the levels, picking up items to examine them and turning on switches and the like. You might need certain key items for progression of the main story but there is no inventory management needed. On the subject of movement though, Those Who Remain delivers slight movement from right to left as you walk, which is okay and fairly realistic. But problems occur when the game’s world delves into the unreal, and with a section which defies gravity everything becomes curved and strange. The problem I have with this is that it induces extreme nausea, something which I don’t normally get playing games. It was so bad in fact that I had to stop a few times through my playthrough, taking a break before coming back. It was a strange feeling, and maybe others won’t experience it, but for me it really put a damper on things.
The two other main elements of the gameplay focus on having to negate the darkness, and moving into a different reality. The first is simple but hugely effective. You see, in the darkness lay a whole host of demonic presences, shadows of men and women with glowing eyes holding all sorts of weapons, like pitchforks and axes. If you step into the darkness, you will be killed instantly. So to get rid of them you have to ensure the area you want to go through is filled with light. This can be done by simply turning on the switch of a light in a room, or finding some keys for a car and switching the headlights on to clear a path. It all works well, but then there are other puzzles which are much more complicated and involve delving into another version of this reality.
By heading through a door of light you will find yourself entering into an alternate world; one that is similar, but strangely different. It’s a bit like Stranger Things’ ‘Upside Down’ world, where objects defy gravity and strange demonic creatures lurk in the shadows. This is essential to how Those Who Remain plays out though, and as you move an object or use a device in this weird world, you will discover a direct impact on the real world. For instance, there is a section in which you need to get into a car, but only by dipping into the alternate reality will you be able to destroy the overgrowth which is covering it, making it usable in the real world.
There are also a number of stealth sections in Those Who Remain, and when combined with puzzle solving they play out almost like boss battles. There is a particularly tricky one in which you find yourself in a maze that is patrolled by a huge creature. It is up to you to work through this and place some lion statues onto plinths. Honestly though, it’s all a bit of a nightmare, as if the creature spots you it’s pretty much game over, even when you try to run away. It’s fair to say I haven’t enjoyed these stealthy moments as it all feels incongruous with the rest of the game.
Visually though and the game is, at times, very good, especially in regards to the attention to detail found in the documents, notes, diaries, and little extras you find laying around the levels. Some of the character animations are not as perfect as you would like though, but the lighting is good and those strange creatures that are found in the shadows are excellent throughout. The nightmare sequences are very well-designed and brilliantly directed too. These visuals are accompanied by an exceptional soundtrack and superb sound effects that run from start to finish. The composition highlights the moments of terror to perfection at times, and this is helped along by some pretty solid voice acting, in particular the good all-round performance from the actor who plays the lead character, Edward.
Those Who Remain on Xbox One is a decent exploration horror that will take you around seven hours to complete. I enjoyed the story, the characters, and what the game was trying to achieve through the narrative. The gameplay – with its focus on light and the alternate reality – has a unique selling point that is intriguing enough to delve into. But the stealth sections and the overriding motion sickness let the whole thing down. The world is fine though, and this could well be the start of a series of games that utilise the same rules and themes found within. If you are looking to try some terror in the dark then Those Who Remain will enlighten you.