Review – Those Who Remain
I have played a lot of indie horror games over the years and many of them follow the same tired tropes. Things like stay out of the dark, a walking sim with occasional puzzles, insert occasional chase sequences, and tackle some dark psychological themes. Those Who Remain from Camel 101 features every one of these. The saving grace for many titles trying to set themselves apart usually comes from having either a strong narrative or well crafted gameplay mechanics. Unfortunately, Those Who Remain has neither.
You play as Edward, a protagonist so generic I had to look up his name before writing this as I had already forgotten it. He is on his way to a hotel to meet up with his mistress to end things once and for all. Upon arriving, he immediately realizes that something is amiss and makes his way to the small town of Dormont to get help. While on the way there, he notices menacing figures lurking in the surrounding darkness. Shadowy apparitions wielding knives, axes, and pitchforks with glowing eyes that cut through the inky night. He hears someone calling for help and the moment the lamppost burns out, they are obliterated. Now he knows that in order to survive, he must stay in the light.
Sounds like a good premise, doesn’t it? Well it is, but unfortunately the gameplay hampers the fun and creepiness of it all. Those Who Remain is mostly a walking sim, but has some minor puzzles thrown in like so many do. Naturally, many of them revolve around trying to find ways to light your path so you can progress. This is all well and good, except for the fact that the game is inconsistent with its rules about what happens when you enter the dark.
In some cases, when you get to the edge of the darkness you’ll be given a warning not to go further by your vision getting blurry and Edward’s breathing becoming labored. This lets you know that your demise is approaching if you don’t enter the light right away. Other times, if you put a toe into the darkness, it’s an instant kill. There’s no way to tell which fate awaits you until it happens. This is already frustrating enough, but when you add the fact that dying puts you back at the start of the chapter after a long loading screen, it becomes downright maddening.
I actually almost quit this game about halfway through. I was already getting annoyed with having to restart levels from the beginning due to the inconsistent darkness rules. Whatever, I had already restarted that particular chapter four times and knew exactly where to go and what to do. Irritating yes, but I pushed through. Then when I got to the very end of the chapter, the big hulking spotlight demon with massive tits was chasing me down a corridor and the game froze. I couldn’t believe my bad luck and tried in vain to reload from an autosave point, only to be kicked out of the game altogether. When I booted it back up, I was right back at the f#@*ing beginning again. After taking a very long break, I got back to it, hoping the ending would make up for the misery I was experiencing. It didn’t.
Now there are a few things that are actually quite good in Those Who Remain. First and foremost, the voice acting and overall sound design is pretty solid throughout. The music is subdued and creepy, while the sound effects are done competently enough to give the whole game a truly eerie feel. The graphics are pretty good too, although it does suffer from the same problem as a lot of smaller budget horror games with the human and demon animations being far less impressive than the environment’s. Also, the main storyline luckily does take an interesting path.
Edward’s story is almost immediately put on the back burner as he investigates what happened to the residents of Dormont. The mystery of the town is quite compelling, even if it does become fairly obvious way before the end what happened. I won’t get into spoilers, but there are times when Edward will have to choose what happens to someone else and I really loved that aspect of it. The way that concept is delivered was pretty original and leads to the game having a few different endings. Not that you’ll necessarily want to go back and replay the game, but there is a bit of a replayability factor for those who may.
There are also small sections of the game where you’ll enter another realm. It’s the same location you’re currently playing, but everything is murky, objects are floating around as if underwater, and the level is upside down. There are certain things that can only be accessed or interacted with while in this dimension, so it adds another layer to how to go about solving certain things.
My biggest complaints, aside from what I’ve already ranted about, is that the other realm isn’t utilized nearly enough and the ending is incredibly underwhelming. I would have loved to have had the other dimension play a bigger role in solving puzzles instead of primarily being used to find that one object you can’t access in the regular world.
Edward’s story is barely touched on throughout the game and you’re instead trying to figure out what happened to the inhabitants of Dormont. They eventually wrap up Edward’s story, but it’s pretty abrupt and unsatisfying, regardless of which ending you get. It makes you wonder why he was chosen as the protagonist for this journey at all. Yes, I understand the symbolism of his personal struggles, but it really feels like his whole arc was lazily tacked on at the last minute.
In the end, I have to say that Those Who Remain was a disappointment. I wanted to like it, I really did, especially since the true premise of the game is pretty original. It could lend itself very well to other games in the future. Unfortunately, it’s fleeting moments of brilliance are lost within the dregs of tired horror tropes, inconsistency with its rules, uninspired gameplay mechanics, and an unfulfilling ending. For many that give Those Who Remain a shot will be largely unsatisfied.
This is a beautiful game with some truly creepy imagery, but like so many indie horror games, the human/demon animations are far less impressive.
It follows a lot of the same tropes as many others in the genre: stay in the light, some puzzles with most of them being searching for objects, and chase sequences. The inconsistency of which dark areas will kill you instantly, plus long loading times, are maddening.
The soundtrack is subtle, yet effective. The sound effects and voice acting are well done.
There are some really good ideas in here, but they’re buried beneath inconsistent gameplay mechanics, lackluster puzzles, long loading times, freezing issues, and no substantial story payoff.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Those Who Remain is available now on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch.
Reviewed on Xbox One.
A copy of Those Who Remain was provided by the publisher.