Developer: Hinterland Studio Inc.
Release Date: 22/09/2017
Publisher: Hinterland Studio Inc.
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh operating systems
My first death in The Long Dark wasn't a particularly significant one.
Hell, looking back on it, the choices I made that first time were downright stupid. But it's a moment that will stay in the memory bank for a long time, and its etching wasn't caused by some scripted scene or a cheap jump scare tactic, but because The Long Dark puts enough trust in the player to learn its rules, and punishes you when you inevitably break them. And this will be all too familiar when oversight after oversight leads to a death that could've been avoided in a world that forces you to learn its rules.
The Long Dark is a survival game that has just left early access. Set in the northern Canadian hinterlands, you've survived a plane crash and now must scour the land in search of food, water, clothing, tools and shelter to survive the environment and the animals that inhabit it. Simply put.
There's a sizeable map to explore broken up into multiple areas that are interconnected through things like frozen rivers, vast cave networks and long highways and it's left to the player to explore all these areas and choose which part of the map to inhabit. Each are accompanied by their own strengths and weaknesses and it's about managing those environmental factors to ultimately survive the harsh world.
What's great about The Long Dark is the survival sandbox formula that puts the decisions in the player's hands and will punish you for every mistake and reward preparation and caution. This can also lead you down a spiral into some of the most poetic deaths I've ever experienced in a video game and coupled with the perma-death system that TLD's sandbox mode this only ups the ante.
At its current state, there are two game modes. Survival mode: which as the name suggests - is a perma-death mode about surviving as long as you can. And for most of the games Early Access life, this was the core mode.
August 1st marked the full release as well as the first season titled "Wintermute" which is the story mode and serves to add a character driven narrative to the game as well as a short tutorial and introduction to what the core structure of the game is about.
So here's the part where I tell you what The Long Dark does well and what it does not so well.
Firstly, there are enough survival games out there that have lived and died all within their early access period, and it's good to see The Long Dark make it into full release in a relatively bug-free build.
In saying that there is an evident amount of polish in the release, but at the current state, I still feel like some players will be hard pressed to find variety in gameplay and will spend a lot of their time trudging the same areas over and over again performing the same tasks to avoid dying. All sandbox games have this element of repetition and for some, The Long Dark might have trouble keeping their attention.
This is even more obvious in the story mode which consists of fetch quest after fetch quest for characters that you barely know in order to gain information they're stubbornly withholding from you until you scavenge enough food/water etc for them.
For example, there's a Trapper you find being mauled by a bear in the second act, you pot shot the bear and it scurries off to fight another day, you take this wounded trapper to his cabin and nurse him back to health. THEN, as a thank you for saving his life he sends you all over the surrounding areas collecting materials to fix his broken rifle and collect deer meat to fill HIS food supply all because he thinks you need the training to get revenge on the bear that mauled him. The protagonist even asks a question like "Why don't I just avoid the bear?" and his response suggests it's some sort of all-knowing bear deity that'll just keep popping up until you ventilate its bear face into an early grave.
And trust me there's a lot of this in the game.
On top of that, the AI for the animals can go from composed and graceful to batshit crazy that will cause a few unfair deaths. Often times you'll be lining up a shot on a wolf only to have them run in circles and then dart towards you, which slows the game down and asks you which weapon you want to fight it off with. This becomes even more tiresome when hunting deer since as soon as they hear a gunshot you'll have the whole group splitting off in different directions up hills, into wolves, or down into ravines. A moment like this can ruin the immersion on what could otherwise be a fun cat-and-mouse hunting strategy. But at the moment, it's just about firing into a deer and letting it run around until it dies.
But these are two nit picks in the face of a truly enjoyable game, chances are if you're a fan of the survival genre you'll find it right up your alley.
I found The Long Dark to be at its best when the unexpected happened at the worst possible time. Waking up in the middle of a blizzard or being stalked by a wolf when you're low on stamina always kept things interesting.
The Long Dark captures the beauty and unforgivable nature of the arctic wilderness and the hardcore nature of "Sandbox mode" will have you replaying over and over promising yourself "I'll do better this time"