The Long Dark is one of those games that you hate to love, simply due to the fact that it’s so damn hard but far too enticing to put down. Following a lengthy stay in Game Preview, The Long Dark is finally upon us, or part of it at least, dishing up one of the most hardcore survival experiences that I can honestly say I’ve ever played. Developer Hinterland take no prisoners with The Long Dark, you’re either in or you’re out, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The Long Dark offers up a total of three game modes, all of which are tethered to the brutally unforgiving core functionality of play, survive until you cave in and submit to your one true foe within, the harsh relentless enemy that will be with you every second of the way, the cold.
Starting with Survival Mode, you’re able to choose your difficulty tier and then dive into one of the seven locations that are available, which also vary in difficulty. Any supplies you have from the get-go will depend on the difficulty tier that you selected, but that’s irrelevant because regardless as to the tier, you need more and you need them fast. It’s freeing and the sun is rapidly setting, so off you pop to get a lay of the land and deduct which route will see you through. In this mode, there really isn’t any set objective outside of surviving for as long as you can before you die. That may sound as though it will wear thin before long, but thanks to the intriguing gameplay and addictive nature of surviving just one more day, the replay value is as strong as can be.
You’ll be constantly vigilant of your surroundings, seeking out structures, and travelling between the locations within. You can pull up your observation wheel at any time, which will show you a handful of gauges that you’ll need to ensure do not run dry. These range from health, temperature, thirst, hunger, and tiredness. It’s a very tough task to try and keep on top of each meter, but once the flow of the gameplay begins to kick in and you become acquainted with what does what and how it affects each meter, survival mode starts to get much more bearable.
It’s not just the cold you need to worry about, you need to be on the look out for beasts in the wilderness too. Hunger means just as much to a grizzly bear as it does to you, and they see you as nothing more than a walking pork chop. There’s a constant sense of danger in The Long Dark on a level that I can’t say I’ve witnessed in other survival games. Sure, any bog standard survival game will relay how important it is to resource manage and scavenge, but the tension in this game in particular is through the roof. Never have I felt such relief to find shelter, or locate something as trivial as a snack. The Long Dark excels as a survival game and certainly stands high above many other games that share the genre.
Outside of survival mode there’s the newly implemented campaign, Wintermute. This story mode is episodic and sees you stranded in the mountains following a plane crash. There’s more structure here than there is in the survival mode, and although the narrative leaves much to be desired, it’s a story well worth following. You’ll also get a tutorial here that houses just enough depth to give you the basics of play without outstaying its welcome. It ties in quite well with the premise too, being that you’re low on supplies and you need to survive until you’re strong enough to make your way out of the immediate area.
Despite the fact that the tutorial gives you the basics of play, it also purposely leaves a lot of information out. This is after all a survival game and The Long Dark certainly wants you to learn the hard way. With that being said, you shouldn’t have much issue with many of the mechanics so long as you apply some forward thinking. Carrying meat will be like ringing the dinner bell for nearby wildlife, lighting a fire anywhere close to high wind wont do you much good, stay in the open for too long and you may as well strap a light bulb to your head for anything dangerous that lurks nearby. Everything you do in The Long Dark requires a blend of common sense and consideration to how the world functions.
At launch we only have two of the five planned episodes for the story, but if these lengthy episodes are anything to go by, I can’t begin to imagine what Hinterland has in store for us next. When I sit back and think about how well structures The Long Dark is, and just how much careful planning has gone into the experience, it tells me that these devs are not going to put all of their cards on the table in one go. I fully expect to see more wonderful mechanics being implemented as eps three, four, and five are set loose. What Hinterland have succeeded in doing is setting up an intriguing (slow moving) story that shows a world in despair, and you’re stuck bang in the middle of deep shit.
The final mode that you can take to is the challenge mode. This works very much like survival mode but gives you goals of varying difficulties that you can work towards. Successfully completing these requirements will gift you with permanent abilities, which doesn’t necessarily make the game any easier, but they do indeed aid you nevertheless. Irrespective of what mode you gravitate towards, The Long Dark is absolutely gorgeous. The level of detail from ground to sky is breathtaking, and this is all upheld by a wonderful soundtrack that does well at setting the mood of theme.
Unfortunately however, The Long Dark does suffer from some instability issues. The game crashed on me twice during survival mode, which is frustrating beyond belief. I’m not sure if this problem is tied just to this mode but it needs addressing either way. The other issue sits with frame rate, which can jitter from time to time regardless as to what you’re doing. Hopefully a patch will soon release that rids the game of these problems, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point them out beforehand. With that to the side, The Long Dark houses more than enough content to justify the price point, survivalist gamers, here’s your next challenge.
The Long Dark is an impressive survival game that clearly showcases what Hinterland are capable of. There’s so many functions and mechanics in the gameplay that require forward thinking and common sense, but to leave this experience and digest what I was subject to, I found a great appreciation for just how in-depth Hinterland have chosen to go. The three modes on offer collectively dish up tens of hours worth of play, which sits well with the fair asking price. It may come with some optimisation issues, but in the face of everything that The Long Dark gets right, these are small complaints that are hopefully addressed by a patch soon. The bottom line here is that you’re getting a stunning survival game that emphasises the genre to a great extent, and it will either make or break you in the process.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.