Review: Those Who Remain sacrifices a strong narrative for repetitive stealth sequences

by Ash
May 28, 2020
those who remain key art

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In Those Who Remain, you play as Edward, a guy who’s apparently doing his best to make as many mistakes as humanly possible in a single lifetime. Opening with a trip to a dingy motel on the outskirts of the sleepy town of Dormont in an attempt to start making amends and to break up with his potentially-not-so-secret lover, Edward’s journey doesn’t start off particularly positively, and after finding himself trapped beyond reality, everything goes even further downhill from there.

Those Who Remain does an excellent job of setting up a creepy atmosphere without having to rely on clichés and cheap jumpscares. While the game does happen to contain some tropes such as a shower running without anyone in it, sudden phone calls for convenient exposition, and doors slamming at inopportune times, they’re all played in such a way that it doesn’t feel like they’re trying to force scares onto you.

those who remain

Despite Those Who Remain’s polished look, darkness plays a key part in bringing the game’s scares. Setting foot into the dark brings instant death at the hands of shadowy creatures, who are always lurking in the dark yet remaining completely still, lending an air of terror as their never-blinking eyes bore into the player. Turning on the lights instantly vanquishes these static shadows, but turning the light off will cause them to immediately reappear. Did they ever really leave in the first place?

Much like most indie horror titles, there’s no way of fighting the dark-dwelling demons. Having said that, the game does happen to have a dedicated ‘throw’ button that allows you to launch most objects, which allows for some light relief when you’re hurling cardboard boxes and office chairs at the ominous shadow creatures who don’t even flinch. Aside from turning on the light, though, there’s no other way to vanquish them.

those who remain

Without going into spoiler territory, Those Who Remain brings a thoughtful narrative that tackles the concept of forgiveness versus condemnation, neatly utilising religious motifs to tie the themes together. Early in the game, a house’s front door disappears – which is terrifying enough on its own – and is instantly replaced with Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son, a haunting look for all but a narrative wink-and-nudge for those who understand the piece’s thematic context.

However, while Those Who Remain has a solid plot going, all the effort put into worldbuilding and creating this tense atmosphere is hindered by its gameplay loop; stealth sequences create scenarios where death transforms fear into more of an annoyance than anything else. It’s a similar problem to the one I addressed in my review for Layers of Fear 2, where adding a tangible threat to the game adds only frustration to the player’s experience.

those who remain
Speak of the devil.

Those Who Remain’s stealth sequences were a little more frustrating due to the enemy’s buggy AI and the fact that it was remarkably easy to get trapped in a constant cycle of death. While doing one of the game’s later environmental puzzles, in which you’re tasked to find evidence to help you judge someone, I would find one piece of evidence, get unceremoniously beaten to death, and respawn right in the enemy’s path.

While you can try your best to run away from the enemy and hope you manage to put enough distance between the two of you, this particular puzzle took place in a relatively small building, meaning that I would be met with a constant cycle of death until I was lucky enough to respawn in the extremely limited window of time where the AI was looking in the opposite direction and I could hide behind a large enough object. There’s no crouch button in this game. You just have to hope you’re far enough out of the enemy’s field of view.

those who remain

To make things worse, the game’s autosave function only seems to kick in after random and sometimes lengthy intervals, meaning that occasionally you’ll complete an environmental puzzle, get sucked into a stealth sequence, poke around some more, get drawn into another sequence, die suddenly, and be forced to do everything you just did again. An earlier environmental puzzle also has you lighting certain candles in order to open a door while being hunted and the candles’ minuscule hitboxes only added to the level of frustration I was experiencing.

If you’re into stealth sequences and much prefer your horror games with enemies physically chasing you down as a priority and the plot being a secondary thing, then you’ll most likely love Those Who Remain. While the stealth sequences could definitely be far more refined and less clunky, those who enjoy the thrill of being hunted will still find them enjoyable enough.

those who remain
This is fine.

Just because Those Who Remain sometimes gets too caught up in trying to provide an adequate level of fear isn’t to say that the game is terrible or not worth playing, though. Thanks to the relatively short playtime – completing Those Who Remain ranks in at between 5 and 6 hours, depending on how good you are at dying – the game does manage to keep itself contained, not letting its plot spiral out of control with a nicely rounded ending.

Those Who Remain also shines at lending a helping hand to the player – sometimes literally, as key items flash a yellowy-green hue to let you know what you want to be grabbing. Edward will also endeavour to provide somewhat helpful commentary if you spend too long dawdling over something. The subtitles are also a decent size and, although the game’s menu is rather difficult to navigate quickly, you can easily adjust both the controller’s sensitivity and the gamma to your liking, allowing for a customisable gameplay experience.

those who remain

In conclusion, while Those Who Remain has an engrossing narrative, its overplayed stealth mechanics sadly prevent it from bringing anything new to the psychological horror genre. It’s still definitely worth a try for those who enjoy horror games – especially games like Layers of Fear and Alan Wake – but just don’t expect anything revolutionary.

Those Who Remain is out digitally today and is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam, and retails at £15.99/€19.99/$19.99. A physical Deluxe Edition for PlayStation 4 and PC is set to launch globally on July 10th, 2020. A Nintendo Switch version is also in development.

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