Early in 2020, at the London offices of the gaming industry trade body Ukie, Den of Geek had a look at some exciting upcoming indie games. One of them was Those Who Remain, a horror puzzler that’s been three years in the making. Portuguese developer Ricardo Cesteiro was on hand to take us through a demo and give us the skinny on this thoughtful and frightful experience.
Those Who Remain takes place in a small town that has been overrun by human-shaped creatures with glowing eyes – these creatures can only exist in the dark, so you’ll find yourself switching on lights at every opportunity to try and find your way forward. Kind of like the Vashta Nerada in Doctor Who, these creatures will kill you as soon as you step into the dark. You’ll need to look for light switches to flick, generators to power up, fairy lights to plug in, cars to jump into, and sometimes you’ll need to use a temporary solution like a lighter to clear a thin pathway from one area to another.
Twin Peaks and Stephen King were both influences on the project, Cesteiro tells us, which should give you a sense of the everyday-stuff-meets-creepy-stuff vibe that dominates the visual style and tone. You start off in a small-town motel with a washed-out color palette, and by the end of the demo, you’re out on the open road. The story begins with the player-character searching for a missing companion, but it soon starts to feel like “just keep moving” is your main goal. Find the next light source. Move to the next location. Find a key for a door. Find the next light source. And so on.
There is another dimension to the game beyond simply switching on the lights, though, and we mean “another dimension” in the most literal sense. Similar to The Upside-Down in Stranger Things, a series of glowing doors in the game can temporarily transport you to a supernatural plane where physics works differently and other options become available. If you’re struggling to find a way to switch on a light in the normal world, pop over to “the other place” and you’ll probably find something that will help.
Because of the aforementioned differences in physics, you might be able to move an item in “the other place” that is too heavy to maneuver in the normal world. We saw a puzzle that was solved this way – by moving a giant board in the other place, you can expose a light source in the real world that will illuminate a large area and allow you to progress. You might also find a door that you can’t open in the real world, which is covered in vines in the other place – if you remove the vines in the other place, the door will become operational in the normal world.
Solving these puzzles will require you to use your noggin, but the game also aims to get inside your head in different ways. All the action takes place in the first-person perspective and the ominous omnipresence of creepy creatures is always unsettling. This game doesn’t aim to do jump scares, and Cesteiro sees it as more of a thriller than a horror, but Those Who Remain certainly seems to succeed in fostering an ever-present sense of dread. Glowing eyes looming out from the shadows never stopped being creepy during our play session.
For a game made by a core team of three people (one in Portugal, one in Croatia, and one in America), Those Who Remain looks like an impressive piece of work. And beyond the unsettling tone and the thought-provoking puzzles, there is a larger story for players to unfurl – there is lore to discover about demons, there are three different endings, and there is a mysterious character who can somehow survive in the infested darkness.
Playing through the core campaign will take between 4 and 5 hours for the average player, Cesteiro predicts, and it’s easy to see this being a game that a lot of people will be able to binge through at an enjoyable pace. The controls and the graphics are fairly simple and easy to understand, and there’s something compelling about evading creatures, solving puzzles, and popping back and forth between dimensions. We look forward to seeing more of this one. It should be illuminating.
Those Who Remain is launching in 2020 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch.