It came as a bit of a surprise to me that The Long Dark has only just been ‘properly’ released; it feels like it’s been available for a really long time, albeit it in its early access form. Well, the wintery survival sim has now officially released on PC and consoles, allowing players the chance to see just how tough it is to survive in an ice cold land that has seen a global disaster wipe out all electricity. Whilst it’s easy to look at The Long Dark as just another survival sim to add to the ever-growing pile, it’s actually one of the most intriguing and well-made example of the genre that’s available. It’s also just so happens to be one of the most difficult too, so prepare yourself for a long, tough, and very cold journey.
The Long Dark actually features a story mode known as ‘Wintermute’ that sees lead character McKenzie and his wife separated after suffering a plane crash on a snowy mountain. Despite the treacherous conditions, McKenzie heads out to try and find her, thus begins his adventure. The whole concept is simple enough, but there’s actually quite a bit of depth to be found; the further you progress, the more characters you’ll meet and different scenarios you’ll find yourself facing. I actually thought it was going to be a bit of a tacked on experience to begin with, but I actually found it one of the most intriguing elements of the game.
It’s episodic though, with only two of the five episodes available right now. It means it could be a while before you get to see the story through to its conclusion, which is a little disappointing considering how much it managed to hook me in already. I just hope I don’t lose interest in the game too much by the time that ‘Wintermute’ eventually reaches its finale.
Of course, most of the meat and bones of The Long Dark is found within its Survival mode. Whilst the whole gameplay concept itself might feel incredibly familiar to gamers who enjoy survival sims, the Wintery mountain setting actually adds an enjoyable twist to the formula.
As you can imagine, the bulk of your time will be spent gathering or hunting for the resources needed to survive. This means food, water (yes, you’ll be pleased to know you can melt the snow down), clothing, tools… you know, the usual. Somehow though, the game’s setting manages to make the experience feel all the more believable. People getting lost and having to survive in snowy mountains has been portrayed a lot in popular media, so doing it so thoroughly in The Long Dark was pretty entertaining. It doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of buildings or vehicles to ransack though, so there’s still plenty of tinned food to go along with those freshly skinned deer.
Be warned though – The Long Dark features permadeath, so there’s no second chances once you make some fatal mistakes. It’s easy to go off adventuring and exploring the wild, but if you find yourself lacking the resources needed to survive or surrounded by wild beasts, you’ll quickly find yourself meeting an icy grave. There’s no cheating out of it either, with the game constantly auto-saving to make sure you don’t try the old ‘turning the power off quickly’ trick.
Yep, The Long Dark is brutal, but it actually adds a sense of extra realism to the dire situation you find yourself in. It makes for gameplay that ends up feeling both tense and daring, with the player often facing plenty of tricky decisions that can make or break their journey. It’s certainly a case of risk vs reward a lot of the time, and believe me, the world of The Long Dark is absolutely full to the brim with dangerous risks.
There are an absolute ton of ways to die in the game, be it through hunger, thirst, hyperthermia, being mauled by bears, being eaten by wolves… you get the picture. Deadly scenarios are incredibly plentiful, with even the most minor of situations proving fatal if you aren’t careful – even leaving a wound untreated can see you bleeding out, leaving absolutely no room for error. I died a LOT, yet I kept coming back for more; there’s something about The Long Dark that’ll hook you in, with each of those ‘one more goes’ you keep telling yourself that you’re going to have actually turning into whole evenings of adventuring across the wintery wilds.
There are a few flaws with the game though. One awkward aspect that I found it difficult to get to grips with initially was learning how everything worked. Survival games are often guilty of not really making it clear as to how to actually do things in-game, and The Long Dark is exactly the same. Maybe I’m asking for a bit too much hand-holding, but I’d have appreciated a more thorough tutorial that goes into a bit more depth about how each mechanic works – especially given how tough the game can be to begin with. If you’re experienced in the genre you’ll be probably feel at home, but those new to it might actually find The Long Dark a tricky place to start.
My other issue (though a minor one) was the fact that you can’t interact with every object in the environment. In survival games, you’re meant to gather anything and everything you can see, with a lot of the focus being on searching every nook and cranny of an area to dig up anything that’s useful. However, The Long Dark featured too many inanimate objects that simply couldn’t be interacted with despite them seeming like they could’ve been used for something. you can burn just about anything in real life, right? Well, you can’t in The Long Dark. Whilst I can appreciate that it’d be impossible to allow players the ability to smash up the environment and set it on fire to give yourself some heat, offering a bit more freedom would’ve added to the realism of the experience.
At least the game manages to nail menu traversal with a controller though. I’ve often been left frustrated navigating detailed menus without a mouse and keyboard, but The Long Dark’s resource management and crafting elements are incredibly accessible from the get go. It made the whole game a lot easier to get to grips with, in turn making it a more enjoyable experience for console gamers.
The aesthetic is really attractive too, albeit a little simple. It works perfectly within the Winter setting though – whilst you aren’t going to see incredibly detailed textures or character models, you are going to see some stunning landscapes and vistas that really add an element of beauty to the treacherous world you find yourself in. There’s a lot of variety to be seen too, with plenty of different sights and locales to be found across the game’s huge world. I won’t spoil some of the hidden gems here, but let’s just say the world is full of surprises. My only real complaint was that the framerate could see a few drops here and there, though it was never bad enough to render the game unplayable.
I’ve played plenty of the different survival games that are available at the moment, yet it’s The Long Dark that has hooked me in the most. The desolate wintery setting just appealed to me from the get go, whilst the tense ‘risk vs reward’ gameplay kept me entertained from start to end. Plus, I can always appreciate a story mode in a game like this – even if it’s not quite finished it…
It’s not without its flaws, but overall I’d easily recommend The Long Dark to survival fans. It’s tough as nails and you’re going to die a lot, but it’s so intensely enjoyable that you won’t be able to help but to keep coming back for more.
Developer: Hinterland Studio
Publisher: Hinterland Studio
Release Date: 01/08/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux