Do you have what it takes to survive in the Canadian wilderness?
I have heard about The Long Dark but I was not sure what to expect once I played it. When you first start in this open-world sandbox (the story mode is yet to be released) you are alone with only the most basic equipment. I had no idea where I was but I was cold and knew I needed to find shelter. Having spent some time in the country and hunting as a young boy, I do have a bit of instinct and a solid internal compass compared to most city-dwellers. So I picked a direction and set out for higher ground, well aware I could be heading in the wrong direction and possibly to my digital death.
At first the weather was cold but docile, with the trees rustling above me and the dead silence all around me. The snow crunched under my feet as I slowly made my way to a hunter’s shed, which only had a few bits for me to collect but nothing really useful. I kept walking around, getting colder, hungrier, thirstier. Time was running out, when I finally found a frozen deer carcass but nothing to carve it up with. Yet up a way was an old dam which I began to explore late in the afternoon.
It was difficult to see despite light streaming in from outside. I had a few matches and a flare to light my way if I needed it but I did not want to waste it. I managed to make my way down a stairwell in complete darkness, but since I could not see anything at all I decided to light my matches and slowly make my way out. I managed to find a fire barrel to warm up my body before exploring more of the dam. My resources were low and I had to switch between a lantern (low on fuel), another flare (lasts only a while) and my matches (a minute of light at best). I found some more equipment and resources around the damn including an axe, which I could use to breakdown wood for the fire and cut up the deer I found outside for a cooked meal.
I know this place well, but death is always one bad choice away…
After a nights sleep in the dark dam, I needed to make a big choice. Do I set-up a base here or continue to explore outside? My clothes were in tatters and supplies were low. I could stay, but how long could I last? I decided to risk it and make my way further in this cold world. As I continued to explore and face the harsh climate, pushing forward not knowing if the next choice would lead to death or salvation.
At the time of writing, I have managed to survive nearly a month and have found places one might call home. I know this place well, but death is always one bad choice away – and this is playing on the easiest setting.
This is what The Long Dark is all about – the story you make for yourself in this massive world. You do get the hang of its mechanics, keeping your cold, thirst, hunger and rest bars full. Yet when I get ‘comfortable’ with my surroundings I tend to get arrogant. On more than one occasion I would go out to explore only to get caught up in a blizzard with the wrong equipment and poor resources, struggling to find shelter or try to build a fire to warm up only to have the wind blow it out. I am unable to see anything past ten feet and find myself lucky to come across an abandoned car, only to sit in there to see it is still too cold. I am dying.
The graphics are basic at first glance, but the stylised art fits the atmosphere well. In fact, if it were rendered with the realism of other AAA games then it would not have the same effect on your experience. Besides, this survival simulator is real enough as it is as you struggle at times to survive one more day. It is oddly motivating to want to keep going even though there is no ‘end’ to the game as it is now. There is no rescue coming for you and life will not get better. All you are playing for is a few extra days to live before the cold (or a wolf) finally comes to take you. Yet this is compelling gameplay.
The Long Dark is currently in early access and only features an open-world sandbox mode. You can choose either a male or female character (sparsely voiced by Mass Effect veterans Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale) but it is all in first-person. A story mode is to be released later this year (see trailer above) and I am certainly interested to see how a story is utilised within the mechanics of the game, will it offer more motivation or closure rather than just basic survival to finish the game?
The game as it stands now is worth your attention and I have not come across any bugs to ruin my experience, although micro-managing your inventory can be vexing as you need to choose what to take with you and what to leave behind. Yet in the same vain as the Fallout series I end up collecting everything because I might need it to survive, which leaves me over-encumbered – an easy snack for bears or wolves.
I have enjoyed my experiences in The Long Dark, which is exactly what this game is about: your experience surviving in the harsh Canadian wilderness in the middle of winter. Nature is unforgiving here, where one bad choice can lead to your death – and you are always making choices which will have consequences on your journey. On the easiest level, I have found the game enjoyable and it is a good way to learn the mechanics before going to the hardest difficulty. Of course, the only thing awaiting you at the end of this game is your death. It might be a day or a month, from a bear, wolf or the cold, but something will kill you in the end. Sounds depressing, but this game taps in to the most primal instinct we have: survival.