Those Who Remain

FBT isn’t one of those.

A middle-aged man, Edward is saved from his suicide attempt by a booty call from his mistress. Ed heads to a remote, sleezy motel only to find no booty anywhere, and when his car is stolen he has no choice but to walk back to town – but the surrounding darkness is now filled with glowing-eyed spectres that kill if he ventures too far from the light. Ed must reach town without being killed, but along the way finds the dark is also hiding secrets.

It’s unnerving how this taps into that fear of the dark even if you didn’t know you were. The lights are defused and eerie, and the people standing in the dark are like a mash up between Children of the Corn and Carpenter’s The Fog. It really feels like we’re onto some retro 80s horror goodness here. Moving through a deserted house I can flick on lights which causes them to disappear – light is my weapon – but if turn it off, they’re still there …

But, sadly, that soon wears off and with it, any sense this is gonna be good. There’s always a light switch. Light isn’t a weapon or a puzzle, like A Plague Tale where you’re terrified and searching for light sources to keep the rats at bay. The creatures, one of which is a big aphid / spider / thing with a skull for a face, are just barriers to stop you short-cutting, not the plot.

Turns out Ed is being tested by some demonic entity that dwells in a form of purgatory. But it doesn’t make the final judgement, he makes Ed investigate the death of a 13yr old girl, judging those who caused her death while coming to terms with his own guilt. But I wanna go play in the dark with the scary aphid things.

Often, Ed will transport to another reality, a version of the world best described as The Upside Down. Here, Ed can manipulate objects out of reach in the real world, then return to pass puzzles. But why are clues to guilt in this reality, what exactly is it, how does it relate? Dunno, Ed is the most accepting lead character ever devised. I know he has his mind on other things (actually he seems to have totally forgotten about his missing mistress) but he just takes all this is in his slow stride. Ed is beyond cliché, muttering things even Max Payne would snigger at. Sub-noir self-pitying ironic comments went out with those illogical, why-is-this-here puzzles – oh, we’ve got those too.

I’ll take a puzzle if it links to the narrative but even when it does it’s daft. The ghost tells us she was 13 when she died, and we find numbered candles, of which we can only light two – I light 8 & 5; equals 13. Right? No, it was 1 and 3. Oh come on. But it’s not the puzzles that ruin the moment, it’s the jump-cuts. You’ll resolve an element then get a load-screen from the 90s, telling you it’s loading shaders or whatever, then you’re dumped into a new location.

It just adds to the disconnection; we’re randomly popping up outside a gas-station, library, church, house, copshop, it’s like a Top 10 Countdown of scary gaming moments. And, infuriatingly, it resets; he finds a lighter which gives some protection but in the next chapter it’s gone, and all Ed does is say ‘must have dropped it’. Dropped it?! You’re useless.

Are the spectres the missing townsfolk, are they working for the demon, why are they trying to stop us, what is the Upside Down, how is that related? Who knows, it’s like channel surfing between Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. The girl pops up, like so many undead little girls do, but she’s no help explaining what’s going on. It becomes obvious, but the game never toys with you or lets you in on it until the end. But the biggest frustration is a deformed wailing woman with a hand for a face that’s clutching a headlamp.

It’s like being pestered by some nervous mum worried we’re out after dark. Ed apparently has no knees so no sneaking, you just stand there like a lemon or run about getting lost. One level is roaming a maze, matching statues to their plinths while lamp-face wanders. Why?! Worse, any Brit gamers are going to be triggered by her music cue; ‘Nee naa nee naa’. I kept thinking I was about to be arrested for all the copyrights this game is breaching.

The only fun to be had is working out where you’ve seen it before. If you’ve played an adventure-horror, or watched a movie, it’s here. And it feels unfinished, like a Steam Early Release game still in development. First time we see the ghost girl, the cut scene ends with her saying “You’ll see me again” – then we’re back and she’s still there. And it’s rammed with logic-farts. Ed doesn’t think to wrap some cloth around a table leg and make a torch, use the barrel fires he finds everywhere, open blinds, even use the torch on his phone. Twice he finds car keys and what does he do? Well he doesn’t drive off if that’s what you’re thinking.

A real frustration is they didn’t seem to invest in an good auto-save programme. If you inch too close to the dark, or get clobbered by Torchface (or another harridan that chases you down moving corridors at the end of most levels) you’re returned, way back from where you were which just reinforces the boredom as you search for the key again or tramp for an age turning lights on and off to get to back there.

It’s not a horror, it’s a light-switch sim. So many light switches, it’s as exciting as going to the loo in the middle of the night. It’s obviously a budget game and I’m more than okay with that, but the cheap comes from the sketchy narrative and confusing progression, not a lack of RTX graphics. In the end, the choices we made affect how Ed is judged, and there’s supposedly three endings - not sure which mine was, I was just glad it ended.

Still, raging about this is feels like bullying. Those Who Remain was created by a dev team consisting of THREE people – by that reckoning, it is a huge achievement. It does feel like something King or Carpenter would have put out the 80s, and it’s published by Wired Games, a UK publisher who specialise in indie games like Deliver us the Moon, Close to the Sun and Fractured Minds; and they support Safe In Our World, a charity dedicated to mental health awareness in gamers. I’m going to purgatory for bitching about this game. Just so long as Ed isn’t judging me.

#adventure #horror #fbt