Welcome to the quiet apocalypse. Here's my quick The Long Dark review.
The Long Dark is a first-person survival video game developed by Canadian Hinterland Games. Despite the survival genre being amazingly popular, this is my first real go at a survival game. Back in 2012, I dipped my toes in DayZ, which was one of the genre-defining titles, but it didn’t sit too well with me.
Most of the popular survival games are multiplayer. Hinterland has decided to take a different approach with The Long Dark, making it singleplayer only. This suits me just fine, because multiplayer stresses me out. I prefer to wrestle with fairly predictable NPCs, instead of having to worry about other players bashing my head in for the lulz.
The Long Dark features three game play modes: Story, survival, and challenges. So far, I’ve only played the story mode - Wintermute - for about 12 hours, and I’ve not touched the survival mode, or any of the challenges. So this is basically a review of game’s story mode, and not even the entire story mode. After 12 hours, I’ve got the feeling I’m roughly 2/3 through. That might, or might not be the case, through. At any rate, 12 hours of entertaining gaming is quite good value for money. And there are still the two other game modes to explore when I’ve finished Wintermute.
Virtual Boy Scout Simulator
To survive in the wilderness, you have to stay warm, hydrated, consume the necessary calories, get enough rest, and make sure the hostile wildlife doesn’t bite off any of your limbs. The Long Dark simulates all this. In a blasting blizzard, the wind chill factor means that you’ll get colder faster than you would on a particularly sunny day. But if you make sure your clothes are in good order, find shelter, and make a camp fire, you’ll be able to ride out the storm. Carrying a heavy back pack, running, walking up steep hills, mean that you’ll burn through your calorie reserves faster, so make sure you’ve got enough to eat. Eat raw meat, and you might come down with a nasty case of death by food poisoning. But find some antibiotics, or make tea from the right plants, and you’ll soldier through it. Stumble as you walk, and you might sprain your ankle. Make sure you have some painkillers, and bandages, or your ankle can make it hard for you to collect enough firewood to keep the camp fire burning through the night. And without the light from the fire, the wolves will come.
To be honest, all this sounds a bit like a Virtual Boy Scout Simulator. Sans the wolves, I’ve experienced all of the above during my time as a boy scout1, and while in the army. Sure, we never hiked in the middle of absolutely nowhere, we didn’t stay in the wilderness for more than a week, and we always brought enough supplies with us. But in many ways, The Long Dark feels a lot like it’s simulating a pretty ordinary experience: Being outside.
Kick back, relax, and loot a cottage
Not that there is anything wrong with that. Many games successfully simulate the mundane. One example is Euro Truck Simulator 2, which puts the player behind the wheel of big rigs hauling cargo across Europe. Personally, I really enjoy the game, mainly because it’s amazingly relaxing. That’s one of the reasons I like The Long Dark as well. Despite the fact that there is always the risk of running out of supplies, freezing to death, or being shredded by a wolf, it’s a surprisingly relaxing experience. At least that’s the case on the difficulty level I’m currently playing.
The Long Dark allows the player to save at any time, which adds to the relaxing experience. This is a great touch by the developer, and it makes the game more accessible for people who can only play games in short sessions that can be interrupted at any moment by a screaming toddler. People just like me, in other words. While this opens the door for save scumming, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to save often. Also, I’ve read that it is possible to play the game with permadeath enabled, so you have that option, too.
In The Long Dark’s story mode, Wintermute, you play as the bush pilot Will Mackenzie. He is approached by doctor Astrid Greenwood, who needs to be flown deep into the Canadian wilderness. A reluctant Mackenzie agrees to take the job. En route, they see a mysterious light in the horizon, and their plane suddenly malfunctions, crash landing in the mountains. When Mackenzie regains consciousness, he realizes that Astrid is missing, and he sets out to find her.
Wintermute isn’t terribly engaging, but it works. The story is all right, and so is the voice acting. It’s all frustratingly linear, though. At one point I met a wounded man who demanded that I gave him antibiotics for him to help me find Astrid. I already had plenty of antibiotics in my backpack, but the guy demanded antibiotics from a particular place far to the north. I had no other choice than to start walking. And you’ll better be prepared for a lot of walking, since many of Wintermute’s missions and side quests will send you out on long hikes.
But still, The Long Dark keeps me coming back. I’ll just end here by saying that I recommend the game if you want to play a chill survival game that doesn’t require you to think much, or worry about zombies crawling out of the wood works.
And now I’m off to play some more.
Yes, one of my less enlightened fellow scouts ate a pack of raw bacon. He had a bad couple of days after that. ↩︎