Imagine, for a moment, that you were traveling across the country and in an instant, there is a global disaster that brings the apocalypse upon the world. In one moment, you were flying over Canada and in the next, your aircraft was swiftly losing altitude and crashed into the Canadian wilderness. There's no supernatural or undead threat; no zombies, no murderous psychopaths. It's just you and Mother Nature. How long do you think you'd last?
The Long Dark is an experience that hoists such an inconvenience upon you. In this first-person survival 'simulation,' players step into the shoes of either a male or female protagonist and begin their journey of survival in the middle of the freezing, Canadian wilderness. You will have to closely monitor several factors to ensure your survival while also venturing out to gather supplies, locate shelter and defend yourself against any and every hostile creature lurking in the woods. It was developed by Hinterland, a studio founded by Raphael van Lierop (Warhammer 40,000: Space Machine) alongside notable contributors such as Alan Lawrence (formerly a part of Volition), Hokyo Lim (former art director on League of Legends), Marianne Krawczyk (writer of the God of War series), David Chan (BioWare's first audio designer), and Ken Rolston (lead designer of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind).
It's an experience unlike any other, where fighting for your life doesn't come by way of fighting zombies or an oppressive military operation attempting to cover up a global disaster; it's simply you and the harsh, unforgiving nature of...nature. In the first five minutes, it's made abundantly clear that exploration and monitoring your statistics is key for surviving as long as possible. You must consistently scavenge for supplies such as food, fluids, weapons, ammunition and consumables like cloth, bandages and numerous useful items. Interestingly enough, everything seems to be randomly generated so that no two play-throughs are ever the same. You may be able to find useful items all in the same place the first time, but the second time you play, that same spot where you located a full day's supply of food might just be completely empty. In addition, players must monitor their exposure to the cold or risk hypothermia. You may be able to find warmer clothes through exploration or take a few moments in your travels to find a nice spot for a campfire or a cabin to take shelter in and warm up before pressing onward. The inventory system allows for clothing adjustments or changes, additions and even removals if you're that far out of your tree.
It's in no way a scary or creepy game, but being completely alone in unfamiliar land can be a little unsettling until one does some significant exploration to determine that the only true threat aside from the bitter cold are the predatory creatures lurking in the wilderness such as wolves and bears. However, depending on the selected difficulty setting, those very predators will indeed be passive unless provoked. There are weapons that can be used to defend yourself from hostile beings, but even during a few extensive play-throughs, I wasn't able to locate anything worthwhile unless I really spent the time to explore and search; for example, I found a few rounds of ammunition, but never found the gun. However, weapons are indeed present in the game and come by way of a hunting rifle, a hatchet, a hunting knife and a survival bow. I'm making it a personal mission to find the bow just so I can impersonate Lara Croft.
The Long Dark is currently in Steam Early Access and Xbox One Game Preview stages and as such, only one of two modes are currently available. Sandbox mode, the currently available mode, allows the player to start off at a random spawn within one of the three released maps that the player may choose at the beginning, called Mystery Lake, Coastal Highway and Pleasant Valley. Coming late 2015 is the episodic story mode that adds NPCs to the experience that can be either friend or foe, as well as contributing to creating a more living, breathing atmosphere complete with moral complications in a survivalist environment.
To be fair, the only true and unfortunate downside to The Long Dark is the slightly unrealistic survival needs; in real life, humans can survive weeks without food and days without water, but The Long Dark requires a constant monitoring of hunger and thirst needs, as well as caloric intake. As such, players will find their protagonists dying of lack of sustenance even after a single in-game day. For a game that focuses heavily on survival simulation, I find the lack of realism in that regard to be rather ironic and a little disappointing. However, seeing as how the game is still in development, that is something that can be changed in the future.
The Long Dark is an experience that I whole-heartedly recommend. It's an original, innovative, immersive experience that really stands out in today's selection of games. It's gripping and unbelievably fun and does have a slight competitive edge, trying to outlive your friends. It is indeed a tiny bit bare at the moment with the lack of the story mode, but there is more than enough content in the sandbox mode to justify the asking price and get your money's worth and then some at this point. Considering that the story mode is coming soon, playing around with the sandbox mode is the perfect opportunity to brush up on your survival skills in preparation for the story mode, which will challenge you even further, with the inclusion of human characters with nothing but survival on the mind.
How long can you survive?