The Long Dark – Review
Developer: Hinterland Studio Inc.
Publisher: Hinterland Studio Inc.
Music: Sascha Dikiciyan, Cris Velasco
Platforms: PS4, XB0, Switch, Steam, Epic Games
Released: 22 September 2014
Maybe the apocalypse doesn’t come with a bang, with a virus that mutates out of control, hordes of zombies walking through the streets.
Maybe, the apocalypse comes quietly. With a storm that takes away the power, closes off roads and train tracks. It comes quietly, but surely, as the nights grow longer, and the days become colder, and the people grow hungry.
The Long Dark is an exploration survival game which delivers. With a beautiful, 3D paint-like art style, brutal environments that you need to explore to obtain food, clean water, tools, and medicine, and every danger that mother nature could throw at you, plus some, your solitude will become comforting, the roaring wind will make you despair, and you will have to balance every decision you make.
With multiple game modes, a story mode, and various challenges, there is something for everyone, from survival tourists who just want to check out what’s what, to hardcore survivalists, who are prepared to do whatever is needed to claw through another day.
The Long Dark is not an easy game, and that is reflected in every aspect of this game. You’ll find yourself in the northern Candian wilderness, basically alone. It is freezing, the weather changes from cold, sunny days, to brutal blizzards that you can get lost in, completely disorientated. With a night-day cycle, you’ll have to manage your time effectively, finding time to rest, but also finding time to FIND a safe place to rest. There are dangers around you, such as dangerous terrain that you can injure yourself on, frozen lakes where you’ll have to watch your step. And unusually aggressive bears and wolves, who will find you and hunt you down. You can scare them off if you hold your nerve, but you do not want to get into a fight with them.
You’ll have to maintain your health, exhaustion, body temperature, energy levels, clothing, and so much more. Scavenge for resources and tools, learn how to create snares, simple medicines, repair your clothes, and even craft warmer gear. This game made me track rabbits, find their grazing spot, set up a snare, capture them, and then make the decision to kill it with my bare hands. It doesn’t help that they’re pretty cute, but that rabbit could be the reason I make it to the end of the day. I could scavenge a deer killed by wolves, but that puts me at risk myself.
I get so excited when I find a toilet, because that means free drinkable water right away! I don’t have to gather wood, build a fire, melt snow, and then boil the water to make it safe. I can just grab fresh water right away. I managed to find a gun, a lucky find, but without bullets it’s just dead weight. Should I ditch it so I can carry more food? Or should I hold onto it and my one bullet, in case I’m not careful enough and run into the bear?
There are many game modes and difficulty levels, so if you want an easier time, you can have that! If you want to spend 30 days gathering supplies and barricading yourself before a bear arrives to hunt you? You can also do that. You want to be cursed by a spooky skeletal ghost monster? Well, you can do that too.
The music is minimal, but the audio experience feels as cold, solitary, and distant as this game feels. It’s really quite sobering to have had a difficult day finding food and wood, and to return to your little shelter as darkness falls. You can’t afford to start a fire, so you rest and wait in the dark, with the wind howling outside, the sound grating and exhausting. In those moments, I felt like how my survivor must feel, hoping for the glow of sunlight.
Your footsteps crunch through the snow, a thud can be heard nearby as a deer is startled, darting away. Was that a growl? Or the wind? Wings flutter, letting you know that perhaps a corpse is nearby. You look up to find crows circling. Is the body an animal? Or a human, like you?
It’s all connected, the sounds tell you so much, and you become so attuned to it, a soundscape being built around you. It’s not essential, but sometimes it’s the only warning I get before realising I wasn’t looking around myself often enough, and a wolf is sprinting towards me.
I adore The Long Dark. It can be difficult, challenging, and frustrating. Sometimes I’ll choose a specific game mode, to explore the story and piece together what happened to cause this town, and the communities, to fall apart. Sometimes I feel like figuring out just how long I can survive. How far I can go before I can’t go any further. The impending bear mode sounds easy enough, 30 days to prepare, but just making it through those 30 days is difficult enough, and as each day counts down to the big showdown, my anxiety will grow. And when the day arrives, I better be ready one way or another.
If you feel like you could be ready, then this just might be the game for you.