I finally had time the other night to dig into one of my Steam summer sale purchases: The Long Dark. Out of the widening field of survival-type games, this one’s kept my attention over the years for its more natural setting and its kind of attractive art design. No zombies, no cannibals (that I know of), just a lot of snow, ice, hints of the apocalypse, and hungry wolves.
Loading up, I elected to play a standard sandbox game of Mystery Lake. Without any instruction or futher ado, the game dumped me right into the middle of the Canadian north, with snow, pine trees, and rocks to all sides. I had a backpack full of gear, but it was quickly apparent that the environment was the true monster here. Without food, I’d die. Without water, I’d die. Without heat, I’d become a Sypsicle. And without sleep, I’d start to fall apart. It’s the basics of survival in a very inhospitable place, and that’s kind of appealing.
Without any signs or hints where to go, I struck out in a random direction and was eventually rewarded with the sight of my first cabin. It was a shell of a structure with only a wood stove inside. I failed at making a fire in it to warm up — and lost my only tinder (a firemaking essential) in the process.
Happily, I spied a much better cabin not too far away and stumbled gratefully up to it.
It was a great find: A cabin that had most all of the essentials (save water), a ton of items to loot, a bed in which to sleep, and a stove. I raised all my levels as best I could and prepared for some small forays into the surrounding areas.
I’ll say this about The Long Dark, it’s got a great design. I didn’t need much explanation to figure out the controls, start crafting, place items, or interact with the world. The HUD is incredibly minimalistic, disappearing entirely unless something happens or you hit the tab key to get stats.
I took a step outside in the night, but quickly retreated when I saw that there was a full-fledged blizzard. It also doesn’t help that the night is pretty dang dark.
Some of the vistas reminded me a lot of Firewatch’s visuals — just with a lot more snow. The next morning dawned and I was still alive. A miracle! But I couldn’t stay much longer; I had to continue to look for more supplies, not to mention some water. Is that the goal of the sandbox? To continually journey or to eventually set up a base camp?
From what little I know of the backstory here, The Long Dark takes place after a massive geothermal storm has thrown civilization out of whack. It’s probably good I wasn’t thrown into the many parts of Canada where there is no remnant of humanity at all. There are plenty of cabins if you keep looking, some of which come with mysteriously frozen corpses.
Mid-morning, I got my first glimpse of a wolf, mostly as it charged right at me and tried to take me down. I went into a panic, trying to figure out how you use weapons and fight, and I guess it was here that the game failed me, because I had no idea other than to furiously click. The wolf hurt me nicely and shredded some of my clothing. I think I got him back, because he ran away whimpering and trailing blood.
The attack and its aftermath felt very disorienting, and other than being miffed that I couldn’t fight well, I thought it did a great job communicating this experience.
A logging road led to train tracks, and those train tracks led — to my surprise — to a dam. Against my better judgment (and my dwindling light sources), I went inside and looted a bit while getting completely turned around in its large halls.
There were also some wolves prowling around, although a funny moment happened when I saw one, expected an attack as it ran toward me, and then laughed as it sped right on by, whimpering in fear at my flare. KEEP RUNNING WOLF.
It was here that my life came to a quick and nasty end, as I slipped on a bit of ice and plummeted over the far side of the dam and down onto the frozen lake.
I think this might be an interesting game to pull out now and then to explore, although I would be more interested in a story mode with some sense of purpose.