First, a big thanks to our boy Duff for hooking me up with a copy of The Long Dark. As a bit of a confession, I’ve always been a fan of survival shows. More the Les Stroud “Survivorman” as opposed to Bear Grylls’ “Man vs. Wild”. Let’s be honest, Bear was making it up. But I digress…
The Long Dark is essentially Survivorman the video game. It starts you in the frozen Canadian wilderness and asks you do just one thing – survive. You must find the essentials – food, water, and shelter – and hope you don’t get caught in a white-out blizzard or eaten by a bear.
There are two game modes for The Long Dark – a story mode and a sandbox mode. The story mode is great because it holds your hand a bit more, which is a good way to learn the ins and outs of the game. It also gives you quest-based objectives, which is big for me.
Waking Up Alone:
The first episode (of five planned) of the story mode starts with you awakening from a plane crash. There was someone else with you, but she has disappeared. A lot of the story content is trying to find her. Note, there will be spoilers ahead – you’ve been warned.
You’re lost in the wilderness and the first few days are just learning the basics of survival – scavenging for food and gear, building a fire, treating wounds, and establishing shelter. Once you get the basics down, the game lets you go exploring.
The story mode is fairly linear while keeping the open world feel. You find a road, which leads you to a town, which leads you to the only other player character that you meet in the first episode – a rather creepy blind lady gives you some basic go-and-fetch quests for you to earn who trust. The quests are a little trite, but they give you good reason to explore the town and find more supplies.
The woman and your own flashbacks help establish some of the story. You learn about the other character, your ex-wife, who you’re trying to find in the wilderness. But The Long Dark isn’t about the story. It’s all about gameplay. I’d suggest newcomers play the campaign first just because it helps you learn the game. But the game really shines in the sandbox.
As far as I can tell, there are no other player characters in the sandbox mode of The Long Dark. You’ll find corpses, but no living people. However, there are still hostiles in the form of wolves and bears who are more than happy to make a meal out of your malnourished body.
My first sandbox play through was rough. I picked one of the easier starting locations and was dropped into the wilderness. I quickly found some railroad tracks and, from years of watching Survivorman, knew to follow them.
Sure enough, they led me to a lake that had some cabins surrounding it. I was able to camp out here for a few days while I fished from the frozen lake and found some supplies in the small cabins circling the lake.
Soon, though, I was both stir crazy and short on supplies, so I decided to go explore. Big mistake. The Canadian tundra is merciless.
I decided to follow the railroad tracks farther, assuming there would be more signs of civilization. I was not stocked up for how long I walked. I found some overturned train cars, which provided some temporary relief from a sudden snowstorm, but I was running low on food.
As I went searching for food, I found a bear roaming around my train car shelter. Not wanting to get mauled, I tried to wait him out. That led to me being colder and hungrier.
Eventually, I was able to sneak past the bear and move down the tracks a bit farther, only to find a landslide had taken out the tracks and I couldn’t proceed. So I turned back to get to the train car for the night. I harvested some cat tails on the way – not much for calories but it was something.
I used the last of my wood and tinder to warm up in the train car. The next morning I headed out, only to quickly fall through some thin ice and contract hypothermia.
I figured my best bet of survival at this point was to try to make it back to the lake and the cabins. I set off with all my clothes sopping wet (one of the several in-game metrics you need to keep an eye on). Wet clothes and hypothermia got to me, and I began stumbling while tunnel vision set it.
I saw the cabin, but I never made it to the warmth and safety inside. As I slowly swayed and stumbled, the tunnel vision took over and I succumbed to the long dark. I survived for about a week.
The Long Dark does an incredible job of making you feel like you’re dying a slow, agonizing death. You have to micromanage your hunger, thirst, warmth, health, and energy. The truth is that you are constantly dying in the and the goal is to push off the inevitable as long as possible.
As hard as just surviving is, the loneliness also comes through. The fact that you find dead bodies from time to time reminds you of how lonely the game is. A co-op mode to The Long Dark could actually be cool – you could share responsibilities and support each other’s needs. But it would take one of the key emotional assets away from the game.
The Long Dark is not perfect. I played a second time in sandbox mode, starting in the same location as my first play though, but being more conservative. I still had scares, but survival was much easier the second time around. I got bored and moved on to other games after about 100 days of survival.
The game gets repetitive pretty quickly, which is problematic for my short attention span. But it still provided me several hours of enjoyable survival gameplay.
Ultimately, the story mode is intriguing and I enjoyed the sandbox mode more than I generally do. The Long Dark let me live out gmy best Les Stroud impersonation – a story of survival… or maybe not.