By Shelby Steiner
You wake in a dark house at dawn, your stomach rumbling as you try to find the motivation to get started. The days are too short to accomplish the tasks you have before you. After all, you have to find time to collect firewood, purify some water, find a weapon to hunt with, and better cold weather gear. But the house is so warm compared to the outdoors and sleeping a little longer would be much more comforting than braving the wilds and the wind chill.
The Long Dark in its current form is an exercise in futility and the constant tension is palpable. The folks of Hinterland Studio have created a survival game that I finally like.
HELL HAS FROZEN OVER
The Long Dark pulls zero punches. You’re dropped into a sandbox with no guidance other than indications about your health, hunger, fatigue, thirst, and warmth. On paper, this sounds like just about any other survival game which is filled with games like The Forest, Rust, and Day Z. The difference here is that there are no zombies, other players, or indigenous people. Instead, your primary enemy is the environment.
Basic needs are a constant concern, nagging at you to search for the next potential stash of supplies. To combat repeated playthroughs, the developers have implemented procedural elements into the game to randomize what you find at the different locations. To further add to your simulated misery, the wildlife is just as dangerous as the cold. The wolves in particular are a menace, but don’t worry, there are bears too. In my time spent with the game, I’ve spent a great deal of my time running away from those bastards.
Deer and rabbits are present in the game to give you a chance to have some valuable meat in your diet. If you aren’t able to take down an animal to eat, you can scavenge for food. If you ever wondered how long you could survive on a jar of peanut butter, you can find out. Water becomes a precious commodity to you as well since you have to balance carrying enough to survive until your next opportunity to collect some more with the weight of it, and water is pretty heavy. Food and water even pose a threat to the player. If you don’t have time or the materials needed to make it safe for consumption, you can risk it. Dysentery isn’t so bad, right?
Speaking of dysentery, medicine (in the form of a first aid skill) plays an important role in The Long Dark. You’re constantly at risk of spraining your ankle, getting sick, or getting an infection from a wound. Like wounds from bears. Stupid bears. More broadly, the crafting system is limited but extremely useful at least. There isn’t an encyclopedia of items to make like in most games of the genre but the devs did a good job of providing the player with the tools that they’d need without bombarding them with a bloated catalog.
WHAT IS TO COME?
Currently The Long Dark is in its alpha stage and is purchasable for PC via Steam Early Access or GoG’s Games in Development program. It is also available on consoles for Xbox One via the Game Preview program. Hinterland Studio, Inc. is planning on releasing a story mode for the game when sometimes in spring this year and will be released in seasons after launch.
Don’t fear if you end up purchasing the game prior to the full release as the first part of Season One will be available to anyone who buys the game, Early Access or not. The rest of Season One is slated to be released through the course of 2016 and will supposedly total to around 10-12 hours of content.
SO WHAT’S THE RUB?
Even in its current form and at the price of $19.99, The Long Dark feels like a complete game. The Sandbox Alpha mode is harrowing, yet fun… So long as you’re willing to starve to death, die of hypothermia, be eaten by a bear, or stumble aimlessly through the cold. You’re sure to be forced to make many tough decisions about your survival that will almost inevitably lead to you becoming a meat Popsicle.
If you enjoy survival games, keep this one on your radar.
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