Bush pilot Will Mackenzie faces a gruelling battle for survival against the frozen wilds of Northern Canada when his plane is brought down by a geomagnetic storm. Waking up surrounded by the flaming twisted metal wreckage of his plane, it is your job to keep him alive as hypothermia begins to set in.
The Long Dark is punishing and survival is no mean feat. One moment, all could be going well in your battle against the elements when suddenly the things change. A nasty fall may sprain your ankle, reducing your mobility as a snowstorm stirs on the horizon and a wolf’s howl reverberates through the trees. The temperature rapidly drops as the glow of a campfire taunts you from the top of a mountain path. A false sense of security and a moment of over-confidence is all it takes to lose your battle against Mother Nature.
The Long Dark can be played in 2 ways – sandbox mode or the Wintermute. Wintermute is an episodic story mode, in which players control Mackenzie as he searches for his friends in the icy wilderness. It is loaded with tutorials designed to gradually introduce the game’s intricate systems. As such, it is essentially a prerequisite for players wishing to jump into the sandbox mode.
The problem with Wintermute is its linearity; players are guided from set location to location in order to complete long-winded fetch quests. Fortunately, Wintermute’s melancholy, emotional story is very well delivered, enhanced by wonderfully animated cutscenes.
The sandbox mode makes up for its lack of cutscenes by giving players the freedom to explore the series of interconnected maps, writing their own stories in the inhabitable Canadian mountains. Getting hopelessly lost is unavoidable and inevitable, but this is rarely frustrating as there are no objectives and no end game. All you have to do is survive.
Surviving in The Long Dark, like many survival games, comes down to managing constantly swindling meters, in this case, hunger, thirst and tiredness. The games mechanics and the ways you can choose to survive are based on genuine real-world tactics, and this authentic foundation helps to enhance the immersion as you try to keep death at arm’s length.
Speaking of death, if the hypothermia doesn’t get you, The Long Dark still has a plethora of ways to kill you. Eating spoiled meat, sleeping without a fire and falling prey to a bear are just a few of the ways that could bring about the end of your personal story.
While The Long Dark’s landscape is deadly, it is just as beautiful as it is unforgiving. Monumentous mountains rise through a gorgeous ever-shifting weather system, accentuated by stunningly colourful sunsets and sunrises. The hand-drawn textures and careful but deliberate use of colour make the landscape an eerily alluring place.
The Long Dark breaks away from the unimaginative, uninspired design that can plague the survival genre, and instead delivers a polished and refined experience.
The bleak and lonely frozen wilds hold all of the ingredients to write memorable stories of your own as you battle the elements on your mission to survive.
…crap, was that a wolf?