Early Access Preview: ‘The Long Dark’

Early Access Preview: ‘The Long Dark’

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A year and some change ago, I wrote with great enthusiasm about an upcoming Kickstarter project from Hinterland, a new independent video game developer with a star-studded roster. That video game is none other than The Long Dark, a post-apocalyptic survival game that has you making a stand against the frigid elements of the Canadian Northwest. Since its Early Access release on Steam this past September, I’ve finally had the chance to try my hand at eeking out a miserable existence. With the full release still being a ways off, I’m curious to see how the game progresses development, but so far so good.

What It Does Well

To put it simply, The Long Dark is one of the most organic survival games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. Though most post-apocalyptic games hop on either the nuclear war or zombie epidemic bandwagon, Hinterland uses its own backyard as the basis for its dystopian scenario. You are a pilot who’s crash-landed after a strange electromagnetic disturbance that renders all electronics useless. Cold and unprepared for such an event, you find yourself trudging through the snow trying to scavenge for supplies in abandoned shacks and off of frozen corpses of the less fortunate.

Despite the intrinsic terror associated with surviving a plane crash, only to find yourself without food or shelter in a permafrosted wilderness, the art direction behind The Long Dark is truly a sight to behold. It’s almost like you’re living inside a mix between an oil painting and a graphic novel. To watch the sun rise above the snow-covered pines or the flickering of the fire in a cast-iron stove as you try to keep yourself warm at night is almost as deadly as anything else you’ll encounter, if only because the game’s presentation is so mesmerizing. One time, I found myself caught in a blizzard, having been distracting with adventuring… which I suppose leads me to my first tip of: DON’T LET NATURE GET THE BEST OF YOU. Then again, I guess that’s the entire premise.

Now, when I say “one of the most organic survival games” I’ve played, I mean just that. The Long Dark doesn’t gussy itself up with undead entrails or radioactive wastelands. It’s just you against Mother Nature, trying to satisfy the most basic needs of Maslow’s Hierarchy. You’re not bogged down with much of a UI, aside from brief readouts on calorie stores and health. You have to budget your resources, including your own energy: the more you move and the colder you are, the more calories you burn. This puts in a somewhat precarious position since traversing the tundra will cost you both energy and warmth, but you have to choose which one you’ll lose more of. Go ahead and run, you’ll just die tired… and if you decide to walk, you might turn into a human popsicle before you reach safety. Oh, the possibilities.

Where It Can Improve

At present, The Long Dark currently lacks its story mode, though players can run around “Mystery Lake” in the game’s sandbox mode. Whereas other previews hail the game’s notably lack of other people (at least, of the living variety), I personally find that it makes for a rather lonely experience. Sure, you’re preoccupied with making sure your store of granola bars and energy drinks lasts as long as possible, but for a game that has so much focus on survival, I was surprised that mental health wasn’t another statistic to watch too. Moreover, I’m puzzled as to why there are dead people in the first place. Why did they die? What were they doing there to begin with? I suppose (or at least hope) these are questions that will be answered in story mode.

I’ll admit that for where it’s at right now, The Long Dark‘s survival mechanics are sufficient, yet could still use a bit more fleshing out. Aside from hoping that there’ll be a mental health stat, it’d be cool to see some more crafting options to help fend for yourself. In such a vivid world, I’d be surprised if the developers didn’t allow us to interact with all the objects within it. Being able to break down an old chair, for example, into kindling for a fire, or ripping up old clothes for bandages or even hand-wraps if you’ve found yourself without gloves. The game gives you the basics, but it’s that dash of clever human ingenuity that is vital to our continued survival, even in the waking world. In fact, that sort of creativity might be able to fill the void where friendly human contact should be (I’m looking at you, Minecraft).

VERDICT

If Hinterland keeps it up, The Long Dark will be a strong debut piece for the young company of veteran designers. With its beautiful visuals and immersive mechanics thriving on the simplicity of its execution, this will be one game that all survival enthusiasts will crave like you eyeing up that old piece of jerky you found laying in one of the fishing shacks out on Mystery Lake.

The Long Dark can currently be purchased in its alpha state on Early Access for $19.99 and, according to the game’s official website, the full release is slated for “later in 2014.” Provided they haven’t frozen to death, a little under two months is hardly a wait for such a stellar game.

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Anthony Magestro

Anthony "Tony" Magestro--or known on the field of battle as Metzge--is an avid writer, gamer, and entrepreneur. When he's not writing, gaming, or entrepreneuring, he enjoys cooking, trippy movies, and trying to be awesome to varying degrees of success. Feel free to check out his LinkedIn page, especially if you need freelance help with content writing or digital marketing. Or just like to network, that's fine too.