In the mountainous range of Canada, pilot Will MacKenzie loses control of his plane and crashes into the desolate wilderness. With only the scraps from his plane and remains he can scavenge from the emptiness around him he must find a way to survive in an environment which is hell-bent on killing him.
The Long Dark operates around three engaging modes as well as additional content under the extra’s tab. This minimalist indie has expanded on its survival mode and implemented a narrative in the form of five episodic instalments known collectively as The Wintermute. Each of these instalments’ tasks you with the role of keeping Will alive through dramatic weather conditions, hostile wildlife and starvation all while maintaining his other vital signs to stay alive long enough to experience the story.
Each episode features long portions of gameplay knitted together by cutscenes which piece by piece tie together the story in the form of chapters. Initial animated cutscenes are set only hours before the fateful crash and show that Will was not alone when his plane crashed but in-fact was undergoing an errand for his estranged wife Astrid, who demands to be flown through the storm to an unknown location, only to crash before reaching it. Once Will awakes he is alone, Astrid is nowhere to be found and with no communication to the outside world Will has no choice but to follow her trail.
The first episode titled Do Not Go Gentle drops you immediately in the gameplay and cleverly introduces the main mechanics of the game. It may be relatively slow-paced but it effectively teaches you life lessons which prove essential in such harsh environments. Once you have learnt how to start a fire, boil snow into water and avoid the wolves that roam the forest the narrative begins to take hold. With an engaging story The Long Dark becomes a thrilling trek through the woods with a slowly increasing pace. Tensions rise when Will stumbles across the abandoned town of Milton where he begins to comprehend the scope of the situation he’s in and the severity of environmental disaster which is halted civilization in its tracks.
So far only episode one and two have been released with episode three coming in December this year, until then however you can still spend time with Hinterland’s adventure title in the form of its successful survival mode. Survival mode is set in the same world as Wintermute in a sandbox environment where you are free to explore the map without restrictions, testing your skills in a difficulty mode that suits you. Set in the aftermath of the same geomagnetic disaster known as the ‘first flare’ your aim is to survive. For an apocalypse setting The Quiet Dark has a distinct lack of zombies and your greatest adversary will be mother nature herself. Four modes of difficulty currently exist in The Lone Dark beginning with Pilgrim, a mode best suited for those who wish to calmly explore the environment at their own pace, before moving to Voyager and Stalker which are both more challenging than each mode before. The final setting is Interloper, a challenging difficulty where the odds are constantly stacked against you and death is a constant likelihood.
To build on these survival modes a custom mode has also been implemented as a separate build, in custom players design their own rules down to rate of loot, weather conditions and animal behaviour to name a few. Once these custom worlds have been designed a unique code will be generated allowing other players to face survival in your personal build. One thing that remains constant in all survival modes is the weight of permadeath on your shoulders. If you bleed out, fall sick to food poisoning or contract severe hypothermia all your progress is erased and you’ll have to start your survival expedition from day one.
Challenge mode offers you the chance to test various skills of survival in set of tests all unique from each other. These miniature modes set a you up with a task to complete over a series of months, hours or days. Some of these challenges with test the skills you’ve learnt in the survival and story modes and others teach new skills which can be transferred to other modes of gameplay. Overall these compact sections are enjoyable and diverse enough from one another that they warrant dedicated play throughs.
The map for The Long Dark is sectioned off into nine expansive areas which all contain unique environmental conditions which continually test a player as they move through each. It’s an extremely clever factor, one which keeps The Long Dark feeling fresh and expansive. Whilst most locations have clusters of houses you’ll spend most of your time outside in the cold which reveals two very different play styles. You can either embrace life in the harsh Canadian wilderness, kill rabbits, cook meat on a campfire, pull medical qualities from herbs and other natural plants, or scavenge what you can find in the limited number of unlocked houses in the world. Whilst cereal bars and canned beans are plentiful at first, they aren’t filling or overly nutritious and once you’ve looted all the supplies from one location they don’t re-spawn. This dynamic cleverly allows you to decide how much of your humanity you want to keep, becoming either the thief or a wild-man.
Harvesting and crafting plays an important role in the game and builds upon the collection aspect of gameplay. Many items throughout the world will have duel uses and normal everyday items can be broken down and reused to satisfy a more pressing need. Clothes can be turned into cloth and cloth can be broken down into bandages. Crates can be reworked into wood for fires meaning there is always a way to survive, but at times you may have to pick and chose between which items in their current form are more necessary to your survival.
The world of the Long Dark is breathtakingly beautiful, days roll into nights bringing with them stunning sunsets, skies dappled with pastel clouds and forests flush with soft colours enhanced in the light which adds life to an otherwise desolate world. Everything in The Lone Dark feels carefully implemented included the smaller factors of the design, sound design for example plays an enormous role in the overall atmosphere of the game. Stormy nights with howling winds leave you feeling frozen in the comfort of your own home and flickering fires produce a form of comfort even in the direst of situations.
For an indie game there is an impressive level of intricacy, just like a real-life survival you must ration your food, plan travels around diverse weather patterns and take care to avoid injury. Small touches such a cooked food warming you up or wet clothes increasing the risk of hypothermia add a factor of realism to the game. Because of the complexity to this survival indie there is never a moment of true security in the wilderness so waking up every morning to the unknown trials and tribulations of each day never gets old.
There’s little to nit-pick in The Long Dark as everything feels purposefully implanted, carefully considered to recreate an authentic survival experience. Loading times linger slightly but when you comprehend the colossal world that needs to be generated it can be forgiven. Item management could be more fluid and the small size of your backpack limits essential items you can lug around with you but once more this leaves The Lone Dark feeling more tense. Ever more, this feature creates a realistic nature, one that keeps the game stimulating and unfamiliar.
The Long Dark is a well cultivated survival game with an enthralling story mode heavily influenced by the early access survival mode which granted the game success back in 2014. The Long Dark beautifully pairs together intense survival an intriguing story resulting in an entrancing and addictive experience. With more content to come in future The Lone Dark is rewarding and enjoyable game, one that makes it worth struggling through those long cold nights.
*Code provided by the publisher for an honest review*