‘The Long Dark’: Surviving the survival genre


Movie_posterThe Long Dark

Developed by Hinterland Studio Inc.
Published by Hinterland Studio Inc.
Available on Windows, OSX, Xbox One
The Long Dark is currently in alpha and gameplay is subject to change.

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.” – Carl Sagan

Sometimes in order to do something right there is a need to go back to basics. Survival games have long tried to innovate with varying success and it can be difficult to find something refreshing.

The Long Dark strikes a balance between complexity and simplicity that is worthy of admiration. There are few obvious threats when first entering the cold, unforgiving forest of Mystery Lake but as you begin to explore you’ll soon find that the land can be as dangerous as it is beautiful. The wildlife scattered around can seem innocent enough. A rabbit or two bounding over snow-covered hilltops, a deer silently grazing near the frozen lakes edge. As you edge closer the deer breaks into a sprint and one of the many wolves lunges after it, closing the distance between them before you can blink and with that the deer is down.

Animals in The Long Dark come in a few distinct flavours. All of them can be shot but with ammunition being a valuable commodity hunting peaceful wildlife with a gun instead of saving it for potential attacks can be the difference between life and death. Rabbits, the smallest of the lot with the exception of birds, can be caught with craftable snares. Deer, the larger of the two herbivores, are obvious targets for wolves and you’ll occasionally find the frozen carcass of an unlucky specimen ready for the taking. However, the predators within The Long Dark are where a lot of the fun lies. Wolves can be heard howling from a distance, alerting you to the fact that you may be heading in their direction. Early on taking a wide berth is the only real way to ensure surviving an encounter with a wolf as a single attack can leave you with shredded clothing, stumbling across the tundra with a sprained ankle as you slowly bleed out, a blizzard setting in and no shelter to be seen. Fear, as they say, is the heart of love. Then there are bears, lumbering giants who probably won’t give you too much trouble so long as you stay out of their way.

All of this combined with a variable weather system and carefully crafted environments, you’ll find no progressively generated terrain here, provides a sense of immersion that would make any die-hard survivalist think twice about whether they would survive a collapse of civilization.

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The Long Dark‘s stylized graphics are reminiscent of a watercolor painting and will, without a doubt, help it to age like a fine wine. A minimalistic HUD shows only what you need to know when you need to know about it. A stamina bar fades in when sprinting. A small icon is displayed when shielded from wind, important in order to both start a fire and reduce windchill, and similar icons show both the status of your body temperature, exhaustion, hunger and thirst.

Each of the currently available four areas in The Long Dark are studded with man made shelters, such as trailers and homesteads, that are a goldmine for food, water and useful tools. The obvious care that has gone into these, especially in the environments that have arrived later in development, is astounding. Story mode is not yet available but even while playing in the sandbox they are rich with history. Who lived in them? What kind of life did they live? Did they have children? The remnants of each home are stories of survival or a mad rush to get out that has the power to leave you feeling guilty simply for taking what you need. That feeling won’t last long as the ambient noise of wind slashing at the shutters provides a reminder of the dangers beyond the walls.

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Crafting in The Long Dark is easy enough to get a grasp on but difficult enough to be rewarding in most cases. Fresh materials must be cured by leaving them out to dry indoors for a few days, varying depending on the type of material, and scrap metal or reclaimed wood can be repurposed as you see fit. The ability to craft weaponry and hunting equipment alongside clothing leads to an interesting and thoroughly exciting mid to late game as the need to survive from the land entirely begins to make itself apparent when you start to exhaust the available resources within an easy distance to reach. That problem can also lead to another conclusion, not entirely sustainable, but also a very fascinating example of emergent gameplay choices. Do you live as a person of the wild, hunting and foraging? Or do you live as a nomad, moving from area to area as you sluggishly eat away at the remnants of humanity’s legacy?

Hinterland Studio Inc. are slowly but surely hitting the nail on the head with their first game, The Long Dark. Foregoing the gimmicks of the past they are instead focusing on what makes the survival genre both thrilling and fun, survival itself. Prepare yourself. It is going to be a long, dark night.

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