- Release Date (NA): May 28, 2020
- Release Date (EU): May 28, 2020
- Publisher: Camel 101
- Developer: Camel 101
- ESRB Rating: Mature
- PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
- Also For: Computer, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Noir-style games are edgy, cool, and gritty--or at least they were when they first hit the video game scene. These days we have seen it all. We know the ropes, we know the tropes, and we expect something more. Those Who Remain plays on your fear of the dark, tried and tested inner monologues and tries to eke out something that is worth more than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately for me, I found this game monotonously obvious and tiringly chore-like. Made in Unity often used to mean a reasonable standard of gaming, for fun, simple titles but more recently developers have been bumping up the abilities of this toolset and really crafting some amazing experience. Those Who Remain feels like a super basic '90s PC title that has haphazardly been blown from that era, finding itself a fully-modelled 3D effigy of itself in 2020.
You begin this tale as Edward, a man with perhaps fewer issues than the game in which he stars, and you quickly learn that you had it all, lost it all. Currently, you're on the brink of ending it all but you now want to break up with your latest squeeze, Diane, at one of Golden Oak's motel rooms, which is in the middle of nowhere. As you make your way to the reception and scan around for information, it's apparent that people have generally gone missing and the world is in a state of spooky suspension. Eventually, you find what you need and carry on your merry way to see what the next scene has in store for you. Entering the motel room, you are met with yet another mystery and another series of mundane and clichéd things to do in order to progress, such as answering a phone that you checked and found it had no dial tone, and turning on and off lights in front of a TV that blatantly has a set of eyes watching you from within.
The spooky vibes certainly do kick in at times, but it's more the waiting for something you know is going to happen than what actually happens. For example, you find a barn in pitch dark, with rain lashing down, crows squawking and fields of corn swaying and rustling. Upon entering you are exposed, for the first time, to the 50% opacity shadow figures that have corny glowing eyes and give off a droning horror movie tone the closer you get to them. As you move around the rooms you quickly realise that the advice you have been given at the beginning is all the advice you need: "stay in the light." Flipping the switches on the walls illuminates each room and these shadow people vanish leaving you free to explore. I actually sacrificed myself early on just to see what would happen if I got too close and got caught by the boogeymen, and apart from your vision going a bit hazy they very lazily grab you and start beating at you with a short fading-out and oddly low-energy animation. It's not that scary in all honesty and the lack of death animations or variety with which you get "got" just leaves these shadow figures serving more as vapid boundaries within which you must wander about reading banal papers and articles until you find something that actually helps you progress.
You meet your first NPC, Annika, chilling out in the periphery along with the glowy-eyed shadow people, which is a clear sign that something has obviously happened to her. They say that user gratification relies on the predictability of events within a specified genre, but without being infused with elements of the unpredictable, I have yet to find any gratification or even anything that truly breaks boundaries and makes me sit up and take notice of this game. Those Who Remain doesn't feel like it wants to innovate, and it certainly doesn't look like it's particularly trying to do things differently to change up formulaic precedents set by games decades ago. This simplicity is its downfall rather than its defining feature, as it plain feels lazy. I can't honestly think of a device or mechanism in this title that I haven't seen done before. For example, once you have located the gas station and have a lighter in your possession which could potentially open up your ability to explore more, you will instantly lose that which is the most useful of all the items you have needlessly interacted with, because that's how it's always been. Games like these standardly follow an exacting cookie-cutter style script of hunting for an object, obtaining said object, frustratingly losing the object, thus begins the cycle again with hunting for an equivalent item. Rinse, yawn, repeat.
Controlling the game has been, perhaps, far too oversimplified. Three of the four face buttons work for action, throw an object, and show objective. The fourth button, square, is left entirely vacant. You look and move with the left and right sticks, and run with L2. That is pretty much the long and short of it. In one respect, I can applaud the über-streamlined controller approach as it's brave and absolutely not the norm, but it simplifies it for the user entirely which has to be a great thing. However, the flip-side of having played this game in its entirety is an overwhelming feeling of incompletion and lack of inspiration that has gone into how you go about navigating this world. Keeping it simple should have enabled a greater focus on the environment around you, yet it feels like you're struggling to amble around, and with a lack of interesting things to interact with, and next to no buttons to press, you're left to your own devices with very little direction. Thankfully most of this game is a cakewalk and it is fairly obvious what needs to be done and can be zipped through extremely quickly.
