The Light Keeps Us Safe, British developer Big Robot's newest Early Access project, offers a unique twist on the survival horror genre. The developer is known for its wacky take on first-person stealth experiences, and their most recent release is no different. Fight or flight has always been a mainstay element to survival horror games, but flight is the only option laid before players in The Light Keeps Us Safe; and that is very welcomed. Being dropped into an apocalyptic world overrun by machines, players are tasked with a simple line of objectives: leave the safety of your Bunker, retrieve supplies to survive, and replenish the mysterious machine within your Bunker that may hold the key to your long term survival. A combination of simplistic gameplay elements and procedurally generated environments that are morbidly beautiful, provide a sturdy foundation for what has the potential to become a great addition to any PC gamer's Steam library.
From the moment the player takes over the silent protagonist and awakens in 'the Bunker', they are given very little direction, which has its pros and cons. There is no in-game map or mini map on the HUD, nor are there waypoints. A mysterious voice guides you through the Bunker, while filling you in on the dire straits humanity is currently in, and introduces you to your main 'weapon' of choice: the modular flashlight. Not only is this your key to solving the plethora of puzzles the title lays before you, but it is quite literally your key to survival. As you complete the game, your flashlight has the ability to undergo upgrades and improvements. By collecting 'component' pieces throughout your scavenging, players will be provided various different spectrums of light and filters. These can range from simple LED lighting, to beams, ultraviolet lighting and more, all providing you with different ways to defeat looming machines, reveal secrets, and solve puzzles. As with many elements with The Light Keeps Us Safe, being logical in your approach to rationing the light is key. The device has a finite charge to it, and can drain quickly if the player is not cognisant of its battery life. Charging/upgrading tables are sprinkled throughout the map, which will bring your 'torch' back to life. With that said, finding those adds another wrinkle to the fold when planning expeditions into the bleak and murky wilds.
Puzzle solving and survival weigh heavier than the horror tropes in The Light Keeps Us Safe, by requiring players to search through trash bags, drawers and storage compartments to find food, medical kits, medication and more. While the emphasis on those elements can be a bit of an annoyance at times, ultimately it deepens the playing experience and makes players strategically plan their movements within the environments, like a metaphoric game of chess. The player's main antagonists, the myriad of machines that are sprinkled throughout each exit of the Bunker, will attack on command. They hurt, too. BIG TIME. The damage dealt by the machines at times can feel a little unbalanced, but it emphasises the importance of having a tactical plan. Smart use of the 'torch' (modular flashlight) will expose their one true weakness: light. Throwing bottles and moving items can create diversions for players to safely traverse around the environment, but could also backfire and blow their cover if not approached correctly.
From a gameplay perspective, the game does have polishing issues. Some minor graphical problems will pop up, including various in-game assets having their model wiring cut in and out at times. Content can feel light at times, with some areas feeling repetitive on what to expect when entering. All of these issues are minuscule and can be overlooked for the most part when putting the game's state into perspective. For all intents and purposes, the game is very much still in beta, which can be looked at as quite the positive. Early adopters of the game get ground level access to the development of the game over its tenure in Early Access, and titles of this nature usually encourage communication from its community on issues they encounter.
One of the most unique features of Big Robot's newest project is its environments are all procedurally generated per save file. Adding this element to the game’s structure means each time you start a new game, the dark and ominous wasteland you enter is completely different and randomized. Visually, this game is on par with many of its similar genre colleagues (the Outlast series, Resident Evil 7, etc.), but at a $20 price point. When graphically assessing the project, lighting and shaders are the standout ingredients, and you see these in effect within the first 30 seconds of gameplay. Surprisingly, for how much detail is in the world, it runs relatively well on average hardware. Playing the game on an above average gaming PC, some frame drops happen in specific regions of the world that see a greater emphasis on environmental assets, but by no means is it unplayable. With that said, no customization options are available in-game to adjust the graphical definition. By default, the game displays in its highest quality, which can be an issue for gamers whose hardware isn't as recent as the game expects it to be. It's hard to imagine the feature not being included by the time the game leaves Early Access, but for now, be prepared for some areas to present themselves poorer than others.
Controller support works almost flawlessly, with the game automatically picking up the controller and applying the appropriate bindings from the moment it is plugged in. During sections of the playthrough, an Xbox One controller was tested, and while it performed quite well in its half an hour test, it wasn't without a few blemishes. While the game requires players to hold Shift when using standard mouse and keyboard commands, the controller does not. From the get-go, sprint and walk are mapped to the same command on controllers (left stick forward). Triggered on the acceleration on the left stick, it would be easy for players to have this issue completely fly under the radar, as the in-game character's walking and running speeds are not wildly different. Seeing as how the character's stamina level is tied to its running, it's easy to see where this can be an issue in terms of how fast players can blow through supplies. A simple remapping can solve this issue, but hopefully remapping the default control bindings for controllers can be addressed by the developer before the game leaves Early Access.
The foundation that Big Robot has developed for The Light Keeps Us Safe is solid, and something that can only be positively improved upon. The gloomy, desolate world that evolves with each play through is one that many games in the stealth horror genre should take notes on, as it provides freshness and mounds of replayability. While light in its current state, the unique plot that the game presents is one that should leave fans wanting more and to unfold the mystery surround the robotic armageddon that has taken place. With hours of puzzles and multiple upgrades to your unique 'weapon' of choice, the content that could become available in the long run has this reviewer extremely excited. If players take anything away from their time with The Light Keeps Us Safe, it should be that there is a light at the end of its Early Access tunnel. If given the right amount of polish and attention to detail, this is an experience that could be an excellent addition to any Steam user's library.