Those Who Remain Review: Ghost Flusters
If you're like me, Halloween isn't just a day — it's an entire month. To get into the spirit of the season, my wife and I like to watch a horror movie just about every day of October.
Naturally, the quality is all over the place with such a dedicated approach. There are some films we remember forever and watch again the next year, while there are others we forget as soon as the credits roll. There are others still that, while they don't stay with us for long, do a good job filling in the schedule for any particular evening.
Those Who Remain is like the latter kind of horror movie. Its indie budget is apparent at every turn, and it makes some poor design decisions along the way. Still, thanks to some decent scares and a narrative that defies expectations, it serves well as a middling horror story wedged between some better and worse counterparts.
Those Who Remain Review: Ghost Flusters
Those Who Remain wears its influences on its sleeve — early and often. As a first-person, defenseless horror game with plenty of scripted scares, it's evident the team at Camel 101 played Layers of Fear somewhere along the way.
Sequences regularly lead players down a winding corridor, hit them with a dead end, and then morph the world behind them so they turn to witness a new and unsettling landscape.
It's a camera trick that Bloober Team perfected, but I've not bored of it yet. Camel 101 employs it well too, so I don't mind the similarities. As a passerby in the eerie town of Dormont, players in Those Who Remain are put into a situation not unlike that of the lost souls of Silent Hill.
As I entered the desolate town, I immediately likened the game's story to Konami's classic franchise. Only the fog of Silent Hill is replaced by everlasting darkness in Dormont. In the darkest corners sit shadowy figures, always watching, never moving unless you step out of the light. They're unnerving at first, but soon become little more than a puzzle mechanic. If you can see them, you know your path is not safe. Thus, your job is usually to find a light source to make them flee.
The more imposing threats are the several different monsters that give chase. Those Who Remain is a defenseless adventure-horror where puzzles and hide-and-seek rule the gameplay suite. The chases can be nerve-wracking, but usually only once. If you're caught, you'll notice that once you're spotted, there's seemingly no way to escape, and thus no reason to run away.
This unfortunate wrinkle turns the hide-and-seek element into nothing but a puzzle sequence of its own. It may have some spooky sound design to go along with it, but the auto-fail state of being spotted even briefly washes away a lot of the horror. Players need the possibility of escape to feel the threat. Without it, the chases don't work.
Having said that, there's still one recurring chasing enemy that reliably filled me with dread whenever I heard her coming.
As for those puzzles, they're often a highlight of every level. They're of a familiar sort, where players backtrack through a small area while opening doors, finding items to create new paths to then find a key to open another door. You know the type.
Still, the puzzles are intuitive and use the otherworldly universe to essentially turn every locale into two different places. Yeah, it's like Silent Hill in that way too, but where its inspiration used a rusted-out hell, Those Who Remain traps players in a watery, drowning haze.
Though puzzles are good and scares are inconsistent, other aspects of Those Who Remain are regularly bad. The lighting is much too dark, causing me to turn my gamma settings up more than recommended, which lent a smokiness to the game I never wanted. Human character models are few and far between, which is a good sign that Camel 101 can work within its limitations, but when other people do appear, they look pretty bad.
They sound worse too. The voice acting in Those Who Remain ranges from hardly passable, like that of the protagonist, to wildly ineffective, like that of a criminal you meet about a third of the way through the three- to four-hour story. I appreciate when an indie game can rise above a shallow budget and make do with what it's got. Those Who Remain is the result of that in some cases, but the story deserved to be structured around fewer speaking roles.
However, the best part about Those Who Remain is its story. In the first 30 minutes, I thought I had it figured out and grew frustrated as the narrative seemed to find itself so clever. But it turns out, it was.
With some player-driven choices allowing you to inject your morality into the mix, the story can end in one of three ways, and none of them unfold the way I expected early on. It was quite refreshing to see the story catch me off-guard like this. Whereas the game can often seem like an amalgam of other horror games' ideas, its story manages to reject the obvious conclusion in favor of something unexpected.
Those Who Remain Review — The Bottom Line
- A twisty story led by player moral choices
- A few good scares
- Poor voice acting
- Lighting is crucial but doesn't deliver
- Chase sequences suffer from design flaws
As credits rolled in Those Who Remain, I felt I had enjoyed enough of it not to feel like I wasted my evening, unlike I have with so many October movie marathons. It's not a horror game I'll think of first when people come to me asking for recommendations, but for the biggest horror fans who keep up with the genre, one could do worse than the occult ghost story told in Those Who Remain.
[Note: A copy of Those Who Remain was provided by Camel 101 for the purpose of this review.]