Graphically, it's a mixed bag. I love the locations, and the small details that adorn them, but in equal measure, I really did not enjoy the smaller props that litter these scenes which only lead to really break your immersion. Lighting seems nice at first with glinting bump-mapped floors and reflective metal surfaces, but then you spot odd lighting anomalies casting impossible shafts of light or weird shadows. The reflections in the puddles in the opening car park look great at first, but again they reflect an entirely different forest scene with different lighting, and, oddly, it also doesn't reflect the super potent blue moon in the sky behind the palm trees. Let me just say, the effect of the palm trees in front of the moon looks incredible--at first. Upon closer inspection, however, it is weirdly pixelated as if post-processing has severely knocked it about, or it has been animated beforehand and then pasted into the sky like a badly stretched animated gif. There seems to be a spark of awesomeness here that is sadly dulled out of existence by cheap effects. Background detail like rain clips through buildings, grasses and flowers dance strangely and even the crows jumping out and taking flight have terribly basic animations applied to them. These effects look okay from afar, but up close on a PS4 Pro console connected to a 60" 4k TV, it looks heinously dated to all heck. The shadow people are flat, static and lifeless, which is ironic in itself, and the animation of the other avoidable enemies is just plain strange, blending jerkiness with a claymation look that is entirely unappealing and completely out of touch with the rest of the style of the game. These creatures that stalk you consist of a semi-naked woman's torso, a torch for a face, a massively oversized hand for a head, traffic cones embedded in its skin, and a rather odd fire brigade sounding siren noise given off to alert you of its location. The points at which you find these stalkers you all of a sudden have a game of hide-and-seek on your hands, and the gameplay changes to more frantic pacing. While it is initially thrilling, there isn't much fun to be had here either, as instead you're now pressurised to do tasks, or rather chores, quicker and without getting caught. This seems to a direct attempt to add a new element to the game, in the same vein as Resident Evil has Nemesis, or Mr X crashing about trying to decimate you, but this fails to gain the gravitas and just feels hugely out of place with its initial supernatural styling and entirely imbalanced. Sure you can outrun the creature, but do you want to? You can't fight back, half the buttons on the pad do nothing anyway, so it quickly becomes a yawn-fest of avoiding for ages or getting caught and having to restart the whole section over again.
While some environments house plenty of items to interact with, others contain next to none. The first house you found had drawers, cupboards, chairs, books and kitchen props everywhere, but a few scenes later in the diner, and the library there is virtually nothing for you to play with. Even items you got to mess with, like pots, pans and books in the kitchen and adjoining rooms, are oddly untouchable in the diner. It's inconsistent at best and frustratingly leads you to pointlessly look at various items thinking it may help your endeavour. It's like the developers made the first level all-encompassing and fully immersive to get you hooked in, and then cheaped out further in, hoping you would forget the previous 30 minutes of gameplays mechanics, wandering about fruitlessly. I also found that you can also clip through walls at points. One great and easily replicable example is at the diner. Go round the back and cleat the obstructed window, then stand on the window opening and push forward into the building. Now just turn around and notice that every prop, car and piece of graffiti has vanished and you are now in a low poly version of the diner exterior environment. Another weird example of collision detection and clipping is that the second you have clicked on a door to open it you can run at it and phase right through it without having to wait for the door animation to finish. The game feels rushed, or unfinished, and definitely lacking a polish that quality and assurance surely should have identified and put to rest during playtesting.
Almost every location has a music source such as a radio, or a jukebox, that is irritatingly looping the same track over and over. Other SFX such as the rain, wind, rustling, clinking of glass and metal all make sense and build a nice atmosphere, but they're heavily intruded by the annoying noise of the radio and its '50s-'60s tracks. Thankfully some of these musical contraptions can be turned off, however, some cannot, and perhaps it is a cunning developer mechanism deployed to stress you out, as the S.A.S. would do with their prisoners of war, but I found that this wasn't so much stress-inducing as much as infuriatingly "turn-the-damn-game-off" inducing. I don't know what the producers were aiming for but I cannot help but think they massively missed the mark here. Even any easter-eggs you find around the places are a nice touch, but they don't allude to anything other than certain devs now having no choice but to admit that they were part of Those Who Remain's production. One example is a framed picture on a wall with the "Employee of the Month" who is a chap called Bartov Ragaz. I can only assume is a developer but a Google search yielded nothing, so perhaps it's an in-house joke, who knows, but it's certainly not enough for the average player to get to chortle at.
I don't like being down on a game, and I feel bad writing it, but I quite simply cannot find any true elements of redemption for Those Who Remain. I would have a tough time endorsing it to anyone thanks to its inability to shine in any department. It appears to be a wasted opportunity to do something striking, fresh and innovative for 2020, and yet it comes across like a low-energy, half-assed entry into the already saturated horror genre. I don't think the devs should have gone down the survival horror route, seeing as how it starts out decently with what should have been a nice engaging sandbox creep-fest. Instead its plausibly decent underlying story comes across disjointed in a frustrating blend of game styles that have been done already and has been done far better. If you can bear to part with £15.99 for three hours of unstimulating "gameplay" then by all means give it a try and form your own opinion about it, but my honest advice, with the power of hindsight would be to avoid this game harder than you would avoid a creepy mansion on Friday the 13th.
|What We Liked . . . Decent environmental design Two endings to uncover||What We Didn't Like . . . Boring, lacklustre and obvious Long loading times between sections Lacking any real substance Glitchy, basic effects and animation|
Though TWR appears to look great from the outset, you can't help but feel that it's bland and dated in overall appearance. The menus look lazy and feel laggy, the animation of crows and foes are just sloppy, clipping and surface reflections are awful and the loading screens have a distinctly '90s PC gaming vibe that I hoped we were far removed from by now.
Tedious, monotonous and tired are the best ways to describe this middle of the road horror title. It's adequate at best, and frustratingly pointless at worst. Sure there are some jump scares, and some creepy moments that play on the fear of the dark, but these are fleeting and the rest is inadvertently laughable.
There are a couple of endings, I had hoped there would be more, but that is all you get for your £15.99. I don't see much reason to ever jump back into this game, as there is nothing more to find and only 15 trophies spread over three hours gameplay in total.
out of 10
(not an average)
This is not a game that I would recommend to anyone other than really hardcore horror fans with a penchant for point-and-click style gameplay. While it has a nice little story going on throughout it just doesn't captivate or craft a memorable or original experience. I understand that it is inspired by classic supernatural films and TV series, but frankly, it just doesn't work to make Those who Remain an enjoyable game.