What’s that, I’ve been playing yet another psychological thriller this week? I’ve lost count of how many games within this genre I’ve played and reviewed over the last 12-months, each one slightly altering the gameplay so they can deliver their creepy and spine-tingling narratives through a unique and exciting experience. Those Who Remain is the latest nightmare-inducing horror game which I’ve bravely seen through from the title screen to the end credits, an achievement which I’m proud of due to how scared these games make me!
This game is yet another narrative-focused thriller from publisher Wired Productions, hot on the heels of Close to the Sun and Deliver Us The Moon, two equally immersive narrative adventures. However, the developer this time is Camel 101, a three-man indie development team. Taking inspiration from popular TV shows such as Twin Peaks and Stranger Things, not to mention a few infamous movies such as The Shining, Those Who Remain is a strange story which really tests your morality and, in some instances, your patience too.
So, grab your adult diaper, turn off the lights, and cuddle your teddy, as we enter the town of Dormont to try and figure out what the hell is going on…
**Images in this review were taken whilst in HDR mode, so they are a bit darker and less detailed than what I saw on my TV**
I won’t lie to you, I got very confused with the story as I played through the game. It’s not too complicated or incomprehensible, it just bounces you around a lot from scene to scene, which I found quite hard to follow. However, this is my take on the non-spoiler concept…
You play as Edward, a guy who has gone to a seedy motel on the outskirts of Dormont in order to put an end to his secret affair with another woman. However, upon being unable to find his ‘lover’, his night is turned into a nightmare as supernatural and, quite bluntly, fucked up shit begins to happen. The darkness becomes populated with unclaimed souls who will devour and torment anyone who steps within their reach, objects begin to move of their own accord, hideous monsters roam the light, and things literally go ‘bump’ in the night.
As you make your way through this horrific and disturbing side of Dormont, checking out all the sights such as the police station, library and fire station, you’ll begin to uncover a tragic set of events which occurred here, leading to this curse which has fallen upon the town. The worse thing is, the fate of those involved lies within your hands, will you forgive or punish those responsible? Whatever you choose, your morality will be tested as you decide whether someone deserves to be damned or freed from this haunting predicament.
*The people of Dormont will remember that.
Those Who Remain is a first-person game which operates as you’d expect. You can move, run, interact and throw things around, but there’s no crouch or torch (which is surprising but obvious, based on the core gameplay mechanics). You’ll spend the majority of the game wandering around, trying to solve environmental puzzles and searching for key items such as clues, keys, and notes, all whilst trying to light the way and avoid the spooky boys! However, unlike other games in the genre, there’s no side-missions, collectables, trophies for exploring, or secrets to uncover outside of the main story, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it keeps you focussed on the narrative at all times.
The puzzles stood out for me, I was confused and lost a number of times whilst I played the game, unable to get any support as it was pre-launch, and I loved it! Sure, some of the solutions were simple but I was thinking too much into it, such as trying to add numbers together to make the answer rather than simply picking the two numbers that literally make the solution, but others were quite clever and cryptic. One such puzzle, in the church, requires you to seek out the guidance within the church grounds in order to understand the puzzle you’re presented with – the game doesn’t hold your hand, it literally shoves a bunch of things in front of you and leaves you to figure out what’s going on.
Unfortunately (for me, at least), as this game is a psychological thriller and has taken inspiration from a number of other titles, such as the lovely Bloober Team games, there are chase sequences and a number of jump scares which will make you scream. I’ll talk about this in more detail below but in short, I felt like these moments and the very unforgiving autosave process were my least-favourite parts of the game.
Those Who Remain is a game which focuses a lot on stealth, exploration, puzzle-solving, and scaring the shite out of you. Basically, you can’t step into the darkness in most instances without being devoured by the glowing-eyed creatures who lie in wait of another lost soul to harvest. In a way, it reminded me of that Tooth-Fary film from many years ago (no, not the Dwayne Johnson film). Thankfully, you know if you’re about to be eaten as the screen will begin to do a Wayne’s World ‘back in time’ waving effect and you’ll see a bunch of beady little eyes staring into your soul within the darkness. So, how do you progress? Simple, you turn on the lights…
This is easier said than done in most instances as it’s sometimes part of the puzzle. What’s that? There are boxes blocking the light? Easy, pick up a box and throw it, using the physics to knock them over. Oh no, the tractor won’t turn on and there’s a beast chasing you?! Simple, go find a bulb, replace it, turn it on, then make a run for it whilst the light divides the ghouls.
But, most of the time all you have to do is turn on the lights by using the light switch – something which was a lot more stressful than it needed to be! You see, every single light switch is inside the room and to the side of the door – but if you see shining eyes in the room, you don’t want to walk in there in fear that you’ll get grabbed by the dark men! So, you have to slowly shimmy into the doorway, look to your side, and then wiggle your reticule around to see if there’s a switch, if not – get out fast! Honestly, the number of times I walked into a room expecting to find a switch and ended up getting killed was frustrating (not in a bad way).
