It’s not often that you get games that are surprising and entertaining. But The Long Dark is definitely one of those titles. Developed and published by Hinterland Studio, The Long Dark is an immersive and challenging survival game that pits you against the Canadian wilderness.
After your plane crashes in a ravine during an unusual stormy event it’s down to you – cold, hungry and injured – to survive the first night, gathering what supplies you can and trying to endure the freezing conditions. The penalty for getting too cold here is the same as running out of food, or water – you’ll die. Get through the first night, though, and you’ll eventually be able to venture further afield, all while ensuring you don’t run out of food or freeze to death.
The game provide two modes of play: Survival and Narrative. In narrative you follow the story, and a more linear route. But in Survival, the wilderness is immediately open to you and you can opt to pursue whatever route takes your fancy. Survival mode features a permadeath element, ensuring you pay close attention to everything. Narrative, or Story Mode does not feature this, allowing you to enjoy the developing narrative.
First off, I’d like to commend Hinterland Studio for not doing a ‘Lost’, and becoming fixated with the unusual electromagnetic event that causes your plane to crash. This game is all about survival. The elements are your enemy, so the focus is squarely on surviving an area the is 50 square kilometres in size., complete with dynamic weather and an active day-night cycle.
While the game itself advises players not to consider this an official means of survival training, it’s one of the closest things to it. Other than the last Lara Croft game, no other title has actually made me feel cold when playing it. In this game, the cold is your enemy. Ignore it, put it off, or do other things without taking it seriously will immediately hamper your efforts to even make it to the next morning. Hypothermia is as deadly in The Long Dark as any boss in another game. And you learn that in the first 20 minutes as the environment conspires to kill you, along with infection from injury, starvation and thirst. Luckily, though, these are all manageable. Just.
All of the elements are conspiring to kill you, such as cold and hunger, can be countered. Find shelter and start a fire to stop yourself getting cold and eventually becoming unconscious. Or scavenge for food to keep your energy up and stay mobile. Sleep is also useful, but like most things in this game, you wield it like a double-edged sword. Sleeping can help revitalise you, and maintain energy levels. Sleep too long, though, and whatever fire you painstakingly put together and lit will probably have gone out, leaving you cold and shivering.
Injury is also a factor. Twist your ankle in a fall and your movement will be impeded. Fall too far and it’s game over. And there are many ways in which injury can ruin your day, as though a plane crash in the frozen wilderness wasn’t bad enough.
Recovery takes time, as does the search for resources. Need wood for the fire? It’s easy enough to gather it up, but breaking down wooden crates or branches takes time. And time, in this game, means exposure to the elements. Spend too much of it gathering wood and you’ll end up freezing to death. The same can be said for gathering food. Rabbits, deer, and food supplies dotted around the sparsely populated area all take time to gather. And spending too much time can be almost as bad as having no supplies at all. Time is precious and it’s also another adversarial factor in the game, and that’s before we even get to the wolves or bears that look at you in the same way as Gordon Ramsey does with a perfectly cooked Filet Mignon .
The visuals are distinct, but don’t compare to the graphical fidelity of titles like Call of Duty or Battlefield. But that’s the point here. It’s about survival, not taking in the view, even though it can be sublime. And the story provides enough information without offering superfluous content. It’s a great balancing act. And that’s what you have to do as the player in order to keep alive: balance your resources and your time. Keep that in mind and you should do well.
Hinterland Studio also released a number of episodes, as a means of extending the content, and ensuring you still have plenty to do and see. To date, three of the five episodes have been released. Copllectively, these are called Wintermute. The first two were released together, called ‘Do Not Go Gentle’ and ‘Luminance Fugue’ respectively. The third, called ‘Crossroads Elegy’ was released in 2019. But the good thing here is that each part is free, included the two parts yet to be released.
Beyond the usual methods of survival are more detailed means of keeping yourself warm and upright. Food can be obtained through hunting and scavenging, including fishing and throwing stones at rabbits to knock them unconscious, or scouring cabins, huts and cars for supplies, such as newspaper to use as fuel for a fire, or as insulation material in your clothing. As you progress, you’ll learn how to craft more effective tools and weapons, create light sources and more efficient methods of starting a fire. Everything has more than one purpose here.
Take deer for example. You can hunt live deer, or use a knife to cut the meat from a dead one. But both methods make you far more attractive to other carnivores, who can smell the meat on you. But if it all sounds too much for you, there’s hope at the end of the tunnel. You can adjust the difficulty level to suit your gaming needs.
If you want a challenging but enjoyable title, this is definitely it. Download it from Game Pass now.
I said NOW!