Every now and again leaving the comfort of preferred gaming genres can pay off, especially when it comes to a title that stands head and shoulders among its peers. The Long Dark from Canadian developer Hinterland Studio is a title so wonderful, it transcends the survival genre, providing an experience that any type of video game fan could enjoy. Whether it’s surviving the deeply detailed environmental mechanics of Northern Canada or becoming invested in the fates of the two stranded protagonists struggling to find their way, The Long Dark provides an absolutely gut wrenching good time.
Surviving the bitter cold of the Canadian Arctic comes in three flavours: Wintermute, Survival, and Challenge Mode. Wintermute follows the story of Will Mckenzie and Doctor Astrid Greenwood, a former couple who reconnect because of a medical emergency in a remote area of Canada. Dr. Greenwood has few options available to travel to the remote location but luckily enough, her ex-husband just happens to be a bush pilot with a plane that can take her there. The only problem: a nasty storm is developing that makes travelling a dangerous proposition. As fate would have it, the plane carrying the pair is hit with a flash of light, disabling the electrical system which causes the plane to crash. Awakening alone in the middle of a forest, Will must utilize the supplies he has around him in order to survive long enough to locate his missing ex-wife and find a way to return to civilization.
The story of The Long Dark is a thrilling tale that is broken down into five episodes. The first follows the journey of Will Mckenzie as he discovers the town of Milton not far from the site of the crash. The town is almost completely deserted except for the lone home of an elderly blind woman who is unable and unwilling to leave the town. Will is tasked with finding supplies to help the woman survive the upcoming winter. As Will travels the area finding supplies to both stay alive and provide future supplies for the old woman, he discovers clues to Dr. Greenwood’s whereabouts and learns more about the backstory of the town and world at large. The town is quite large, and the pace at which the story progresses is dependent upon the amount of time spent exploring all of the different buildings and areas.
The second episode continues with Will following in the footsteps of Astrid into a new location and meeting up with new characters. The map for the second episode leans more into surviving in a forested area but still maintains a vast size map to explore. The final accessible episode is the third, here the story changes gears and focuses on Astrid and the course of events that have afflicted her after the crash. The story mode provides a terrific way to experience the survival mechanics but also provides an engaging narrative that provides a much more focused path through the wilderness. Unfortunately, the story mode is currently incomplete, with the final episodes still under development. The fourth episode is due out in 2021 with the final sometime after, likely 2022 or beyond. It’s disappointing that the conclusion to the story is not yet available but the first two-thirds are still enjoyable enough to experience right away.
The survival mode provides an experience that allows a focus on simply staying alive in the beautiful backwoods of Canada. The sheer amount of mechanics is impressive, most of which are discovered simply by the experience of survival. Inventory management is a key gameplay mechanic, requiring a thoughtful approach to the way food is found and carried, which clothes to wear, and what kind of tools should be carried. Often the game will provide instructions on different mechanics, such as predators being drawn to Will if he’s carrying a fish based food item. Other times visual or auditory clues alert to certain dangers like clothes becoming wet and leading to hypothermia.
Almost everything found within the game can be utilized in some form or another. Enter a building and any book or pamphlet in reach can be used as kindling. Furniture can be broken down into wood or metal if you happen to be carrying an ax or hacksaw. Survival relies on the character making do with the items at their disposal in order to keep 4 key metrics from falling too low and reducing health: Stamina, Hunger, Thrist, and Temperature. A degree of meter monitoring is required in order to stay alive but the speed at which they go down is done so in a very intuitive way. Meters will drop slower or faster depending on the specific situation. Get caught in a snowstorm and the temperature drops more rapidly, running for extending periods of time will reduce the stamina gauge much faster. The unique ways that the meters can be refilled means that the focus is never required on any specific item or mechanic. For instance, thirst can be reduced by syphoning the toilets of the local homes for potable water. It may not be a pretty way to survive, but it works.
The exceptional work by Hinterland Studio is a perfect example of how indie developers are breathing new life into genres that have felt stagnant for some time. The Long Dark is not only one of the best survival games available, it also features a thrilling story with twists and turns at every corner. Thanks to the multiple play modes that provide many many hours of entertainment, The Long Dark is truly the type of game to want if ever stranded on a deserted island, or stuck in a lone cabin in the middle of the Canadian Arctic.
Score: 9 / 10
- Insane amount of survival mechanics
- Vast areas with lots of possible exploration
- Engaging, edge of your seat story
- loading screens entering buildings
- Incomplete story