The Long Dark Review
The common video game is filled with noise and explosions, luring in the player with bombast and fury. The flashier the game is, the more likely it will catch the eye of a prospective player. Some games try the minimalist approach, while others throw convention out the window and use uncommon elements to challenge the player. The Long Dark is the latter, and it astounds me how much fun I had with this game.
The Long Dark can be played in one of two ways: the story mode Wintermute which follows a pilot marooned in the Canadian wilderness after a storm, or a Survival mode which throws me into the wilds with only my wits and tasks me to survive as long as possible. The story is interesting, following the poor pilot’s plight after he crash lands into a small canyon. While controlling him the game teaches me to gather resources, build fires, and others means of survival. Eventually, he climbs out of the canyon and searches for his friend, leading him into some crazy scenarios. The story is episodic, with each episode divided into chapters. The story is only two episodes into a five-episode arc, meaning there’s still plenty of story to tell and I’m looking forward to it.
“The survival mode is one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever dealt with.”
The survival mode is one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever dealt with. Everything in this game works against me, from the sparse nature of food and supplies to the bitter cold. Hunger, thirst, blood loss, and the bitter cold are all looming over my head…and that only talks about internal strife. The wilderness randomly generates obstacles and wildlife, meaning I could go hours in one game without seeing a wolf, then find wolves before anything else in game two. This is not a game for those of weak constitution, but the challenge is absolutely thrilling.
The world is truly against me in The Long Dark, but I’m far from helpless when taking it on. I can melt snow and then boil it in order to create drinking water, and these being the Canadian wilds a savvy player will never be without drink. Wildlife can be hunted and harvested at will, both for food and gear parts, and building fires to cook meat or warm up is as easy as pressing two buttons. Every tree and branch has useful potential, encouraging me to search every nook and cranny.
Despite its desolation, I want to explore and see what’s hiding in this place, which making survival even more important for one key reason: permadeath. Survival Mode is a one-go experience, so when my characters dies he or she is gone to the ether forever along with the save file. Speaking of, the game autosaves only when I rest, enter a building, or get injured (that last one being particularly devious), so I have to the know the last time any of those things happen while weighing my options. I may take a risk right after leaving shelter that I wouldn’t take after an hour of exploration, and that’s part of The Long Dark’s beauty.
Perhaps the most pervasive enemy in The Long Dark, one that some players might not even consider when booting the game up, is one that’s truly unconquerable: time. The passage of in-game time can be my best friend or my worst enemy depending on the situation. My internal meters, hunger, thirst, temperature, etc, all decrease over time. Fires are temporary, and while the time can be boosted by adding fuel it also takes a massive hit with every action. It’s fascinating how The Long Dark takes something so simple and makes it my biggest enemy, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
“The Long Dark is a tense and harrowing experience both in Story and Survival modes.”
Here’s an example: my bonfire has about a half hour of in-game time left before going out. I’m out of fuel, and I have both raw rabbit meat to cook and two liters of water to boil. Boiling water takes ten minutes per liter, and the meat takes 20 minutes to cook. However, I know there’s a wooded area outside that can stoke these flames for a little while longer. The problem is it’s the middle of the night, meaning I’m completely vulnerable to any dangers. Do I cook the meat and one liter of water, giving me sustenance at the expense of the bonfire? Do I go looking for branches and take my chances in the dark? Do I just cook or boil and then set out? Every one of those options is affected by the in-game clock, making it the biggest villain of the game.
The Long Dark is a tense and harrowing experience both in Story and Survival modes. Being thrust into the wilderness with little more than the clothes on my back tests all of my resourceful and strategic faculties, crafting a challenge that few games can replicate. Using time as an enemy in such an ingenious fashion only makes the game more fun and the challenge more dangerous, and I can’t get enough of it. I’ll be spending a lot more time in The Long Dark.
***A PS4 code was provided by the publisher***
- Intense setting
- Easy to understand mechanics
- Interesting story
- Genius use of in-game time
- Incomplete story
- Permadeath is understandable but harsh