To put myself in the perfect mood to play this game, I waited ‘til everyone was asleep except me. I wanted to be left alone to play Left Alone in the middle of the night. It just seemed appropriate.

I’m not always a huge fan of horror games, but there was something irresistible about this one. For one thing, it wasn’t as gory as I’d expect a horror game to be—there was no on-screen murder, despite the puddles of blood left as evidence of violence past. But what really drew me to Left Alone was the fact that the game seemed puzzle-driven, finding horror in its physical environment rather than its characters.

Left Alone finds horror in its physical environment rather than its characters.”  

In fact the game focuses so much on puzzle-solving that there’s no combat at all—despite the fact that the story revolves around Joel, a retired marine. The story begins as he prepares to meet some friends for a camping trip that, inevitably, goes terribly wrong. Pretty soon all of his friends are missing and he’s left to explore the woods and a nearby abandoned school for clues to their disappearance. I’m such a scaredy-cat that I frequently had to pause the game and summon the will to keep going, but I think the pay-off at the end of Left Alone (when I finally got there) was well-worth the internal struggle.

left-alone-easel-scary

Left Alone is a very sensory experience. The game began by placing me directly among the gorgeous trees of a forest in the same vein as those of Firewatch. Before the horror crept in, I was mesmerized by the details of Left Alone’s world. They were very effective at pulling my unsuspecting self in—when I heard birds chirping, I first thought they were outside my window. Then there was the rain, like music to my ears. If I hadn’t been so terrified by everything else in the game, I would have quite happily fallen asleep to that peaceful rainfall. Add the crackling of foliage with every step I took and the game sounded like nothing more than a peaceful woodland walk. That is, until the creepy horror music kicked in. Oh, and the wolves. I hadn’t mentioned the wolves?

There were so many of them—and the game didn’t seem to limit my ability to approach them—that I was often scared of bumping into wolves. If I at least had a weapon of some sort I wouldn’t have been so terrified—I mean, I have plenty of experience with slow-motion wolf slaughter from my time spent with Tomb Raider—but Left Alone isn’t that sort of game.

vision

Visibility wasn’t exactly great.

Besides, the wolves were the least of my problems. Soon after I had started my trek through the rainy forest, fog began to set in, and my vision grew very limited. Even the in-game torch only let me see about four steps ahead. I usually like to refer to maps when I get lost in a game, but that wasn’t an option in Left Alone. This left me to wander, half-blind, with no map, attempting to find a mysterious, abandoned school, and not entirely sure what I’d gotten myself into.

Unfortunately, even once I’d found the school, the whole Silent Hill vibe didn’t let up: a light bulb spontaneously bursting into shards of glass, the audible thudding of crows walking on the metal roof. Then it slowly dawned on me that I could hear doors closing and opening in the distance. Obviously I was not alone.

“Obviously I was not alone.”  

It’s perhaps doubly important that the sound design is so thought out, because the only dialogue in the game comes in the form of text messages from Joel’s friends, which left me to piece together the story from documents I found around the school. Some were messages from the teachers to each other, others were files stored on USB sticks. Yet more were slightly creepy notes painted on easels scattered around the campus.

behind you

Nope, not creepy at all.

Plenty of games have used these devices to develop exposition, but few have been so committed in their efforts to troll the player with them. A mysterious man leaving messages on easels like “LOOK BEHIND YOU” was more than enough to creep me out, but turning around to find a second easel, then another, and so on, until finally one of them just said: “NO REALLY IT IS BEHIND YOU THIS TIME”. Of course, as soon as I turned around, the lights went out and I was left in total darkness. When they came back on, the easels had mysteriously disappeared and the room was a complete mess. At this point, I didn’t know whether to be creeped out or amused.

It was in these kinds of details that Left Alone really impressed me. From the intricate sound design to the deliberate pacing, it’s a game carefully calculated to slowly unveil its story—and scare you inventively along the way. I’ll leave it at this: Left Alone is the only title I’ve played in which paying close attention to handwriting is the key to unpacking its plot.

 

About The Author

When not writing some poetry or a short story, Magda can be found playing adventure and indie games. Being so obsessed with gaming and writing, she can’t put down her pen, or leave her consoles alone.

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