The Long Dark is a comparatively old survival game at this point, initially releasing with an Alpha version back in 2014, moving onto full releases in 2015 and 2017. Developed by Hinterland Studio as their first game, though as a company they have not released any games prior the staff are made up of people who have worked on Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, God of War and Elder Scrolls III. Seeing quite a bit of success, selling over 750,000 copies, the game has finally made its way to producing physical copies for sale on consoles. With this new release comes a flock of new customers, and so another review is in order to see how The Long Dark has improved over the years.
Through its episodic approach to storytelling, a developer favourite in recent years, The Long Dark tells us the story of a bush pilot Will Mackenzie as he is coerced into ferrying his past wife Astrid through a blizzard into northern Canada. During a time where the Canadian currency has flatlined, making it almost unusable by most, the locals have had it tough. Things get even worse as the plane that Will flies hits a global apocalypse in the form of an Aurora in the sky, killing all electronics.
Your plane crash lands in the freezing landscape of Canada, with your first and foremost task being to survive this frozen hell. After surviving a few nights you will then set off in search of Astrid, climbing mountains via rope or crevice, passing towns and hunting areas until the game reaches the end of their current release.
Sadly, due to the episodic nature of the game, we only have the first 2 to sate our need for chilly survival. Each episode will last around 6-10 hours depending on your skill at survival as well as if you wish to build trust with the 1 NPC per episode. To the disappointment of some fans, the first two episodes released back in August of 2017, with a long wait until December of 2018 for episode 3 to come out. What makes this review even more upsetting to do, is that the first 2 episodes will also be redone somewhat with the winter update, rendering my progress somewhat mute.
Besides the story mode that will take quite some time to be finished there is an endless hard-core survival mode, where your save is deleted on death, alongside some challenges. The challenges include reaching certain areas of the map, running from and eventually killing a bear or preparing your supplies for an oncoming storm. As you play through survival you will unlock feats, which can be equipped with new runs that boost certain areas of your survivor, from increased research to having a higher body temperature.
The Long Dark plays like many other survival games, you will need to keep yourself fed, drink enough liquids and sleep. Though one of the main statistics to keep in mind is that of your body temperature, as Canada is a fiercely cold mistress. Standing outside without enough layers, having your clothes become wet or frozen all work against you, to the extent of getting hypothermia. You will need to pile on the clothing, keep it repaired and make pit stops at campfires to make sure you don’t freeze to death.
To keep yourself hydrated and fed you will need to scavenge abandoned houses, gas stations and outposts for candy bars, meals and soda cans. Loot does not respawn, however, so you will eventually need to resort to melting and boiling snow to drink, hunting the local wildlife or scavenging animal corpses on the road. All items have decay, eventually breaking from use or becoming spoilt if they are foodstuffs, the lower the condition of food the higher the chance of food poisoning.
As you eat food, get attacked by nature, wolves and bears, oh my, you will need to heal yourself in whatever way possible. You can use scavenged medical supplies like antibiotics, painkillers, antiseptic and bandages for most wounds, but when those run out you will need to resort to natural ways of healing. Living off the land, you can make bandages from old man’s beard or the greatest medicine of all, tea! Brewing up some water and mushrooms, fruit or tea bags can sometimes be enough to get you through this hell. You may even be lucky enough to find a heaven of liquid delight in any microwave.
Besides food and water, you will need to carry around several tools to do certain actions faster if at all. You will need a hatchet to chop up wooden structures, daggers for cutting up cloth, hacksaw to break down metal, gun to shoot down wildlife etc. All this equipment will degrade with time, requiring whetstones, cloth, leather, metal parts etc to maintain. You will need a base of some sort, as you can only carry 30kg worth of gear at a time, any more and you will get slowed down as well as more tired.
Making your way deeper into the story mode, or longer into a survival run, you will find yourself in a daily ritual of; Wake up, eat, drink, organise equipment, scavenge, decide if you need that pair of shoes, return home before dark. This ritual will change up depending on your objective, from hunting for food, checking traps or moving heavier materials around. Sometimes it will feel like you don’t have enough hours in the day, leading to the player always having something more to do, driving you to play for hours on end.
Cutting up corpses, repairing gear and reading books in survival, with some use in story mode, will increase the skills of your survivor. In survival, you start at level 1 across the board, but repeated actions will increase your skills. You will be able to start fires easier, gain more loot from corpses and repair more damage with each repair action. Feats will feed into these skills also, but if you die it is reset back to 1 on a new game, besides feats that increase the starting value.
The music in The Long Dark is very emotionally infused, with piano notes and low tunes to add into the situation with both dread as well as hopelessness. Fitting amazingly with the art style and events, I am only saddened by the lack of music that is played throughout the game itself. The story mode restricts most music to talking, cutscenes or certain events, whereas survival mode plays music every so often. Hearing this high-quality soundtrack makes it all the more disappointing when I realise I haven’t heard it for the past hour or so.
While the graphical quality of The Long Dark isn’t the highest, or most realistic, it does look rather charming. It is a bit jarring seeing everyone with white painted faces, rosy cheeks and somewhat minimalistic movements, but the aesthetic of interiors and the world make up for this. If you travel at night-time the snow is silhouetted beautifully, with some outlines leading you to safety while others are red herrings to your death.
Even though the game has been around for around 4 years, The Long Dark still suffers from bugs, glitches and general annoyances. I encountered 3 crashes during my time with the story mode, each time I swapped between the different episodes, another when I was loading an exterior. Thankfully the autosaves meant I lost only a minute of progress. Animals can get stuck on the terrain, I found one bunny running for all eternity into a car, while a bear would float up a sheer drop. Guts and hides from previous episodes are also broken in later episodes as they will no longer cure, which is a major pushback for crafting. With this latest release, hopefully, they will work towards sorting some of these errors out.
Overall, The Long Dark gets a 9/10, it is engaging, tactical and a great experience. The story mode can use a lot of work, which thankfully the developers have already slated to be changed in winter. Survival is hard, while not feeling too abusive, alongside challenges giving us an even harder objective to work towards. The wait between updates can feel way too long, with some people having waited over a year for the next episode to release, but that is more a mark against the company than the game itself. If you are a fan of survival games then The Long Dark could be one of the mainstays in your library.