However, these spooky spectres were so much easier to deal with than the other two antagonists within the game, two freaks who I never want to see again!
There’s a reason I don’t tend to play horror or ‘run and hide’ games unless I’m reviewing them, they stress me out and frustrate me to the point where I want to throw my controller at someone and then possibly slap them about or poke them to relieve my anger. So, when I realised that Those Who Remain had both a randomly patrolling freak and a few chase segments, I wasn’t impressed. I mean, I expected them as you get them in all psychological thriller and horror games, but I was hoping this would be the first one without them, a game I could play without getting sweaty palms and screaming whenever I failed!
Ultimately, both mechanics aren’t too bad. I only failed on a few of them and you learn what you need to do so next time you don’t cock up – such as learning which door you need to enter or the best route to take. However, there are some really tense and fear-inducing parts which really had me worked up and stressed out. One requires you to collect six stone lions and place them on pressure plates without being caught by a naked big-boobed monster. This one is stressful because you walk really slow whilst carrying them yet she can move fast, so if you’re sighted you need to drop or throw the object and run as fast as you can.
Similarly, some of the chase sequences require you to pick up and move chairs and boxes as you’re trying to run away from the creature that’s right behind you. Thankfully it doesn’t move very fast, but it’s still stressful and really affected my anxiety.
What I did like was how some of these chase sequences start as you don’t know it’s going to happen because the developers use a ‘Bloober Team’ effect. What I mean by that is, you can be looking at something then you turn around and the entire area has changed, turn back and it’ll be there, staring at you as it gets ready to chase. So, although these aren’t my favourite mechanics, I felt they were implemented well and they weren’t brutal or unforgiving, you had quite a bit of room to wiggle and you could make a few mistakes before getting caught. So, if you like the genre but don’t like these (like me), trial and error will get you through it.
As stated above, Those Who Remain takes place within a few different locations, all set out as separate mini-areas for you to explore and investigate. Each one tells a tale as you discover more information about the linked narrative and how certain people within that location link to the story and what they did (or didn’t do). As such, each location has been carefully crafted to deliver spooks, excitement and intrigue within the various floors and linked locations.
One thing which I particularly liked is the alternative dimension mechanic. this was similar to the process used within The Sinking City, only it’s more interactive as you can affect the real world whilst within this realm. Basically, once you’re within this new plain you can enter dark rooms which used to have ghosts in them and turn on the lights (which will now be on when you return), find new objects, walk through walls (which aren’t there in this new place), or seek out hidden clues and information for the story.
Also, just like in Pennywise’s lair, everything here floats, so you can bump weightless items around the place – I like it when games do this.
Although the textures aren’t always the best – I saw a lot of blurry ones which looked like they possibly hadn’t loaded up fully – I can’t really fault the game due to it being created by three people, it could just do with a bit of polish here and there – especially when it’s supposedly being rendered at 4k on the PS4 Pro.
Kill or save?
As previously mentioned, Those Who Remain gives you a moral dilemma within each chapter of the game, will you forgive or condemn those who have done something based upon the evidence and documents you find? Seeing as there is no manual save and the autosave is from the beginning of the chapter, plus there are three trophies based on if you saved everyone, condemned them all, or saved all but one, multiple replays of the entire game are required. Although a nice feature, offering alternative endings and events to those who make different choices, the options you have isn’t always plain to see.
Most of the ultimatums involve you picking what you wish to do to the imprisoned soul, but there are a few which are more puzzle-orientated. I cocked up a perfect run for the good ending because there’s a moment where you have to light up the gate and escape. However, the light is shining on a man who is on a crate, using the illumination to ward off the ghosts around him. At this point, you can move the light so you can escape, thus killing him in the process, or you can find an alternative way to make it through the evil entities.
I spent ages trying to figure out an alternative until I thought “sod it” and killed the poor bugger. I honestly couldn’t see an alternative way to do that particular judgement option. So, I’ll be waiting for a guide for that one!
I just wanted to rant about the checkpoints, they are really unforgiving. In most instances, if you die via a ghost or the big-boobed beast, you’ll return to the start of the chapter or the last ‘main’ checkpoint (not the last time it saved). This sometimes resulted in me going back at least 15 minutes or so. Thankfully, if you know what you’re doing then you can speed through the area quite fast, but often it meant you had to perform stealth and/or chase sequences once more. Again though – this may just be a personal issue as it stressed me out when I had to re-do lengthy stealth segments, others may enjoy this though.
Okay, I’ve gone through all the good things and how I like the concept, it has an interesting story, and the gameplay mechanics are fun, even though some did frustrate me at times. But, now we have to talk about the elephant in the room, the terrible performance on the PS4 Pro version pre-launch. (key part here is, pre-launch, there could be a patch coming soon).
