LISA: The Painful Review-Profusely Punishing and Certainly Painful

Game Name: Lisa: The Painful

Platform: Microsoft Windows, Mac, Linux

Developer: Dingaling Productions

Publisher: Dingaling Productions

Price: £6.99 or $9.99

Let’s face it. Life is hard. Even in our day and age where we’re more secure than ever, surviving is still a seemingly impossible task. Maybe that’s why post-apocalyptic games are so popular. You can at least find some solace if you learn to accept and even celebrate the end of times. Fallout, Mad Max, *insert well-known zombie game here*, these are all popular games in the post-apocalyptic genre. Yet we’ve never once had a post-apocalyptic video game like LISA: The Painful. LISA is a subtle name; I had no idea what to expect upon booting it up for the first time and now I see why. There are thousands, possibly millions of video games out there. Many are simply alright, many are amazing and many are downright bad, but every now and then there comes a game like LISA. Games that completely rewrite the rules of what defines a video game and make almost every other game look like trash with their astounding singularity and uniqueness. LISA is certainly painful alright, and now here I am, typing this up in an attempt to explain why it’s a good thing.

In LISA, you follow the journey of Brad, a broken man who didn’t have the best upbringing and is addicted to a drug called Joy. The game’s introduction is very affecting, using beautiful imagery with very little dialogue to establish the world and the characters. Right at the start of the game, Brad finds a baby all on its own in the wilderness. After taking it back to his friends, Rick, Cheeks and Sticky, they find out that the baby is a girl. What would otherwise be an insignificant detail is shown to be a big deal, as an unknown event called the ‘White Flash’ caused all females in the world to suddenly disappear leaving men in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with no way of breeding or satisfying their sexual urges. Brad’s friends suggest handing it over to Rando, leader of the gang ‘The Red Skulls’, so the world can be re-populated and saved. Brad however, refuses and decides to shelter the girl he later names Buddy from the world. Shortly after some emotional cutscenes of Brad, his friends, and Buddy bonding, Brad comes back to his house to find Buddy has been kidnapped, and Cheeks was killed trying to stop them.

Lisa is a game, no, an experience that pulls no punches, instead giving you several brutal blows straight to the heart. Yet so little of it is done with dialogue. You never know what form the game’s heartbreaking moments will take next and the game is all the more shocking for it. Entering a battle only to watch as your attacker blows his brains out, instantly killing himself and abruptly ending the battle. Exploring an icy wonderland only to have suicidal footballer’s throw themselves at you with bombs strapped to their bodies. Forcing your companions, your allies, your friends to play a game of Russian Roulette just so you can get a few more pornographic magazines(they’re the game’s currency. Yep). These are just a few of the dozens and dozens of examples sprinkled throughout the game like metal filings on a poisoned cake.

Speaking of companions, they are easily one of my favourite parts of the game. In total, there are thirty different companions that you can recruit to your party through a number of different ways. Some are easy to get, simply requiring you to give them some mags or joining your party automatically as you progress throughout the game. Some are hard and require you to go out of your way to do fully-fledged sidequests. Despite their varying skills and usefulness, characteristics and personality, easiness and hardness to obtain, all of them are equal when it comes to how susceptible they are to dying. Maybe you’ll be forced to make a choice that results in one or more of your party member’s dying, maybe they’ll be killed in the aforementioned Russian Roulette minigame, hell, maybe they’ll just get decapitated in battle by a mutant. Although I do wish there was more dialogue and interacting between party members, I still felt like I shared a blood oath with some of these characters and cared for them deeply. What’s even better is the game’s ending is slightly varied depending on your party. For those who want to know, I completed the game for the first time with Terry Hintz, Rage Ironhead and Sonny.

From the get-go, LISA makes it clear that the fictional world of Olathe is as unforgiving as it gets. Sometimes you’ll be forced to sacrifice party members to keep your items. Sometimes you’ll even have to sacrifice your arm to prevent them from being killed which results in your combat capabilities being severely hindered. However, there’s one part of the game I have mixed feelings about: Joy. Brad isn’t just addicted to it as part of the story, it’s actually a game mechanic. Over the time, Brad(and other party members addicted to joy) will get the status effect ‘withdrawal’. This reduces Brad’s physical attack power to almost zero and even reduces his maximum health making battling a hell of a lot more difficult. Over time it will go away, but the only other way to cure your withdrawal is by taking more Joy. This counters all the effects of withdrawal and fully heals Brad as well as increasing his damage and critical rate drastically. Unfortunately, this increases how often you’ll get withdrawal as well.

Throughout the game, I thought this was a great unique mechanic, and I still do. The problem I have with it though is how it affects the game’s ending. There are ‘two endings’ in LISA as well as a secret ending. You’ll get one of them just by beating the game but to get the other one, you have to beat it without taking Joy. Of course, this isn’t easy and requires a lot of effort and skill to do so it must result in something ama-it’s almost the exact same as the other ending. The only difference is that there are a few extra bits of dialogue after the credits. For a game that seems dedicated and determined to make sure your choices matter and affect how you play the game drastically, this felt very out-of-place and disappointing for me. Thankfully, the secret ending you get by defeating the game’s harder difficulty setting, Pain Mode, is a lot better. Apart from this though, the only other complaint I have about the game is how easy it is to go bowling off a cliff, instantly killing yourself while the game is still transitioning to the next area.

Similar to the much more popular Undertale, LISA is a game that escapes description. No matter how many paragraphs I use to describe this game, no matter how much detail I use, it’s impossible for me to give you the same experience the game does. If you’re looking for a game that will surprise you, exceed all your expectations and leave you absolutely flabbergasted(and slightly dead inside) by the end then LISA checks all those boxes and more. The game may only be about seven hours long but if it went on any longer than that, I think I would have broken down. Achievements and different events give the game quite a bit more replayability if you truly want to be a broken man like described on the game’s Steam page. I was honestly surprised at how much I missed in my first playthrough. Just… get it. Whether I’ve convinced you or not, get it. It’s only £6.99 and you can always refund it if you don’t like the first two hours so there is very little to lose… at least in material terms. There’s simply nothing quite like it out there.

Pros:

  • Unique experience
  • Choices affect the gameplay
  • Interesting, multi-layered characters and companions
  • Large amount of companions add replayability
  • Achievements
  • Amazing soundtrack
  • Nice graphics
  • Great writing
  • Gameplay still manages to be fun

Cons:

  • The two endings are barely different
  • Easy to fall off ledges when screen is transitioning
  • Occasional moments where the game forces you to take a certain action
  • Perma-death attacks could be considered cheap

Verdict: 9/10

Buy the game on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/335670/LISA/

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