The Long Dark is an exploration and survival oriented game, based in the Northern Canadian wilderness. From the first scene, you are literally dropped into the ultimate survival situation. Due to an epic geo-magnetic storm, your plane is grounded, and you now have to rely on your wits to survive in the best way that you can. There is an absence of the usual monsters, zombies, mutants, and hungry cannibals to contend with, only the brutal majesty of Mother Nature.
Keeping with the theme of most other survival simulators, you begin with minimal instructions and limited supplies, and only your wits and sense of survival to keep you warm and fed. First off, you will notice a massive expanse of snow. Snow can be both friend and foe in The Long Dark. It can be melted for water and it helps to highlight everything of importance against the pure white background, including usable items, shelter and animals.
To increase your rate of survival, the most important things to manage are your many status bars. Similar to most other survival games, you are required to deal with your health, thirst and hunger. As you are in the unforgiving Northern Canadian wilderness, you are also required to keep track of your body temperature in the form of a heat gauge, and to keep count of your energy in the form of precious calories.
While your health, hunger, and thirst needs are relatively simple to satisfy, obtaining what is needed becomes increasingly difficult as time goes by. The opposite can be said for your warmth needs, which are determined by the statistics of your clothing, which can be repaired, improved, or replaced with an upgrade, should you find or create one. Clothing is appointed levels of insulation and wind resistance, so a full winter jacket will provide superior warmth compared to a thin wool jumper, and hiking boots are preferable to running shoes. On top of this, the condition of the clothing can also make a rather large difference to survival; patching the holes that have ripped in your pants can mean the difference between staying alive or becoming a frozen popsicle.
If constantly managing your many status bars wasn’t hard enough, you also have the wildlife to contend with. In The Long Dark, just as in the real wilderness, there are wolves and bears that can, and will, attack. The bears tend to be found around caves away from buildings, while the wolves can be found roaming in small packs almost anywhere. If you see one, be sure to tread very carefully, as you may turn around to find another pouncing wolf! Luckily there are a few mechanics in place for animal encounters. For the harmless creatures like rabbits, you can set snares and return later to harvest their hides for food, fur, and crafting materials. But for the wolves and bears? Unless you are actively hunting them it is best to avoid them, however holding, waving or throwing a lit torch or road flare can usually scare them away.
While exploring the wilderness you will notice some fantastic smaller details, such as the crows circling above which usually indicates a corpse, or a wolf chasing a rabbit. These smaller details can assist in your survival, along with your character commenting from time to time, often as a non-visual update on your condition. This is usually along the lines of “I have never been so cold in my life!”, or when finding an item that you may find useful “Oh, this looks handy!”.
The artwork of The Long Dark is rather unique, and has been likened to the artwork of Telltale Games The Walking Dead, however, the developer for Hinterland Studio has stated; “There is no ‘name’ for this art style, at least not that we know of. We wanted the game to feel like playing a watercolour painting.” Whatever you wish to call this art style, it manages to set the appropriate mood and temperature to the world without looking too bright or too washed out.
The Long Dark certainly lives up to its name. The night is very long and dark, just as it would be in the Canadian wilderness. That being said, there is a great deal that this game has achieved as a solid survival game and exploration simulator.
This game caters to a small niche of survival game enthusiasts, and unlike many other survival games, The Long Dark is solely focused on the single player experience. As such, there is neither a co-operative nor an online mode available, so there is no fear of being killed by other players, just survival against nature itself.
There are many details present in the game which are missing in others within the genre, subtle things that greatly improve the immersive experience. Details such as footprints left in the snow for great periods of time if there hasn’t been a snowstorm to cover them up, and tracking wounded animals by the trails of crimson blood left on the pristine white snow adds to the atmosphere of the game. Even the frosty breath of your character sets this game apart from the rest. As far as what could be improved upon, there is not too much to be said on this point. Hinterland Games has found a concept and a style that works and have stuck to it. Hopefully they keep at it as they move The Long Dark out of early access.
The Long Dark is a fantastic game for those who love survival simulators like The Forest, Savage Lands, or even H1Z1/Day Z (sans zombies and other players). However, unlike the previously mentioned games and most others in the genre, there is no structure crafting, so no need to build houses. The item crafting system is pretty simplistic, mostly focusing on survival equipment like hooks and fishing lines, healing items, and animal skin clothing, which help add to the immersion. Be sure to keep The Long Dark on your radar, as story mode and more features are planned for addition throughout the year. At a current price point of USD 19.99 (AUD 28.20) on both of the Steam and the Xbox stores, The Long Dark is certainly worth checking out if you are a fan of survival games.
I've been gaming as long as I can remember, with my first major game being DOOM when I was 5... different times, good times.
Anyway, I love anything 'Zombies' and anything 'Space'. My favourite game series is Mass Effect and I play mostly on PC.
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