I’m playing on a PS4 Pro in 4k mode via a 4k TV – the press info we received stated that the game renders at a native 4K on both the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X and the PS4 versions support HDR (which I can confirm). However, although the game is rendering at 4k, not all of the assets are – they may have 4k structure, but the textures, such as posters and paintings, are clearly much lower and pixelated. Why am I telling you this? Basically, the PS4 Pro version of the game runs really, really bad in terms of performance.
What do I mean? The game is very jerky, you can feel slowdowns in every area, when under stress and being chased you can’t always respond fast enough due to framerate issues, I’ve experienced areas with no textures loading, I’ve walked through walls in some areas, I’ve died due to moving like a slideshow, etc.. Now, I’ve reported these issues and I was advised that they are going to implement a 30fps cap, implying that it’s currently unlocked – hopefully, this will smooth things out a little but I would have personally prefered a 1080p/60 option. The game doesn’t require 4k rendering as the environments are all very dark, so you can’t see lots of detail anyway – performance should trump resolution in titles like this which require fast and instant responses.
But, don’t read this and instantly declare you’re not going to buy it, I made it through the game and finished it regardless of the performance issues. Sure, you can feel the framerate fluctuating all over the place and it does make some of the chase sequences a little difficult, but it’s not impossible and the game is forgiving enough that taking a few extra seconds to move a box won’t end up in your death (sometimes).
*If a patch comes out soon, I’ll test the game again and update the review – my score never includes the performance side as this can (and usually is) fixed by the developer post-launch*
Ignoring the issues I had with the performance and the random floor of the library losing its textures and allowing me to walk outside of the map, what’s the game like to look at and listen to? Visually, I personally thought the game was a little too dark – I know, it’s night time, but even with the lights on it felt dark. The fact the game has HDR didn’t really make sense – it’s a nice feature to have but HDR allows games to generate much brighter and vibrant colours, Those Who Remain is a dark game by default so I don’t think it truly benefits from it.
However, one aspect does benefit from HDR, the lit-up doorways that lead to the alternative dimensions are super bright, like ‘lights up my whole room’ bright! As a knock-on effect, it also means the game suffers from ‘Hitman HD Remastered’ lighting syndrome – there’s a lot of reflective glare from the light sources, creating very bright and off-putting orbs of light that blind you and bleeds all environmental details until you look away or move to an alternative angle. I have a feeling this is an issue with the engine and some of the settings they’ve used though, as I’ve seen it in a few games this generation from indie to AAA.
A brief note about the subtitles – they need a black semi-transparent background or a thin black outline. Look at the image above, with the police car, you can’t make out half of the words due to the colour of the car and the brightness of the HDR/shine.
One thing I didn’t like in terms of the mechanics was the lack of interactivity. If you look at Layers of Fear 2, you can pick up anything, rotate the objects, inspect them, and open and close every single drawer you find. In this game, you can open a lot of the cabinets and drawers but you can’t really pick up many objects and even when you can, you can’t rotate them or even use any form of robotic-zoom to take a closer look at things. This doesn’t affect the gameplay and doesn’t ruin the game, but it’s a mechanic we’ve come to expect in games like this recently.
Finally, the music and voice acting. If I said I wasn’t scared, I’d be lying… The games’ atmosphere is so thick, you could cut it with a knife and then spread it on a piece of toast! The combination of the music, the eerie sound effects, distant crying and screaming, and footsteps of the naked nuisance, all create a very unsettling and disturbing experience. I personally liked the voice actors as well, I thought they played their parts well and were a perfect fit for the characters. However, there’s no lip-syncing with the models of the people you meet, they are all seasoned ventriloquists and talk without having to move their mouths…
If you’re looking for a new psychological thriller which will make you jump (a lot), Those Who Remain is for you. Despite the pre-launch technical issues, which I believe will get fixed over the coming weeks, the game is held together by its interesting story, tense and exciting stealth segments, fun puzzles, and intriguing moral dilemmas. Although I personally got stuck and lost a few times, the fact the game doesn’t hold your hand and requires you to seek out clues and discover the next step in the narrative yourself is great and very satisfying when you figure it out – not many games do this these days. Thanks to the moral choices, lack of manual saves, and multiple ending trophies, replaying the game multiple times is a must to see everything the game has to offer.
Those Who Remain£12.99
- - Interesting story with a main narrative and multiple intertwined stories which link together
- - Forgiving chase and stealth segments, even though they are still very stressful
- - Good voice acting and immersive ambient noises and sound effects which pull you into the game
- - Fun alternative dimension mechanic for puzzle solving and exploring
- - Replayability due to moral choices and alternative endings
- - Very poor performance at launch (not affecting the score as it will most likely get fixed)
- - Although rendering in 4k, quite a few of the assets are textured with a much lower resolution image, making them blurry and hard to make out
- - Even though I love that it doesn't guide you for the majority of the game, it is easy to forget what you're doing and get lost
- - The checkpoints are very unforgiving, sometimes returning you to the beginning of the chapter if you accidentally die
- - Although the story is interesting, I found it hard to follow due to jumping from scene to scene and certain flashbacks appearing without context