Some Illumination Required
HIGH The Shades are genuinely eerie monsters.
LOW Missing a person in need and getting a bad ending.
WTF The stop sign monster seems pulled straight from Syndrome.
Around halfway through Those Who Remain, I jumped down a hole to escape a villainous witch. After a loading screen, I found myself in a pitch-black room.
I was able to walk around and my character commented on how dark it was, so I assumed that something was supposed to happen if I wandered around long enough. Two minutes later I realized that no, this wasn’t intended — the area just failed to load. Quitting and reloading solved the problem, but I was left with the realization that Those Who Remain is so oppressively dark at all times that a game-breaking bug seemed like just another baffling design decision.
A first-person horror title, Those Who Remain asks players to take on the role of a man having an awful day. His daughter died, he feels guilty about cheating on his wife, and to top it off, he’s trapped in a town currently under the effects of a witch’s curse.
The mechanics of the curse are simple — murderous shades completely surround everyone all the time, but light keeps them at bay. Turn off the lights and they’ll instantly kill the player, so the order of the day is to figure out the origins of the curse and how to put a stop to it – while staying in the light, of course.
Unfortunately, accomplishing this will require the player to figure out the TWR‘s absolutely baffling morality system. After grasping how the monsters work and making their first escape, players will be sent to a series of locations that were the home or workplace of someone involved in the death of a child, or its coverup. They must search through locations, read files and find clues, and then make a final judgment — does the person deserve to be forgiven, or should they be damned to eternal hellfire?
Now, it’s possible that I’m just too much of a softy, but this utterly black/white morality tested my patience. Right from the start, we’re told the death that kicked off the curse was a horrible accident, and the result of bullying taken too far. While I can empathize with the villain’s motivation, their actions are so extreme that they leave me incapable of relating.
Damning everyone in a town to hell for the morally-questionable decisions of a handful of them is such an overreaction that there’s no possible way I’d side with the demon who keeps suggesting that I send people to hell. It also doesn’t help that there are no real arguments for it beyond “they did bad things, shouldn’t they suffer?” stated over and over with slightly different wording.
Those Who Remain takes a couple of turns during its runtime — when exploring the town, the player will come across scumbags who’ve killed people (or sacrificed them) to preserve their own lives, and once again they’ll be asked to make a decision about what fate that character deserves.
This time, instead of people tangentially related to a horrible accident, the player is faced with actual murderers who have caused mortal harm just moments earlier — yet according to TWR‘s morality, these people are equal to those in the main story, and damning any of them results in a bad ending.
Redemption is only possible, the game suggests, if no one pays for their crimes? It’s a strange, alien worldview where there’s no middle ground between ‘killer goes free‘ and ‘concerned uncle goes to hell‘.
Those Who Remain‘s exploration mechanics don’t do it any favors, either. There are some interesting environmental puzzles but searching for clues is a slog. The world is so visually dim and the environment offers no hints as to where players should look. the result is long minutes of going from room to room, opening drawers and moving boxes in the hopes of randomly finding something, and sometimes it has to be done with a monster chasing the player! It gets old, fast.
Those Who Remain is a morally shallow experience with a repetitive plot. A few decent puzzles can’t rescue this otherwise-flat experience, and I was glad to be done with it when the credits rolled.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Camel 101 and published by Wired Productions. It is currently available on PC, PS4, XBO and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game was rated M by the ESRB, and it contains Blood, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, and Violence. There’s bullying, suicide, manslaughter, references to alcohol and drug abuse, and one of the monsters has bare breasts. So please, no children.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game is severely unfriendly to the Deaf, to the point that I suspect it may be unplayable because there are numerous hidden items and destinations that are flagged with audio cues that have no visual component. I attempted to play this game with the sound off, but kept getting stuck until I turned the audio back on and was able to follow a voice or sound effect to the next objective. It’s bad, people. Very bad. This game is not accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.