Left Alone is the creation of a 2 person indie team who have made this, their first game from scratch, over a two year period in their own home in Leeds in the UK. Inspired by games such as P.T (A ‘Silent Hill’ franchise demo that never became a full game), the idea is for you to be as uneasy and scared as possible, by basing your experiences in realistic and believable interior and exterior spaces and clever atmospherics.
The game eases you in to the story gently. You play a former special forces agent who is a recent divorcee. He is invited out of the blue, to attend a weekend away camping in the forest with a bunch of friends who he hasn’t seen in years. Seems legit right? Equipped with just a phone and a flash light, it’s up to you, playing as Joel in first person, to follow the instructions to find the campsite and your friends.
Despite running the graphics on the minimum (my machine is a bit of an antique at the grand old age of five) it is still absolutely beautiful. The level of detail in simple textures on the ground is really immersive, and the effect of lighting from the flash light is so realistic that I found myself scrunching my eyes, leaning and craning my neck to look in cracks and crevices to hunt for clues.
The cross hair that turns red for items of interest is invaluable however as sometimes it can be a little too dark. The reason is twofold here. Firstly the game is set at night, so being dark is a given in a game set in the woods at night. Secondly however, your use of the flash light is not unlimited. You have to collect batteries in order to power it and they are definitely the dodgy type you get on the market stands around Christmas. You find yourself rationing your flash light, which successfully adds to the atmosphere but not always so well to the level of frustration you can experience when you enter the unlit school facility. Cryptic clues and newspaper cuttings, as well as a less than desirable vacant property with suspicious red stains make for a mystery just waiting to be solved.
The puzzles in the game are meaty and really get the brain working. Often, you have to do things in the right order, collect specific items and use them in the best possible way. However the time spent between puzzles trying to find the next one left me very frustrated at times to the point of near rage quit. Some of the progression was suitably apparent to the player, with a clear objective once you had explored the scenario in detail a number of times. I did however spend two or more hours just wondering what on earth I was meant to do in the school building to find a crowbar. Eventually I had to cheat on a few occasions to figure out what on earth was going on (In my defence, I was also mid point through a recorded series too!). It was a good thing I did as some of the tasks meant an intuitive leap that was way beyond this player and a few of the watching audience members when I streamed the game live (the security door combination in the school for instance left me sweary!)
However how much information is right to give the player of an atmospheric and psychologically mind messing game? It’s not a ‘hack and slash’ after all, so was it a problem? On a personal level, yes as I wanted to progress and I wanted to move on. However other players may be much more patient souls who are able to use a bit more intuition than I possess to progress more quickly. This definitely improved the more I played the game either by experience or design. It definitely made the game play much smoother and immersive when I had clear goals, but there seemed to be more continuity and sense with latter puzzles.
Oh and atmospheric? The exquisite use of sound and music in the game really entrench the player in the world that has been created both inside and outside of the buildings and structures. The trees rustle and creak in the wind. Lights flicker and doors rattle. The background instrumental atmospherics are subtle enough that you don’t notice them, but you know the effect they are having on your heart rate. Coupled with sudden door hammering as you grope for the handle and footsteps coming from an unspecified direction, you find yourself chewing your nails and peeping between your fingers. Something as simple as turning around to find a message written for you becomes agonising with the sudden ‘Psycho’ reminiscent music leaving your heart in your mouth.
Honestly, I was a little sad that the game ended the way it did. I felt I wanted more closure as the player and for the main character as well, however it was a big twist and left the door open to do more with this as an ongoing story.
Left Alone very successfully uses the unknown to keep you glued to your seat with your stomach doing flips through most of the gameplay. I only recently got in to the horror genre through my weekly stream, so I’ve never persevered to play one through. I’m glad it was this one that was my first. It had just enough intrigue to keep me absolutely and utterly addicted. I played through and recorded the entire game over a 4 day period. I lived and breathed the puzzles and the adrenaline fuelled the typing and editing of this review after each play.
What I enjoyed the most from my perspective was the fact that this wasn’t a FPS bloodbath. It appealed to my base adoration of point and click, adventure based games and had not a single monster in sight. As with so many successfully scary things in life, it is not what you can see and rationalise, but what you can’t.