Back in the days of 2016, I purchased The Long Dark as part of a Steam summer sale. At the time, the game only offered survival mode, which I tried. It was generally well-done and I had a fun adventure, although survival games aren’t usually my thing and TLD didn’t do much to change that opinion. But I had heard that there was a story mode that was on the way in the future, so I tucked that thought in the back of my mind and tucked the game back into my library.
That little persistent thought of a story mode finally made me reload the game this past month to check it out. Right now, The Long Dark’s story — which is called “Wintermute” — consists of just two episodes with more to come. But two is more than none, and the revelation that BOTH of Mass Effect’s Shepherds did the voices here got me on board.
At the start, Wintermute plays like a straight-up adventure game in the vein of Firewatch. You’re Mackenzie, a semi-drunk airplane pilot in Canada who is biding his time as the world is falling to pieces around him. One night, his ex-wife shows up with a mysterious case and a request for a risky flight to the far north with “no questions asked.” Mackenzie agrees, they fly out, and then the apocalypse happens.
The Long Dark’s apocalypse — the “quiet apocalypse” as it is termed — is apparently a geomagnetic storm that’s knocked out all power and electronics, at least in Canada, but perhaps all over the world. It’s also made normally shy animals a bit more man-hungry. And, oh yeah, it knocks the airplane out of the sky.
Mackenzie and his ex are separated after the crash, and the game becomes about Mackenzie trying to find her and figure out what’s happening.
Thus the game’s survival setting kicks in. I’d say that Wintermute is about 10% adventure game and 90% survival — which means that most of the time you’re fighting degrading meters (heat, hunger, thirst, rest) and trying to find all of the gear you need to survive. If you like scavenging — and hey, who doesn’t? — it’s kind of enjoyable. Makes you really excited to find a can of dog food or a bag of moldy beef jerky, because you know you’ll live another day.
But the problem I ran into is that I really wanted the story to progress, and the survival aspects kept holding that back. It’s kind of like you have to do a bunch of chores to stay alive enough to see the next bit of story, and after a while my patience started to wear thin on this.
I also found myself really frustrated about the weight limit in the game. Mackenzie can only carry 30 kg of gear without suffering penalties (and whining about it), and I hit that limit awfully quick with all of the necessities for survival. You don’t even get redundancies with 30kg, just the basics and even then not all of those.
Sure, I guess carrying 35 pounds of water around would make anyone tired, but a man’s gotta drink.
I got as far as finishing up all of the quests in and around Milton with the prompt to head out on a long hike to the next town. Perhaps I’ll even do it, too, but my enthusiasm meter is dipping down a bit without more of a story to prop it back up.