There are a lot of ‘Survival Simulators’ out there right now: Ark: Survival Evolved, DayZ, State Of Decay, Rust, Minecraft, I could go on. The majority of these games whilst heavily emphasising survival gameplay elements all focus on a single looming threat, be it zombies dinosaurs or creepers. The Long Dark is no exception though that looming threat is not a pixelated green monster or a Velociraptor, it’s the elements.
The Long Dark is a first person survival simulator where you play as a man or woman who must brave the elements in the North Canadian wilderness following a geomagnetic disaster. You start the game with a few basic supplies: simple but warm clothing and a couple things to eat and drink. Surrounded by ice, snow and sub-zero temperatures you immediately have to find shelter and begin your journey of survival.
The Long Dark is in Early Access on Steam and has recently launched on the Xbox Game Preview program. Loading up the game presents you with the option of a story mode only to tell you that it’s coming soon when you click it. Currently the only gameplay option available is the Sandbox mode where you begin by choosing a difficulty and then which region of the map you want to spawn in. The different difficulties basically determine the aggressiveness of the animals in the game world. I initially started on Voyager – Medium only to find that once I began to feel as though I were getting to grips with the mechanics a bear turned the corner and mauled my face off as I attempted to light a flare to scare it off. My main recommendation after all my time with the game is to start on the Pilgrim mode in which Wolves and wildlife run away from you when seen, this way you can master the many elements of the game in peace before moving your way up the difficulty chain.
A typical day in The Long Dark will depend on various factors. These factors include whether or not you have a home base, how stocked that base is, how many items you have crafted, the wildlife in the surrounding area, time of day, current weather and current state of health. Given that it’s day time and there isn’t a blizzard outside and you’ve eaten, (preferably a warm meal so that you can manage the cold better) you could head out and scavenge. I think it would be entirely acceptable for all Survival Simulator’s to be rebranded as Scavenging Simulators as this is the primary gameplay task. While the constant foraging for berries in Ark: Survival Evolved made me want to pull my eyes out, The Long Dark manages to make the repetitive foraging an exciting and tense experience. This is achieved through the constant threat of hypothermia, malnutrition, and exhaustion all contributing to a sense of emergency that encourages excitement when finding a new building to explore. Foraging through cupboards and drawers, and crouching down to look under the bed or behind chairs for anything missed consistently excites, even when all you find is a tin of pork and beans.
What really elevates The Long Dark high above other survival simulators is the perfect sense of progression. When making your first steps in the game initially you stare at the beautiful snowy scenery, the clear skies, frozen trees and icy mountains. Whereas after your first couple days braving the elements you begin to hate the thick snow that slows your movement down and the blue sky that could muster a blizzard at any moment, you become angry at the game world although never the game. Initially I made so many mistakes that seem foolish now, I became over encumbered and so of all the things to drop I dropped my sleeping bag, so when a blizzard hit and I couldn’t get back to my safe house to light a fire and enjoy my plentiful stock of food, I had nothing to sleep in and died from the cold. I learned from this and now every time I venture out I take at least one bag. I was also at first obsessed with finding a rifle to hunt and survive, though quickly I learned that tracking a wolf, waiting for it to kill a deer then scaring it off with a flare so that I could scavenge the corpse for meat was a much more frugal strategy, albeit more time consuming.
Although I haven’t experienced the PC version, the Xbox One version looks and plays very well, the environments are, (as you can see) gorgeous and the resolution seems fine, with the frame rate dipping a bit in certain areas but again this is early access so the developer has plenty of time to fix issues of this nature. My major gripe with the game does not stem from the state of the console port but from not having the option to jump or climb. I was once killed just because a small rock prevented me from entering a safe area, forcing me to take another route which unfortunately was home to a rather hungry looking wolf. It seems silly that in a game so focused on being realistic you can still die from something as trivial as a rock.
Once you have the method of survival down you can expand into the crafting elements of the game. Crafting can be used to make warmer clothing, rabbit snares and bows and arrows amongst other things. Once you begin foraging for crafting supplies your eyes are opened up to a whole new world that was there all along. Without the game giving you any hints at all you are forced to think about where you would find items you may not have come across before. For example, feathers are a necessary item used to craft arrows, whereas I never really considered looking to the sky for info on lootable items I noticed that birds are found circling above any corpse. Following these birds I could find the corpse and then loot it if it was human or scavenge meat, entrails and hide if it was an animal and collect the feathers that were littered around the area. Suddenly I began to feel a sense of confidence in the game world, as if I had earned my place through exploration and discovery. As I learned each new game mechanic I was proud of the fact that I had learned it and not been told how to do it from some in-game tutorial.
The Long Dark is a game that does not hold your hand, and because of this offers one of the most rewarding game experiences I have had in a long time. Even in its current early access state and without the Story mode I would still easily rate it one of the best games in recent memory. Do yourself a favour and help Hinterland out by grabbing an early access copy. Just make sure you wrap up warm before you do.
For more information on Hinterland Games and The Long Dark check out their website here.