In the dead of night, my body temperature plummets. Facing certain death, I climb and manically begin to search a snowy outcrop for sticks or branches, anything that might burn quick enough to raise my warmth levels to stave off the threat of hyperthermia and ultimately, death. With my fate uncertain, I walk a dangerous line between brave and stupid high up above a desolate road. The weather now wrapping around my entire body like a sheet of bitter cold frost and my vision beginning to blur due to hyperthermia, I was in real trouble. That unfortunate combination of circumstances would eventually see me tread too closely to the edge of a ledge and fall down to the hard concrete floor below.
My ankle now busted up and frostbite an immediate threat I hobble slowly down that same lonely road I had just stood not so proudly above in a desperate state when suddenly and out of nowhere I’m face to face with a snarling wild wolf. In an instant, I’m shoved on my back with menacing force, rows of razor-sharp teeth snap away at me with a frenzied anger. In a blind panic, I reach for my knife but in my weakened state, simply do not have the energy to fend off my attacker and a struggle for my life ensues. Seconds later I lose that very fight and fade into The Long Dark, a welcome end to my suffering in a challenging game where preparation, balance and know-how still might not be enough to survive the hazardous Canadian wilderness.
The Long Dark: PS4, Xbox One [Reviewed], PC
Developer: Hinterland Studio
Publisher: Hinterland Studio
Release Date: 1 August 2017
Price: £29.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
The Long Dark is the ultimate game of survival. Following a stint in Steam Early Access and Xbox Preview Program on PC and Xbox One respectively, Hinterland Studio’s challenging wintery tale is now available on multiple platforms. Broken into 3 modes: Wintermute (Story), Survival and Challenge, The Long Dark is a game that promises to test your resolve to its fullest as you endure the depths of loneliness, scavenge and fight for your very existence in a scenic world that brilliantly illustrates the sheer beauty of the wilderness, while forever in danger and constantly at the mercy of that same picturesque environment.
Throwing yourself straight into the thick of it, The Long Dark‘s Survival Mode is the purest form of survival you’re likely to find on the current market, a market flush with games that claim to be just that but often fail to live up to the billing. To put it bluntly, The Long Dark isn’t fucking about. If you don’t pay attention, if you don’t regulate and replenish your constantly flailing vitals and resources then you’re going to meet a quick end; be it to the sharp teeth of one of the many wild wolves skulking about the environment, your toes dropping off due to frostbite or starvation and dehydration from a lack of food or water, literally everything in The Long Dark can and will kill you. It’s a gruelling, evocative and often unfair set of scenarios.
During a typical single day/night cycle out in the harsh environment of the Canadian wilderness, the player will face a combination of difficult life choices, dilemmas and emotions in a bid to survive. The Long Dark elicits the rawest of human emotion at every turn as you pray the campfire keeping you warm holds out until the morning, or that you’re lucky enough to stumble upon a town with a warm bed to sleep in during a snowstorm and a cupboard full of rations to keep you alive that little bit longer. The uncertainty of your fate balances largely on luck, but also with the survivor’s ability to multi-manage and moderate the human body’s main requirements to staying alive: thirst, hunger, body temperature and fatigue.
It’s daytime and your hunger levels are low. With nothing but raw venison harvested from a dead deer you found a way back and a bag of crisps available inside your backpack your choices are very limited. Finding somewhere to create a fire with a limited wood supply might cook that tasty meat, but it will also dampen your chances of survival once night arrives. The quickest solution would be to eat the crisps but worryingly, though your hunger levels may be OK for a small period, the salt intake from devouring a small bag of cooked potatoes has made you incredibly thirsty and now your those levels are low, worse still, you’re still hungry. The Long Dark throws so many questions the player’s way, that it’s not always easy to find the right answer, and in a life or death situation you could easily make the wrong choice, which may or may not lead to your demise.
