Since the dawn of time, we have been afraid of the dark. Those Who remain plays on our fears of the unseen shadowy depths. In the sleepy town of Dormont, safety is only in the light. Stepping into the shadows means swift death from shadowy figures watching your every move.
It is hard not to judge the main character as he is introduced to us. Bottle in hand Edward Turner blearily criticizes himself for ruining his family. After talking himself out of suicide, he decides instead to put other’s lives at risk by drunk driving to see his mistress. He drives to a seedy motel to theoretically break up with her, but honestly, I doubt he would have under the influence of layers of self-pity and booze. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what he would have done because his mistress, as well as everyone else in the motel, has vanished.
Leaving the hotel, our anti-hero is dismayed to see his car stolen by an unknown miscreant. Personally, I suspect Alan Wake. Walking down the road to the nearby town of Dormont, he sees eyes watching him from the shadows. Stepping out of the light results in instant brutal death delivered by these shadowy figures. Physically distancing from these spectral figures in the shadows is the core hook of the game, and a frequent puzzle element as Edward figures out how to turn on lights to safely proceed to the next area. The eyes in the darkness will probably be the image that stays with me years from now, it is truly unnerving to feel watched by menacing figures as you search for clues for everyone’s disappearance.
It takes a village
After leaving the hotel, Edward investigates every imaginable building you could find in a small town. If glowing eyes in the dark is memorable part of this game, the checklist of buildings is the forgettable part. Playing Those Who Remain you will visit:
- a gas station
- a grocery store
- a police station
- a fire station
- a post office
- a hospital
- a sawmill
There’s also multiple houses, and a few other locations, but the point is, none of these locations feel very unique. All the locations with a few exceptions toward the end feel generic and furnished by a budget movie set decoration company, with little to interact with. Sure, you can pick up all the chairs and stack them in a corner compulsively as I did, but that’s me making my own fun in the bare spots of this game. To be fair, the last chapter of the game does have some interesting, feature rich environments, but the middle of the game is a slog that could have been edited down a lot for pacing.
Empty drawers and post it notes
There are a lot of bare spots in this game. Every police station or grocery store has Imagestock motivational posters, every house feels like the last one. There are some notes left in drawers, but not much else to tell the player who the people are, what they were doing before the incident that made them vanish. There are laptops and phones throughout the environment, televisions on the walls that could have been used so much more than they were. Only once or twice were these items used to convey the story, the rest of the time they just sat there as blank assets. It would have been so much more engaging to read emails, see short in-game engine “videos” of the incident that happened or even to hear voicemails. Instead, the player is left to open drawer after drawer after drawer to find the three notes that will progress them to the next bland environment.
Perhaps the drab real world served a purpose, as it makes the Dream World more fantastic. Mundane hallways are transformed by rich plant life or decay, objects float in midair and other laws of physics are bent or broken, and monsters from the psyche of Edward pursue him. Although we’ve seen similar upside-down worlds in Stranger Things or Silent Hill, the Dream World was a welcome change of pace that I would loved to have spent more time with.
Something’s after me
Things will actively chase you at certain points instead of just waiting for you in the darkness, and they vary in their effectiveness to frighten. The simplest was the most effective for me, a recognizable terror that came out of nowhere and forced me to run for my life. The other two were more monstrous and abstract, and one was frankly laughable to me. The two monstrosities pursue you in different types of mazes while you hunt for various objects to advance the plot. The second maze is outdoors, and the beast lumbers slowly through a maze so you can see them coming, and this one was fun. The first maze was indoors, with the ludicrous monster chasing you in a maze with a midway chokepoint, and they could see you from very far away and rush you. I died over and over in that maze grabbing a combination of two of the three items. That section of the game was not fun, not scary, just frustrating. There should have been more objects to hide in or behind, more side hallways, or a way to outrun that monster. I almost quit the game at this point.
I cannot stress enough how frustrating that maze chase was. Unfortunately, that is not the only frustration I had with Those Who Remain.
The game is not consistent with the boundaries of the islands of light safety. Sometimes Edward is safe going through a completely dark patch as long as a light pool is close, sometimes he is axed to his death by straying one inch too far into a darkened doorway.
I must emphasize how boring it is to go through a generic house for the third time to check every drawer and refrigerator for a note. I became grateful for the very rare Resident Evil style medallion puzzle or locked door key hunt.
The game has a title screen card that champions mental health. The main character contemplates suicide seconds later in the opening cinematic. This is inexcusable. There are several other depictions of suicide throughout the game presented mostly for shock value. Suicidal ideation is real and does not deserve to be glorified in any context. If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, here are a list of international numbers where you can speak with someone.
Final Verdict: Judge not lest you be judged
Halfway through the game, a new type of choice is presented to the character, which affects the outcome of the story. I don’t want to spoil it for a potential player, but it was a welcome addition to the drawer searching and monster hiding. Edward is given the opportunity to judge others based on what he has learned about them, at the same time we the player have learned about the choices in the past Edward has made. The fact that Edward is a terrible person in no position to judge anyone else is painfully clear, but it still makes the game interesting. The Dream World is well crafted, and I wish there was even more of it in the game. The best part of the bland “normal” world is the fear caused by the ever-present hazy figures six feet in the shadows, threatening death if the player gives up their distance. These good parts kept me playing through the game, and if you can handle the frustrations I outlined in the review, there is a decent horror game here for Those Who Remain.