The time has finally come, ladies and gentlemen. Horror fans rejoice with me! After what felt like an eternity of waiting, Those Who Remain has hit our digital shelves. I have to say, I haven’t been this excited for a game since Agony and we all know how that turned out… (although they did fix it like a year later). I was terrified going into this purely based on past experiences with indie games. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE indie. But I’ve been knocked back hard from games just not working out. However, Those Who Remain just kept giving to me. Camel 101, the dev team, have brought horror back to the forefront with this epic adventure. I also want to say a HUGE thank you to Gary over at Wired Productions for sending me over a key. You rock!
From here on out, and I am putting a big ol’ spoiler warning because I have a lot to say. So… SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!
First of all, what is Those Who Remain?
Those Who Remain is survival horror at its core, gloriously entwined with mystery and adventure. We play as Edward, who after a few drinks decides it’s time to end his affair. Setting out through Dormont, headed for the Golden Oak Motel, Edward is about to embark on a night that will change his life forever. As well as a dark, twisted story, we are presented with our own deepest feelings and moral obligations.
This is where Forgive or Condemn comes in, but more on that later. Through many dark twists and turns, players must seek the truth about what has really happened in Dormont, and why.
The First Chapter
In conjunction with the impending release of the game, a new section was added to the Those Who Remain discord server. I’ve been hanging out there for a while, bugging the guys on a regular basis, and I am so glad I was.
The First Chapter was brought in just over 2 weeks before the release of the game and expands the lore of Dormont. We follow the stories of two different characters, and through multiple-choice options, decided what their next steps were. Our characters: Susan Ward and Tomas Ridley. I was given the role of Susan, which meant I was one of the people who chose how her story progressed. After the release of the finale, both sides of the story were available to read for everyone. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but I will say this: I was not expecting the story to go in the direction it did, and the meeting of both characters was beautifully done. Well, from a story-telling standpoint. Let’s not forget this is all still horror related.
Both Susan and Tomas are living their lives, filled with guilt and regret for their pasts. Both have done things that ruined the lives of others. Each section to vote on progressed the story further and gave more detail on incidents that happened years before. In Susan’s case, a boating accident. In Tomas’s case, a car accident.
I honestly think this was a fantastic way to build the lore and open a base premise for the game. It heavily reinforces the idea that we must live with the choices we make, but with a much more sinister turn.
Forgive or Condemn?
As promised, we are returning to Forgive or Condemn. But first, a little more detail on the story. In Edward’s case, we are presented with a girl by the name of Annika. We quickly learn, however, that this girl is dead. We are communicating with her spirit. Annika died in a biking accident, she went over a cliff. Everyone said it was an accident, but this was all a huge cover-up that everyone was involved in. Annika and her mother were new to the town, and as such, were thought of as freaks. We all know kids can be cruel, and Annika really felt the sting of that.
Here’s where our first instance of Forgive or Condemn comes in. We are faced with a boy of about 13, the same age as Annika. Through investigating his house, we learn that he and his friends were bullying Annika, and taking pride in it. Things escalated, and this boy decided to mess with Annika’s bike. He cut her brake line, causing her death. After finding all this information, we are given the choice; Forgive, or Condemn? Yes, he’s a child. But he also caused the death of another. Does he deserve forgiveness, or should he be condemned for his idiocy? For my first run-through, I decided to go by my own moral compass. I condemned the kid because he did cause Annika’s death.
The Cloudy Area
We do also get some cloudy areas with forgive or condemn, which I learned the hard way. This is made very VERY clear with one character in particular. We are presented with the forgive or condemn choice for a police officer, specifically the chief. His son was involved in Annika’s death, and he covered it up. This is when things got really cloudy. You have a certain amount of evidence to find on the character up for judgement. That information alone is what you base you choice on. The evidence shows us that the chief had already lost a son, and implies that he was just trying to save the family he had left. I chose to forgive.
I was wrong.
Not long after this, we are brought to the chief’s house. Guys, when I say I messed up by forgiving him, I mean I messed up BIG TIME. Turns out the chief was an abusive father, trying to force his own ideals on his son. He didn’t actually care what happened. He just wanted to avoid scandal. This kid was just acting out because of how he was treated at home, which even included being locked in the basement for hours on end.
