The Long Dark Review

Review by Sashamorning

Posted by Stealth David   21st August 2017

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Simply put, The Long Dark is the best survival game I've ever played

Hinterland's wilderness survival title has been in Game Preview for quite a while, and has finally made it into full launch with more features that expand the experience. The basic premise: you have crashed in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, and you must stay alive in the face of Mother Nature in all of her fury. It's not an easy task.

The beauty of The Long Dark is in the details, from the rich backgrounds to the restrained music, the sounds of your pack jangling, the almost imperceptible way the wind pushes you off balance. You move down a steep slope and you can hear and feel how your character lands with each step (or misstep). You light a torch and the light flickers off the snow; throw your flare and the bubble of light trails through the snow until it's out of sight. In extreme cold, your breath creates a glare in front of you, making it more difficult to see through the haze. You push through a sudden blizzard, sure that you're on the path to a farm, but all of the rocks look just like the outline of the building. You wander through the fog on a partially frozen marsh, aware that the ice may break at any time. It's bewildering, taut, and incredibly fun.

I've been following the evolution of the game since it was first released on the console. And it has evolved. The game now covers approximately 50 square kilometers which, when you're on foot, is an eternity. (For comparison, Skyrim was 37 square miles, with the added benefits of fast travel and automapping. The Long Dark has neither.) If you are avoiding any game guides, finding your way to other regions will require extensive exploration. At least one pass was so well tucked away that I needed two videos to find it, and it was still hard to spot.

The game features three basic modes: Wintermute, an episodic story-based tutorial mode; the Survival sandbox mode; and Challenge mode, where you must complete certain tasks criss-crossing the map in a limited amount of time.

Wintermute provides an overarching context to the game, consisting of five interactive episodes. Two are included in the launch title; the remaining three are included in the launch price, and will be released later. In the first two episodes, the player assumes the role of pilot Will MacKenzie who is flying doctor Astrid Greenwood to a remote location. The plane encounters a mysterious geomagnetic phenomenon (the "aurora";), which seems to have disabled all electronics in the world. The plane crashes, and when Will wakes, he is alone and must find his way to what is left of civilization.

In the process, Will must learn how to do the basic elements of survival: staying warm, fishing, hunting, avoiding food poisoning, etc. With no idea of his bearings, he must learn to navigate by landmarks. Wintermute provides a solid foundation for surviving, as well as the sandbox Survival mode. Nevertheless, some players may find Wintermute tedious due to long fetch quests, even though they are helpful in teaching players the dangers in the game.

But make no mistake, no matter how compelling the story is (or will be), it serves simply to introduce players to Survival Mode, the clear centerpiece of the game. Even after playing the launch version for 65 hours now (with some knowledge of the game from hundreds of hours the Preview), I've only visited 5 of the 7 regions. The game is that vast. However, don't think that backtracking is the cause for so much of that time. Wandering through the same area twice is completely different based on the time of day and the weather.

In Survival, the player is placed in one of the games seven regions (one of which was new at the official launch) and must immediately find their bearings and locate gear to survive. Environmental factors vary from game to game, and items are random. Even with the same landscape, there is enough variation in the environment to keep players concerned about survival at every step.

The weather is a formidable entity in its own right. Clear skies can instantly give way to blizzards that stretch across several days, taxing your food and fuel reserves. If you decide to brave the storm, you risk sub-zero temperatures and double-digit windchills. You can find or craft clothing to protect you, but regardless of how well you prepare you're going to need to know where the next cave or building is, and carry enough equipment with you to get there.

The animals in the environment don't display quite as much diversity as the landscape. Roaming around the wilderness are rabbits and wolves and bears (oh my!) that make for great eating. However, their behavior is largely the same, making them easier to anticipate. Rabbits run away, bears defend their territory, and wolves...well, you can imagine. These still make for harrowing encounters since running away is not an option. Players must rely on their intelligence to fight animals on their own terms, or find ways to escape. Waiting them out also requires food and water reserves, which can weigh you down.

The game has several difficulty levels. Pilgrim is generous with loot, and animals run away, allowing for a more relaxed play style, while still giving newer players a challenging experience. Over time, food and resources will be used up, requiring you to improvise in order to continue surviving. At the other extreme, Interloper provides a brutally punishing exercise in torture. Survival equipment is rare, food spoils rapidly, and you are always being hunted by wildlife. From the moment you spawn, you have no resources, the cold assaults you, and making fire and finding food are not guaranteed. There is even an achievement related to Interloper--the only difficulty-related achievement--for surviving for at least 24 hours. (It took me 8 tries to finally get it. Once I was killed by wolves within 3 minutes.)

The game's HUD reflects the sparse nature of the experience. You know that the sun is rising and setting, but the passage of time is fluid and uncertain. A fire might last 1 hour and 15 minutes based on the fuel, but an hour nap might be too long or too short. A blizzard might strike while you are boiling water, causing the fire to go out. Crafting items in the open is also risky. It takes time to craft and cook, and if you aren't in a shelter, you may be attacked or freeze.

As I said before, the game is vast, and the developers encourage players to explore the entire world through the achievement list. There is a lot to see and do, including climbing a large mountain and discovering every location. Even after 65 hours, I have only found 71% of the world in five of the seven regions. (Yes, I might have gone faster, but I found myself wanting to move slower.

One factor worth mentioning : the game has suffered from a few technical glitches at launch, which has detracted from the experience, but Hinterland has moved quickly to address these issues. Their level of community engagement is extraordinary, which is worth mentioning as they respond to players' concerns and suggestions. This has gone a long way to compensate for any hiccups I have encountered, although they should be considered by players looking to purchase the game.

But don't let that stop you from immersing yourself in The Long Dark. The game possesses considerably more content than quite a few AAA retail releases, and in my opinion a much more solid interactive experience. Hinterland has created a distilled, concentrated version of the wilderness survival experience, with nuances requireing players to consider a myriad of factors for actual survival. They have also left the door open for considerable expansion and content.

I've already spent a lot more time in The Long Dark than other any game in recent memory, and I've barely touched the story. Even with somewhat repetitive animal encounters diminishing some of the challenge of exploring, tedious story quests, and some lingering technical concerns, these are minor compared to richness of Survival mode, giving players the experience of surviving in the face of Mother Nature's cruelty. The Long Dark offers an experience well worth immersing yourself in, and provides a standard by which other survival games should be measured.

Score 10/10 Review by Sashamorning

    Administrator Stealth David 21 Aug 2017 09:05 pm

    Great job Sasha

      News Editor Sashamorning 21 Aug 2017 09:47 pm


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