Being charitable, it could be argued that the flaws in Those Who Remain add to its psychological horror. The malformed visuals, vague level design, and disjointed dialogue will certainly leave you confused and disoriented.
Except, there’s no sense of horror to add to in the first place – in a terrifying twist, the flaws are all there is.
The warning signs in this first-person narrative puzzler are clear as soon as you move around. A juddering frame rate induces low-level nausea, while glitches can push you out of bounds or leave you floating helplessly in mid-air.
The art design exudes a wooden ugliness that even a low budget can’t excuse. At a glance, it’s a sinister Gone Home, its plain background textures plastered with scanned real-world photos, but the poorly drawn generic props evoke no sense of place.
These technical limitations disrupt a promising central idea. You’re stranded at night in a small, empty town, as murderous silhouette figures assemble in the darkness. Your only defence is light – every lamp, candle, or car beam you illuminate keeps them at bay and creates a path forward, deeper into the mystery.
But the lighting effects themselves are crude and unreliable, casting austere spotlights that leave corners of rooms shrouded in black, or emitting a raw blinding glare that reflects off every surface. At times, you can’t see a door or passage right in front of you, or the boundaries between safety and danger are ill-defined, as you try to cross unlit ground.
The visual impairment is doubly problematic since you often have to scour interiors for points of interest, armed with a tiny, fussy cursor. The game’s favourite trick is to fill buildings with dozens of drawers and cupboards, most completely empty, which you’ll have to open because one might contain a key item or clue.
Once you do find what’s required, it’s a relief when it’s something straightforward, like a key to a locked door, as some ‘puzzles’ work by triggering a mystery change in another room, forcing you to search the place again.
Still, you’ll be pining for this tedious routine once you encounter the game’s instant death stealth sections. Here, an unfortunate-looking creature sporting a traffic cone on its shoulder randomly jerks around, and you try to evade its attention despite lacking basic skills like an ability to crouch, or any understanding of this thing’s sensory range. All you can do is hope it meanders off in the wrong direction long enough for you to get by.
Any last hope for tension or intrigue is finally put to rest by a flat script that seems uninterested in its characters, and blunt direction that fails to build suspense. When the camera suddenly pans to reveal a group of hooded figures, or locker doors start banging open and shut, it’s about as creepy as a fairground ghost train. The only psychological torment in Those Who Remain comes from at-tempting to engage with its purgatory of lifeless clichés.
Partway through, you’re forced by a devilish being to judge the fates of certain townsfolk whose misdeeds have gone unpunished in reality. Picking up clues around their homes will unveil the truth, finally leading to an encounter where you can either forgive or condemn. With better writ-ing, these decisions might have felt weighty and interesting.
Those Who Remain is certainly a horror game.
Format: PS4 (tested) / PC / Xbox One
Developer: Camel 101
Publisher: Wired Productions
Release: Out now