You are freezing. You are hungry. Your jeans are ripped. Your food and water are almost gone. There is a pack of wolves following you. How are you going to survive? Oh and there’s a blizzard raging too. Welcome to The Long Dark.
The Long Dark is a survival video game developed by Hinterland Studios and released in 2014 for PC, Linux, Mac, and Xbox One. The premise of the game is that an unknown and catastrophic disaster has rendered all technology useless. You, the player, find yourself in the middle of the Canadian wilderness during a perpetual winter. Your only goal is to see how long can you survive.
The game has two modes, a story mode, and an open-world survival mode. The story mode is a great place for players to start for a more guided approach to how the game mechanics work. In story mode mechanics are introduced gradually as the games progresses. Players will learn over time about what they need to survive, and you get some great back-story about what happened. If you are like me though and you would rather just jump in and figure things out on your own then the open-world survival mode is right for you. Be careful though, survival mode has perma-death. Your progress is saved at certain points as you play but if you die in survival mode, your save is deleted. I will be focusing on survival mode from this point on.
Survival mode has four difficulty levels for you to choose from when starting a game. The lowest difficulty mode, called Pilgrim is a great place to learn the game mechanics, explore, and get your feet wet (but do not get your feet wet because your character might get hypothermia). The game gets harder and harder as you increase the difficulty levels. You’ll find less food and water, less chance of finding things like matches to start fires (trust me, you’ll burn through them faster than you realize), and wildlife will become more and more hostile (don’t get trampled by the moose, it’s bad). The hardest difficulty level, called Interloper… well, be prepared to die… A LOT. There is also a custom mode that allows you to adjust various settings so that you can create your own difficulty level.
The Long Dark has some of the same basic game mechanics as other survival games like cooking, crafting, and hunting. As you perform actions such as lighting fires, cooking, or repairing clothing your character will level up skills that aid in your survival. None of it ever feels tedious or boring though. The clean simple UI of the game makes it easy to get things done without the need for menu after menu.
The unforgiving nature of the game forces you to seriously think about your choices. Do I boil water on the campfire or cook more meat? If I spend more time gathering firewood, will I have enough daylight left to repair my socks? Should I take my bedroll with me or leave it behind (DO NOT leave it behind)? The game is actively trying to kill you at all times, so you had better make good choices, especially at the higher difficulty levels.
Being an open survival game there are so many places to explore and find useful items to help you survive. If you are not careful you can miss things like a candy bar under the bed, medicine behind a crate, that oh so precious magnifying glass in a dark room behind a chair (trust me, you will need it when the matches run out), or that survival bunker full of food just over the next hill. Do not let your guard down though, as wolves might be right around the corner or a blizzard can pop up out of nowhere.
The atmosphere of The Long Dark sets it apart from other survival games. I have often found it hard to describe the art style of The Long Dark. To me, it seems like you are inside a watercolor painting. Even though the game is set in a snow-filled mainly white environment, the use of color is amazing. If you climb up a rock face be sure to stop at the top and turn around because the views are incredible. On occasion, you may even see an aurora late at night. Describing them will not do them justice; you just have to see them for yourself. The sound in the game is excellent. Things like creaking floorboards, howling winds, gushing waterfalls, they create an atmosphere that is soothing, even relaxing at times. During those rare moments when the weather or wildlife is not trying to kill you, it will be so calm and still that you‘ll get a real sense of isolation. Pay attention to those background noises though (Is that a deer over the hill? NOPE! NOPE! That is a bear!).
The Long Dark also offers a lot of re-playability. Each time you start a new game there is a chance that the cabin you found might be burned down or that rifle you found last time might not be there. It can often feel like you are playing for the first time again.
The Long Dark has one thing that many other survival games do not seem to have, and that is an end. The main goal of The Long Dark is to see just how long can you survive. Eventually, there will be no more food to find, you’ll run out of arrows or bullets for hunting, you won’t have any more cloth or animal skins to repair or make clothing, and at the higher difficulty levels, it gets colder and colder as time passes. Eventually, you will pass into The Long Dark.
I have always loved survival games but finding ones that keep me coming back and starting over, again, and again, are rare. The Long Dark is one of them. It is brutal and it is unforgiving, but it is also fun at the same time. It is definitely worth checking out.