The Long Dark Review – A Decent, if Unremarkable Survival Title

The Long Dark
Hinterland Studio

There seems to be two separate types of survival games on the market these days—survival horror games which feature crafting, such as 7 Days to Die, The Forest, and Miscreated, and the more “pure survival” type of games, such as Green Hell and The Long Dark.

By “pure survival” I mean bereft of any sort of supernatural threats or zombies/mutants. You won’t be running around in Green Hell and suddenly come across hordes of hungry zombies; only small groups of potentially hostile natives. Hinterland Studio’s The Long Dark strips this back further by not having any two-legged threats at all, only four-legged ones in the form of bears and wolves.

The Long Dark features both a campaign mode, as well as an open sandbox survival mode where you can try and last against the frozen elements as long as you possibly can.

The game’s campaign mode tells the tale of one, Will Mackenzie, a loner-type guy who is drafted by his ex-wife to fly her and her mysterious cargo into the outer reaches of the Canadian wilderness. During the plane ride the former couple reveal shades of their emotional past in piecemeal form, but the whole affair is rather clichéd and didn’t really give me any sort of real connection to the characters or their murky motives.

Of course, if you’re a gamer who enjoys playing survival games you know what comes next. Yes, yet another plane crash where Will somehow miraculously survives the disaster. But after emerging from all of the flames and twisted metal of the plane’s smoldering fuselage, he realizes that he’s been separated from his ex.

On a personal note, I really hope that game developers who design survival games hire some better writers because the whole “crash-landing” thing is so hackneyed by now. Outlast 2, The Forest, heck even Far Cry 5 used this tired plot device and it’s about as worn out as an old tap-dancers soles.

How about a train wreck? Or, perhaps simply a camping trip where folks get lost and have to find their way back to civilization? Surviving a crash-landing has frankly been (pun intended) run into the ground, not to mention implausible as heck.

Thankfully, surviving the crash and then finding a way to brave the frigid elements acts as a pretty insightful tutorial where you get a chance to figure out The Long Dark’s basic game mechanics. It teaches you how to seek adequate shelter, how to start fires, how to check on your vital signs, and various other survival gaming aspects.

The rest of the campaign features Will interacting with Canadian locals in the hopes of gaining small tidbits here and there as to his ex-wife’s whereabouts. These interactions usually lead to fetch-quests, which in turn consist of the survivalist “meat” of the game.

While The Long Dark’s story mode was decent, its sandbox survival mode was more enjoyable, at least for me. Untethered by the game’s boilerplate backstory, you are free to traverse throughout the Canadian hinterlands as you wish, and test your wits against the game’s AI. This includes everything from sudden ice storms to hungry wolf and bear attacks.

I encountered wolves much more than bears, but fortunately their AI behavior was spotty at best. I’d be walking around somewhere, looking for resources within the polygonated tundra, and a wolf would usually spawn in and start roaming the area in random patterns. If I happened to get a little too close to it, said wolf would suddenly become a slow-mo homing torpedo and come right for me.

Since you can’t jump in The Long Dark, it would sometimes be frustrating when I’d turn to run only to get caught up on a knee-high log or rock. Even more bizarre were the times when I’d get trapped within geometric objects and couldn’t seem to break free, forcing me to restart the game from my last save point.

Mechanics-wise, The Long Dark has a pretty decent survival system in place. You can break down many of the objects you find—such as bookshelves and chairs—and then use them to fix other items, construct new things, or simply use them for your ever-important firewood stockpile.

A lot of my time involved scouring the countryside and investigating various abandoned structures in the hopes of finding granola bars. Other times, I’d hunt and skin animals, cook and eat the meat, and use the skins for clothing or other needs.

Visually, I found The Long Dark is serviceable. If you visit the game’s Steam page, you’ll see multitudes of folks ranting and raving about how “beautiful,” “stunning,” and “amazing,” (usually one of the three adjective) the game’s graphics are.

I sort of wondered if I were witnessing the same game since it featured simple, polygonated graphics which didn’t have too much in the way of detail; just rough shapes and jagged lines. I think that sometimes people buy into the “social proof” aspect of things and just parrot each other, even if they’ve barely played whatever game that are gushing on and on about.

The Long Dark features a decent, if unremarkable campaign/story mode that may appeal to hardcore completionist-types. Its sandbox, on the other hand, can be pretty fun if you’re into this sort of minimalist fare. I’d definitely suggest catching it on a sale.

SCORE: 69%

The Long Dark features great graphics that make its survival gameplay truly shine. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:

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