There are few games able to deliver as immersive of a single-player survival experience as “The Long Dark.”
Welcome to the first entry of The Backlog for the new year. Today, we’re taking a look at Hinterland Studio Inc.’s “The Long Dark,” a first-person, single-player survival experience set in the frozen Canadian wilderness in the wake of a geomagnetic disaster. Players are thrust into the shoes of Will Mackenzie, a pilot whose plane crashed in the remote wilderness and must now struggle to survive while looking for his friend amongst the snowy tundra of Great Bear Island.
The game features a story mode, a sandbox survival mode and an objective-based challenge mode. The story mode is split into five separate episodes. There are currently only three episodes, with the other two set to be released for free in future updates. According to the game’s Steam page, the first two episodes make up the game’s $30 retail price, with about 15 hours worth of content. At the time of writing, I spent about nine hours completing the first episode, and I’ve been steadily chugging through the second episode.
“The Long Dark” is a relatively slow and challenging game, prompting players to think about how to efficiently use their resources in order to complete objectives. Sometimes you’ll have to collect firewood or spare some of your limited food for another character in order to progress the story, but some side objectives may allow you to find hidden caches of supplies or characters will grant you better clothes that will allow you to better withstand the frozen wasteland.
Resource management is crucial to “The Long Dark,” and it’s at the center of its gameplay. The game forces players to keep an eye on their warmth, fatigue, thirst and hunger levels or else they could start to lose health if they develop hypothermia, are over exhausted, dehydrated or starving. Inventory management is equally as important, because players need to have some fire starting supplies on hand or some first-aid supplies in case of a run-in with a wolf. Wearing thicker clothing and carrying more supplies, for example, might help you last longer in the wilderness, but they can also slow you down or prevent you from being able to sprint away from danger.
“The Long Dark” does a good job of providing players with the tools necessary to survive, but it doesn’t hold their hands. It may take a few deaths, but the game makes players learn how to use the tools they have to survive. The strategy it takes to manage your inventory and resources is difficult, but it feels somewhat empowering to know that your chances of survival are completely dependent on your own abilities to effectively manage what you have.
What surprised me about “The Long Dark” was how effortlessly its atmosphere could ebb and flow between serenity and eeriness. Despite being completely alone in your adventure, the game captivates you with this atmosphere and worldbuilding.
During the day, I could walk through the abandoned town of Milton scavenging for supplies with the only sounds being the crunching of snow beneath my feet, the wind whistling throughout the land and the occasional soft violin in the background. At night, or while exploring abandoned buildings, the world remains eerily quiet. You’ll hear the occasional hooting of an owl or the howling of a wolf. As you scavenge for supplies in abandoned buildings, you’ll find notes and remnants of the people who once inhabited these spaces or you’ll hear the creaking of old pipes and the wind howling outside. You may even come across the frozen bodies of unlucky survivors. All these elements, and more, contribute to the game’s hauntingly beautiful atmosphere. It almost feels like horror, but it’s not. It’s just you versus nature.
The beauty and appeal of “The Long Dark” as a ruthless and unforgiving survival experience lies with its challenges. It’s hard to tear yourself away from this game. You may get attacked by a wolf, have to spend an entire day sleeping in a cave with a small fire just to stay out of a fierce blizzard or you might just spend your time scouting the next area for supplies. Ultimately, it’s the feeling of knowing that you survived another day in the frozen wilderness that makes the experience that much more rewarding.