An intriguing narrative and solid pacing can elevate a good game to be great, or a mediocre game to be good, it’s that important. If you care about your protagonist and the world around them you will, without knowing it most of the time, grow an attachment to the game itself. The gameplay could be shoddy and the graphics might be poor, but if the story pulls you in none of that will matter. Now I’m not saying that Camel 101’s psychological horror/thriller game Those Who Remain is outwardly terrible, as it does have qualities worth praising, but it’s an example of a good story shining brighter than the game’s numerous flaws. There are plenty of aspects that could have done with some more time in the oven, but this is a narrative-driven game after all and lives up to that promise well.
You are Edward, a sombre-toned man who’s introduced to the player sitting at a desk, monologing about the complexities of happiness while sinking a whiskey. Following on from the introductory chat to yourself, we find Edward making his way to the Golden Oak Motel, where he’s to meet up with his mistress, with whom he plans on breaking it off as he feels guilty for being unfaithful to his wife. So far, so depressing, but when he arrives, the motel is deserted and an eerie feeling begins to creep in.
Yeah keep knocking, there’s no chance I’m letting you in
If you aren’t compelled to discover more about Edward and his life in the first three minutes of the game then you need to check your pulse. The voice actor who portrays Edward speaks in a low, alluring fashion that’s filled with sorrow and remorse; whether talking about an object in a room or the affair that he has been a part of, everything he says is made interesting and important.
Realising that something is wrong, Ed decides to jump back in the car and call it a night, but unfortunately someone else has made the same decision, stealing your car to do so. As you leg it after the thief, thick fog begins to roll in, making the already dimly-lit road more obscured. After a short while it becomes obvious that you aren’t alone. Glowing blue eyes can be seen in every direction, peering at you from the darkness. These shadowy figures are unmoving, but they brandish pitchforks and axes so you can assume they aren’t there to offer you directions.
This is the beginning of a long, straining night for our boy Edward, as it’s quickly discovered that stepping out of the protection of the light and into the darkness will result in death by glowing-eyed farmers. This is the core gameplay system – stay in the light at all costs and avoid the darkness. You do this by moving objects that obscure light sources, turning on lamps and starting up generators among many other methods.
Well this is going to make setting the table a real bitch
The mob of spectral villagers are massively unsettling when you first encounter them, appearing out of nowhere, motionless, watching you, but their allure fades after a short while when you realise that they act more as a boundary than a persistent threat. There are arse-clenching moments early on where a previously reliable light source decides to die, particularly indoors, but they quickly become set dressing.
A few minutes later, Edward finds himself at a gas station, also abandoned, where he hopes to find some help. With no one in sight, you have a look around, only to find a mysterious door that glows bright blue, similarly to the eyes of out farmer friends. Entering these doors transports you to another dimension, similar in almost every way to the real world, but it’s darker, more sinister and it says no thanks to gravity, as objects float around as if they were submerged in water. If you are thinking that it sounds like The Upside Down from Stranger Things then you are bang on.
In this dimension there are slight differences that effect the real world. For instance at the gas station there’s a car that you need to get into, but something unseen is blocking your attempt. When viewing the same car in the dark dimension it is covered in vines and the only way to enter the car in the real world is to rid it of the vines here. This is the other key gameplay system that you’ll be dealing with. Travelling between dimensions, making alterations to the one to effect the other, it’s clever and works well enough, but similar to the villagers it wears a bit thin after a while. That’s without mentioning a particularly irritating moment late in the game that I can’t talk about for story reasons but trust me, it’s to do with dimension hopping and it’s a right pain.
Don’t you point your hoe at me
The meat and potatoes of Those Who Remain is the story. As you go about your business avoiding the mob, you head closer and closer to the town of Dormont. Each level (or section) takes place in areas such as abandoned houses, police stations, schools and the like and they all feed you snippets of information about the townsfolk in letters, journals and other…pieces of paper. You soon realise this town has borne witness to a terrible tragedy, and the townsfolk themselves appear to have had a heavy hand in said tragedy
Each level focuses on the life of a particular resident of Dormont and their connection to events in the town’s dark past. Each of these personas fall into the morally grey area and some motivations might test your moral standing a fair bit. This would be heavy enough to deal with, but in a fairly jarring turn of events, you are tasked with judging them once you have collected all of the information. Do you forgive their actions and aid in their redemption? Or do you condemn them for what they’ve done and send them to hell? Each of these choices are confronting and none of them are easy to make. These choices have impact on the end of the game, so that might sway what you do, but I would recommend following what you actually believe as I did, it’s more thought-provoking than you might assume.
The story surrounding Dormont is intriguing enough, but the overarching narrative of Edward’s life is more interesting again. Everything happening in Dormont is connected to him in one way or another, not directly, but subtly. His story isn’t forced down your throat every second, it’s slowly drip-fed to you just when needed. The pacing of Edward’s sad tale is excellent and it held my attention throughout the six or seven hours of gameplay incredibly well.
Welcome to the Overlook Hotel
If the pacing is the best part of Those Who Remain, then the puzzles and overall horror is the worst. The puzzles are simplistic and just a bit boring, boiling down to walk around, find the glowing object and use it on X. Other than that you have simple number combinations or worse, physics puzzles. I see what Camel 101 was going for, but Edward has the throwing arm of a newborn and the items obstruct your vision too much for it to work. The main antagonist isn’t much chop either, pursuing you with the gusto of a council worker on a public holiday. The design of this creature is a bit standard at first, but story context grants that a pass.
I couldn’t stay mad at Those Who Remain. The lack of scares, simplistic puzzles and so-so gameplay (not to mention technical issues) were mitigated fairly well by its confronting morality choices and genuinely interesting story, both relating to Dormont and Edward himself. If you are looking for a scary, tense horror experience then you might want to look elsewhere, but if you’re after a solid narrative that tackles some heavy emotional issues, then you should remain invested in this game.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher