I almost gave up on Those Who Remain halfway through. It was the lions, you see. A first-person blunderfest for horror obsessives only, the game’s setting is split between a menacing night-time reality and a weed-choked, oceanic otherworld in which objects float and the puzzles are more, well, videogamey. One such puzzle is a labyrinth dotted with lion statues. The idea is to carry the statues to candlelit plinths. The problem is that there’s a monster in your path, an oily personification of buried guilt and suffering. There’s a lot of that kind of thing in Those Who Remain – accusing messages on walls, silver-masked demons chortling about sin and forgiveness – but for the most part, the emotions you’re repressing are boredom and frustration.
The main character has no means of defending himself, so you must take winding routes to those plinths while lugging chunks of Umbrella Mansion Surplus stoneware that prevent you from sprinting, block the view and have a habit of jumping out of your hands. These burdens create tension, of course, but only for the few seconds it takes you to realise that you’re playing a mandatory-stealth McGuffin-fetching puzzle with instadeath. After my eighth try I decided that life was too short. But I came back the next morning and beat the area, thanks partly to bloody-mindedness and partly (I speculate) to a developer update that prevents the monster from chasing you endlessly once alerted. Let me tell you: I wish I’d stopped at the lions.
Those Who Remain does have some neat ideas, but all of them are squashed beneath a great steaming heap of mediocrity. The premise is Silent Hill as rewritten by an Alan Wake who has run out of coffee, and possibly self-respect. Leading man Edward is drinking and monologuing himself into an early grave over the loss of his family, as leading men in horror games often do. As the curtain goes up, he’s driven to a motel to break off a torrid affair, only for somebody (Wake?) to steal his car and maroon him outside Dormont – a spookily abandoned, predictably metaphysical town whose shadows are filled with knife-wielding spectres, their eyes flickering in the depths of closets and cornfields. Turn on a light and the spectres vanish, rendering the area safe for traversal.