The Real Story
As the night progresses, we learn more about Edward, as well as more about what happened to Annika. One of the most heartbreaking moments in the game is learning of the death of Edward’s child. At age 13, she died in a car accident. Head-on collision, which also killed the other driver. Edward and his wife survived. For me, this was like the big CLICK moment as to why Edward, in particular, was uncovering Annika’s accident was no accident at all. He had lost a daughter too.
From early on in the game, we are warned through the phrase “mother is coming!”. So, from the get-go it’s easy to assume that the ghost of Annika’s mother is the one causing all of the badness in Dormont. Wrong again! Although this was revealed much later in the game. We are being chased throughout by what looks to be Annika’s mother. However, one of the final areas we face is in Annika’s house. We follow memories around, getting a deeper look inside the psyche of a grieving mother. Roll on the epic twist!
After ascending into the attic, we learn that Annika’s mother hung herself. This kinda supports the angry ghost theory, but the documents behind her show us what it really was. In her grief, desperate to talk to Annika again, she tried to make contact with the spirit world. Like in all horrors, this did not go well. Seriously, please show me a horror in any medium where contacting the spirit world actually goes well! A demon is summoned, and voilà. Bye-bye Dormont, time to pay for all your sins!
A Quick Look at the Easter Eggs
I very possibly missed some stuff, but I do want to take a moment to appreciate my favourite horror easter eggs that cropped up while playing Those Who Remain. I think my personal favourite would have to be the use of the infamous carpet from the Overlook Hotel. In a section that feels like an endless corridor, the floor is covered with this iconic imaging. I won’t lie, I got way too excited over that. We do also get a glorious little eargasm in the form of a slightly higher pitched re-imaging of the siren call from the Silent Hill series. I know, I know. It’s just a siren. But it is such a recognizable siren! Last one I’m going to touch on is the Necronomicon I found in the sawmill. What a throwback to classic horror.
Guys, I really want a Necronomicon. Not like the actual book, but a notebook that looks like it…
Those Who Remain – Final Thoughts
Those Who Remain has re-energised the horror genre for me. I am genuinely glad I enjoyed this game, because over the last few weeks (since I got to play the demo) I’ve gotten to know the people involved. They are such nice people that I really REALLY wanted this to be a hit, but I was prepared for the worst. I was so very surprised by this. Now, some things never change. I am AWFUL at puzzles, and a lot of the stuff I figured out myself was pure chance.
And here we have another shoutout! Bruno and Ricardo, the legends who made this game, thank you both so much for all your help when I got really stuck. I made some silly mistakes, but these guys were happy to help me get back on the right track. When I kept messing up a maze, Ricardo even sent me a video to help me out. They both also helped me feel much less silly when I missed something obvious. For me, this hugely added to my experience with the game.
I haven’t been so excited and immersed in a game since I played Silent Hill 2 and was practically glued to my seat. Even as I sit here now, I am still trying to figure out the conventional horror tropes. Oh, a church? The bad guys can’t get in here right?! Wrong! It’s just an angry ghost? Nope! If anyone can point out some tropes to me, please do. I am stumped trying to figure it out. I genuinely feel like we have been given something new here.
Does Those Who Remain have the Horror Queen’s Seal of Approval?
Those Who Remain brought me in and intrigued me with its dark atmosphere. All at once, I was reminded of the town of Silent Hill, and of Alan Wake. I originally thought this game was going to play on a fear of the dark. Honestly, everything I had initially expected was totally dashed; but in the best way possible! With 3 possible endings, Those Who Remain has a solid layer of replayability without getting overly repetitive. I will definitely be replaying, partly because I enjoyed the game but also I got the nightmare ending on my first playthrough. Is anyone surprised? No. I am dying to see the good ending, so I will be doing a forgive-only run at some stage. Insert many laughs at my expense for nightmare ending.
I had a lot of fun going through this game, and I am so happy I got to play this. 2020 has been a really tough year so far, and chances are it’ll be a while before it gets any easier. For most, horror wouldn’t be the recommended genre for escapism, but it works for me. I genuinely cannot praise this adventure enough. Not only was I progressing through a dark story, but I was also faced with getting in touch with my own moral compass. This was a horror experience that will stick out in my mind for a very long time. Bravo Camel 101, I cannot wait to see what you do next.
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