We all know about survival horror, but what about just survival? It’s an interesting concept, and the genre has had an explosion in recent years, with games like Rust, DayZ or ARK: Survival Evolved. But unlike those games, where the threat to your longevity could be zombies, dinosaurs or other hostile players, in The Long Dark you’ll be grappling with Mother Nature herself … and she’s quite mad.
Even though this isn’t a horror title, it can still be terrifying. I would often jump out of my skin when stumbling into a pitch black cabin, with the wind howling outside and the wooden floors creaking beneath my feet, thinking there was someone (or something) behind me. Or when confronting a rabid wolf during a blizzard, brandishing only a lit flare or embers on a stick. The spike of adrenaline in my bloodstream would trigger goose bumps, and the hairs on my body would stand on end in genuine fear. I loved it.
Independent developer Hinterland Studio have created an open world in the aftermath of a geomagnetic disaster for you to explore. This challenges players to be resourceful without relying on any electrical devices. You’ll need to start fires for warmth, fend off dangerous wildlife, scavenge for food or hunt for your own, using a snare, bow, and arrow, or even go ice fishing. (I’m starting to have a bit of Déjà vu here). (So am I – Ed).
There is no hand holding in this post-disaster survival simulation game. No clues, no nothing. Everything is designed to be as immersive as possible. It felt this way when I was forced to draw out my own maps. Early on in the game, I accidentally broke down my only knife, and didn’t find another one for about twelve days (game time) and only discovered how to craft a new one even later. There’s also no fast travel option, so if you want to get somewhere, you’ll have to hoof it. Without a compass, players will need to be creative to find their way around, relying on the sun for direction, leaving a paper trail, or have a razor sharp memory.
The Long Dark is still in early access, but there are a few options outside of the sandbox to test your survival skills. These are challenges which give you an objective. The first is to find your way to the summit of Timberwolf Mountain, find the distress pistol, and signal for help. And in the second, for more experienced players, you are not the hunter, but the hunted. A ravenous old bear will chase you headlong into the woods, and you must reach the Trappers cabin in the Mystery Lake to escape.
The art design and graphics are best described as a detailed cartoon or a watercolour painting. Some players might prefer the more photo realistic look. But personally, I think this style gets it right, it does a good job of creating a harrowing atmosphere, and it never removed me from the game for any reason. The dynamic weather conditions add some much needed visual spice, from setting suns to spectacular blizzards, which limit your view to only a few feet. And I have already mentioned how chilling the sound effects are. Just a hint, if you hear the growl of a wild beast, and you have nothing to defend yourself with, drop some food and run!
My overall first impressions are extremely positive. I’ve spent many hours trudging through the snow, discovering the Northern Canadian wilderness. The Long Dark scratched an itch I forgot I had and I eagerly await more challenges, to discover just how humanity has fallen. You can too by checking out the game on Steam. If you’ve played it, let us know what you think in the comments down below.
Tim Pearce is a freelance journalist and contributor to PN2.