It’s natural to fear the dark, to feel dread for the unknown shadows which are populated with horrors dreamed up by our fervent imaginations. Within that void lies a terror that is primal in nature, and makes for a hell of a fascinating exploration into the very roots of fear. It’s also the driving force behind Those Who Remain, a psychological horror game that functions as a flipped take on stealth with an emphasis on staying within the light unless you want to be horribly torn apart by malevolent forces.
Playing as Edward, you’re having a hard enough time as it is. Unable to think without his dick, Edward’s found himself caught in an affair that has left him wracked with guilt and stuck in the small town of Dormant as he attempts to get his life back in order and end his illicit romantic rendezvous with his secret lover.
In the seediest of motels, Edward’s guilt-wracked existence is thrown another curveball by the manifestation of demons that have trapped him within a purgatory of sorts, the only route to escape being to stay in the light and investigate more of Dormant and its residents. It’s easier said than done, as one wrong step into a shadow means death, leading to you having to work out the best solution for keeping the lights on.
To its credit, Those Who Remain absolutely nails its atmosphere. There’s a thick layer of tension in the air, punctuated by endless mobs of the damned who pierce the veil of the shadows with their blue eyes and add even more unease to a game that is littered with enough jump scares to result in a hefty fine the next time you fly thanks to you being over the mental baggage allowance.
Those Who Remain even goes a step further with an extra layer of mystery to its many mind-teaser puzzles, chucking you into an extra dimension which pulls liberal inspiration from Stranger Things as you abuse the laws of wobbly physics to work your way out of the latest conundrum. There’s a clever emphasis on the use of light and audio to work out a mystery, in addition to genre-regular obstacles that require keys and valves with which to be opened.
Sounds good, right? A decent protagonist, a heaping splash of tension and puzzles that’ll turn your armpits into a swamp of perspiration as the shadows loom closer should make for a decent game. Which they certainly do. Unfortunately, all that equilibrium is tossed out of the window thanks to some ghastly controls and pacing which is baffling to say the least.
Playing on Xbox One X, I was yearning for a proper mouse and keyboard for the first time in years. Those Who Remain has incredibly fiddly controls, requiring the type of precision usually reserved for a final exam at a sniper academy for the simplest of tasks. What should be a tense experience of reaching for the lights before the darkness consumes you becomes an exercise in frustration as the docile mob patiently waits for you to blunder your latest attempt to flick a light switch.
The controls take a nosedive further into the game when you’re confronted by a manifestation of terror in the form of a mobile monster that looks like it headbutted a spotlight and somehow surgically fused it to its grotesque face. Unlike the other denizens of Dormant, this abomination will relentlessly stalk you as you work your way through the dark, desperately trying to avoid its gaze and failing several times thanks to the god-awful controls, lack of real stealth mechanical options and the beast having the most random of movement that usually ends with you on the receiving end of its talons.
The levels themselves are also thrown together in a patchwork fashion, existing more as a collection of small sandboxes within which to explore more of Dormant and run into individuals who you can save from their personal hell or damn them to an eternity of suffering for their crimes, with your choices eventually leading to one of three possible endings. It’s a fine idea, but the manner in which levels suddenly transition from one to the other feels disconcertingly hurried and blurs the timeline of Those Who Remain’s own continuity.
Last Updated: June 2, 2020