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The Long Dark

The Long Dark - Review Impressions

The narrative survival exits Early Access, but perhaps it should have waited a little longer.

  • Text: Ford James

We played The Long Dark on PlayStation 4, and your experience regarding bugs and crashes may differ on other platforms. We will return to the game soon to see if things have been fixed and post a proper scored review at that time.

When The Long Dark first hit Steam's early access program nearly three years ago, we were greeted by a barebones, yet mechanically solid and aesthetically stunning survival experience. Sandbox was the only mode available, where the goal was simply to survive for as long as possible. Hinterland Studio said the story mode was in the works, but after some time there was little news and fans began to grow impatient. The hype continued to escalate for the story on the subreddit and Steam forums for the game, but it wasn't until the full release that players got to taste the narrative for the first time. And boy oh boy, it couldn't have gone poorer for the Canada-based developers.

It's a very cliché concept: in both the story and the sandbox mode, players assume the role of a pilot whose plane has crash landed in the wintery lands of northern Canada due to a mysterious EMP effect. Wolves, bears, and other fauna are the only inhabitants, except for one or two other people during the story mode. Nearly everybody else has left the region for fear of their safety, so looting abandoned houses and forgotten vehicles is the only way to survive. Managing your thirst, hunger, warmth, fatigue, and more is key to not fading into the darkness or becoming a wolf's next meal.

Wintermute, the more linear focused story mode, is clearly the mode Hinterland wants players to tackle first. It's the option at the top of the main menu, but for those who haven't previously experienced The Long Dark's unforgiving nature in the sandbox mode, it's not the place to start. In Wintermute, the protagonist is given a name; Will Mackenzie, who is approached by his ex-wife Astrid to fly her out to a remote location, despite the treacherous weather conditions. Will begrudgingly accepts, and big surprise, the plane goes down and the two get separated. The narrative is solely focused on tracking down Astrid and getting the two of you out of the snowy hell you've both landed in.

The tutorial is abhorrent. There's no other way to put it; you're not given any guidance, no button prompts, no on-screen objectives, nothing, and instead you're fllicking in and out of the options screen to double check the controls, then into the mission tab to see what you're supposed to be doing is frequent. Perhaps most laughable is the text that appears when you try to harvest some Rose Hips which are used to make tea that has healing properties, as the game simply tells you "you don't need these yet" and refuses to let you pick them. The main goal is to survive and the player is being told they can't collect a useful ingredient yet? Mind-blowing.

The Long Dark

Killing and harvesting innocent rabbits is a necessary part of surviving in the harsh blizzards, and early on you stumble across an icy plain that has the bouncy buggers scampering everywhere. Your only weapon is a plethora of rocks lying around, and you need to lob them from afar to knock out the bunnies so you can pick them up and snap their necks. The problem is that there is no crosshair or icon whatsoever, and the throwing is inconsistent at best. 'Aiming' is just putting your hand up and with how far away you must be to stop them from fleeing if you get too close, so it takes ages to become skilled enough to hit them frequently.

With a character that requires feeding and watering far more often than any normal person would, managing the stats to stop yourself from perishing due to simple malnourishment becomes such a chore. Realistically, a person can survive up to three weeks without food and three days without water, yet Will Mackenzie can eat two entire venison steaks and still be hungry, then do the same six in-game hours later. It's a video game after all, so keeping it to strict real-life requirements would be nonsensical, but with how it is currently, it takes days to be able to do anything due to the constant babysitting of his hunger and thirst levels.

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