Over here in the UK we have mild weather. We moan if it’s too hot, we moan if it’s too cold. Nature really is good to us in some ways. After seeing the Xbox preview programme I finally jumped into The Long Dark, a game about surviving in the harshest of the Canadian Winters.
The game starts off by throwing you in to the wilderness. This is after your plane has crashed, caused by a global disaster. There’s nothing to tell you what to do or where to go, but your survival instincts kick in looking for shelter at the first opportunity. You may comes across a few branches which can be broken down in to sticks, which can then be crafted in to weapons or used as fuel for a fire. But every action you take costs time and precious energy that wilts away every second you spend in the frozen wind.
There is no map in the game and without a map, the only orientation you have is through the landscape, so finding those points is important. Get lost here and you may very well succumb to the cold, or worse the wolves. You will eventually come across a habitable shack or house, an empty shell where life once existed. You will find some items that will help you survive a little bit longer, a can opener, a tin of soup, some rifle ammunition, beef jerky or if you’re lucky a hunting rifle. You may find an open heater, cooker or a bed, but you will always need to move forward to find new resources when your supplies run low. All of your equipment degrades with time, but can be repaired as long as you have the materials. You can hunt rabbits, deer and wolf, and craft new clothing items to really make that transformation in to a man (or woman) of the land. But none of this really matters if you can’t learn to hunt and look after yourself.
As you progress you’ll notice warning signs all around you as you trek through the environment. Frozen human corpses lay where they’ve finally lost the will to live and given into the harsh environments, and deer that have been attacked and killed by a pack of wolves. Bodies can be looted, and you may find some useful items, but the longer a corpse has been exposed to the cold, the longer it can take to loot. The environment remains unchanged each time you play, but the placement of items is random, so every time you enter a building you never know what you’re going to find.
The HUD is minimal, only displaying what you wouldn’t be able to feel unless you are there in the bitter wind. How hungry and cold you are and your current level of tiredness. It works really well, and other clues come directly from your character. An exhale from your breath, a word to yourself that your hands are freezing, a yawn, all of these give away your current mental status, and prolonging these afflictions will eventually cause some damage.
The game looks beautiful, like a washed out watercolour painting as you trek through the wilderness, and colour is used to highlight points of interest. When lighting a fire in a building the warmth of the reds breaks the relative sterility of the cold colour palette and you can feel the heat emanate from the source. Eventually the fire will die, and unless you have the materials to keep it going, you won’t be able to cook that freshly killed deer, and the surrounding cold will creep back.
When night finally drops, so does the temperature and finding shelter will be the most important thing on your mind. Keeping a fire burning and resting your weary head, while trying to keep your hunger and thirst in check. The sunrises are something to behold after the night starts to fade, and there are plenty of weather effects too. I ventured in to a building for no more than a few minutes and when I exited there was a blanket of fog in which I could see no more than 20ft ahead. It can be disorientating to say the least, but again those vital landmarks will get you going in the right direction.
The game world as it stands is interconnected, and there are transitional screens from when you enter a building, or pass over to another environment, but in total there are 3 distinct areas. The Mystery Lake, Coastal Highway and Pleasant Valley, and you can only reach the next area by exploring the current sandbox area.
When the game does finally leave it’s current beta stage, it will have a full single player game, explaining the story behind the global catastrophe. At the moment only the sandbox component is available. As it currently stands, Hinterland are updating the gameplay regularly and new ideas and bugs are currently being worked out, not that I encountered many of these.
If you are looking for a different approach to the survival genre, then you can’t go to wrong with The Long Dark. It has a basic crafting system not to dissimilar to Far Cry 3, more than say Minecraft, but the real effort in survival here is looting and scavenging from the environment. If you are not a fan of permanently losing your character this may not be for you. But for those willing to learn through your mistakes, then The Long Dark is worth giving a go.