Just when you think you might have the answer to the barrage of questions being thrown your way, The Long Dark has you at checkmate, seemingly always one move ahead of the player in a game where it appears always in control. There will be moments of sheer adulation or excitement as a parked vehicle or gas station appears on the horizon, though even that joy could easily turn to despair if the dashboard you search is empty or the interior of the building contains nothing of real value to aid you in your quest. In a desperate state, these moments can make or break a player. Finding a loot stash containing dog food, fizzy orange, antibiotics and wood will fill the player with a sense of joy and triumph; the opposite result will see you forced begrudgingly back into the snow with your vitals still dangerously low and on the brink of death.
More worryingly, your items degrade and breakdown over time or from being overused. One attack from a wolf could see you parading about the wilderness in nothing but a jumper, a pair of shorts and a pair of socks, hardly fitting attire given the current climate. Repair is a handy option but will pull on your resources, thankfully clothing appears a luxurious commodity in The Long Dark and most cabins contain a handful of items to keep yourself warm. Repairing items will suffice but only get you so far, crafting, however, can be a real lifesaver in times of sorrow. The ability to fashion a fish hook and line could see you feed yourself for a good length of time with fish caught from a hole in the ice found at one of the many fishing huts, or a warmer sleeping rug made of bear skin that will keep your body temperature up, provided of course that you first find a weapon and then successfully kill a wild grizzly before it rips your flesh from your bones.
It’s with Survival Mode that The Long Dark ultimately flourishes most. The sheer level of replayability and regions to begin a journey from posing a variety of scenarios that will have players testing themselves for hours on end to overcome the insurmountable odds of the wild or perish time and time again only to start a new. If diving headfirst into Survival like feels too much of a leap at first, The Long Dark offers a form of narrative with Wintermute, a collection of story-based episodes that tell the story of a lone pilot searching the wilderness for his missing wife.
Although 5 episodes will eventually become available to players that will conclude The Long Dark’s first season, for now, we make do with the first two. As a story, Wintermute starts off promisingly enough with lone pilot Will Mackenzie escorting his estranged wife across the Canadian wilderness when a freak global disaster not only cuts short the couple’s intense conversation, it also brings down the plane they are flying in, leaving the pair separated and Will badly injured. With the survival sandbox part of The Long Dark being made available to players for quite a long period on PC and Xbox One, you wouldn’t expect the game’s story-come-tutorial to be overly bothersome for those already in the know but also limit the hand-holding for debutants and to that point, it doesn’t hinder either.
Wintermute welcomes both long-serving survivalists from the Early Access days and fresh eyes with a gentle opening that feels slightly more generous than Survival Mode, and it can certainly afford to be given the long development period. Unfortunately, while it performs well as a tutorial, players looking to Story Mode for a narrative-driven adventure might find more luck elsewhere with the jury still out here. Wintermute will teach players the basics of survival out in the cold in a way that won’t scar you for life, but storytelling isn’t its strongest suit. That’s not to say that there isn’t something to enjoy. Wintermute’s introductory episodes equip the player with the knowledge needed to better prepare you for what lies ahead in the punishing and at times unforgivable land of Survival Mode.
Searching the wreckage of your downed aircraft, scaling a mountain to reach safety or escaping the cold to take refuge in a dark cave, The Long Dark is drenched in atmosphere and bloody beautiful to look at. Only future episodes will determine whether or not Wintermute eventually goes on to develop into something more compelling or meaningful, a story that matches the beauty of the game but for now, it serves greatly as an informative platform for those new to the game or struggling to adapt to the learning curve out in the wilderness without a guide.
Deep, powerful and thought-provoking, The Long Dark is an atmospheric game of survival that will test the player’s bravery, metal and personal will to overcome while punishing every little mistake or lack of proper judgement with harrowing certainty. Though Wintermute attempts to convey an interesting story while introducing players to the mechanics and way of life, it doesn’t hold a candle to the kind of storytelling that only comes from the player’s very own adventures deep in the Canadian wilderness. Full of exploration, grit, emotion, beautiful visuals and a soothing soundtrack, The Long Dark is the ultimate survival game that will have you thirsty or hungry for more.