Review: Lost in Vivo
A huge swath of the modern indie horror scene has been directly influenced by the Silent Hill series, but what developers choose to do with that inspiration varies wildly. Far too many devs simply try to remake their favorite Silent Hill in a different format, generally to pretty poor effect. Others adopt elements of the presentation, while I’d argue the most successful use the style and designs to explore their own emotional themes. That’s what Lost in Vivo does, essentially making a game that looks and feels the part of a proper Silent Hill while striking out in its own directions. Some of them are bound to be rough directions for some, but if you can stomach those parts, you’ll be promised an intense, creepy journey for your trouble.
While out on a walk with your trusty (and adorable) service dog, a freak rainstorm strikes and washes the poor pup down into the sewers. Not about to lose a corgi so easily, you descend into the cramped tunnels below town and set out to find your pooch. Turns out there’s more than just sewer pipes down there, though, as you start to encounter all sorts of strange markings, passages, chambers, and creatures. The nightmare inhabitants of the underground clearly do not want you reaching your goal, and they will try to stop you on a very personal level. You’ll need not only an iron resolve to reach the end of this journey, but also a willingness to reflect on what’s brought you to this strange, ever-changing place.
There is a lot of symbolism wrapped up in the locales and monsters of Lost in Vivo, some more obvious than others, but all of them very pertinent to your character’s mental state. It’s one of the game’s biggest strengths, that it is clearly an effective journey into your character’s psyche, but also an actual journey into subterranean realms, and the line between the two is wonderfully blurred. I’ve grown intensely tired of horror games set entirely in a character’s head but that’s definitely not the case here, and as much as I dislike that particular trope, I love it when it becomes impossible to tell perceptions from reality.
Much of your time down here will be spent exploring ominous, forlorn tunnels and puzzling through the strange obstructions that stand in your path. The developer of Lost in Vivo is a master of setting the atmosphere simply with empty rooms, mixing clever sound design with tight control of the player’s perceptions to make even a straight hallway seem chilling. There are no straight-up jumpscares here but there are absolutely things that will catch you off-guard, and I’ve yelped more than a few times at the unexpected appearance of a new monster or strange event. This is also a game that plays with the boundaries between game and player, so expect some surprises in how the game flows and communicates with you, even in places like the Game Over screen.
One thing I will spoil is one of the themes of Lost in Vivo, because it’s something that is a very real concern for a lot of people. This is advertised as a horror game about claustrophobia and that’s absolutely true, but there’s also symbolic discussion here about eating disorders and body image that could hit pretty hard. The sequences that most closely touch on this theme are very well done in my opinion, but that’s not going to make it any easier to get through for folks grappling with similar issues.
Beyond the themes, I will admit to being underwhelmed by the combat in the game. Don’t get me wrong, the monsters themselves are horrific and creative in equal measures, and I’m very glad they’re here to terrify me. But when I have to fight them off, they lose a bit of their luster. Part of the problem is that your weapons don’t seem very sensibly balanced, with your pistol seeming to be far more effective than heavier weapons in many cases. Being able to shoot down some of these creatures also takes the edge off their creep factor, moreso than with the desperate combat of something like Silent Hill or even Condemned.
If you can get past these rough edges, though, Lost in Vivo is a real gem of a horror game. The low-res models and textures are just the right kind of evocative to help your mind fill in the scariest gaps, and the sound design is probably some of the best in the genre. Simple moments like opening a door or walking down a dark hallway are incredibly powerful here, because of how intense the atmosphere is and how good the game is at defying your expectations. There are hidden tapes in the game that add some even more nightmarish scenarios to experience, and more recently the developer has been adding new tapes to the Extras that are just as effective. Between these bonuses and the main game’s three or so hours of terror, there’s plenty of scares to be had here.