The Long Dark is a video game in development by Canadian Hinterland Studios.
The game was successfully funded on Kickstarter in 2013 and received additional funding from the Canada Media Fund. It was released as an alpha on Steam and Xbox One in 2014.
A survival game at its core, it presents the player with a menacing scenario where, after some global catastrophe, they are left in the Canadian wilderness during harsh winter and with limited resources, from which point it is in some sense up to the player's wit and creativity to survive the many dangers of being alone in the winter.
At the time of writing, there is only a survival sandbox mode for the game, where the measure of your success is determined by whether you are alive or not, and for how many days you have been, but Hinterland Studios say they will release a story mode late 2015, presenting the player with hard moral choices and demanding them to choose whether they will be "savior or survivor" to the characters they meet along the way.
The sandbox mode starts off in a 20 km2 map including hilly areas, a lake, some cabins and logging camps and an abandoned hydro-electric power plant.
Playing the game, the most basic hazard is the cold weather itself, which will sap your strength and energy, and potentially cause hypothermia, requiring shelter and heat to recover. There are also environmental hazards, from a sprained ankle or wrist from taking a fall or tripping, to hungry wolves and bears that view you as nothing but their next meal. The weather shifts unpredictably, and as anyone who has been in a snowstorm can verify, the path you thought led to safety, can suddenly lead you to the edge of a deadly drop into a ravine. You may also, as in real life, suffer multiple injuries and have limited resources, forcing you to do triage between several potentially deadly wounds to fix the most criticial and life threatening first.
In addition to the straight injuries and infections you might sustain, you also need to keep an eye on your calorie level, requiring you to almost constantly search for food in the barren wastes. If you find a fishing tackle and a knife or hatchet, you might be able to break the ice inside that little fishing hut you discovered on the lake. If you keep the fish on you for too long, wolves and bears will be attracted to the smell of decomposing meat, and you are more likely to get mauled on your way to find firewood or a place to eat your fish and sleep. This being a snow covered winter wonderland, clean water is only a couple hours of melting and boiling away. Those hours, however, might be crucial to other aspects of your survival.
If you're lucky enough to locate an old rifle, or crafty enough to make a bow and some arrows out of animal guts and cured wood, you might bump up a few notches on the food chain. If not, you're left to forage for berries and old world candy bars and cans of dog food and peaches.
In order to survive you need to keep lighting fires, be it in a cabin stove or out on the snow. This means you need to forage for wood and tinder, costing you calories and valuable daylight. You also need to sleep regularly, and safety is always a balancing act. There is little use in finding a cozy cabin if it doesn't have any resources and you're running low on food.
You may choose between a female and male protagonist, and there are three difficulty levels.
- In Pilgrim, animal life will not attack you unprovoked, and it's only you versus the environment, unless you poke the proverbial sleeping bear. Some of the drop rates are shifted to make gameplay less punishing.
- In Voyageur, you're running the risk of being mauled and eaten, but will not be irreparably fucked every time you see a wolf prowling in the distance.
- In Stalker, my mode of choice, everything is stacked against you. The weather is more unpredictable, loot is harder to find, and wolves are out to FUCKING KILL YOU. It's an exhilarating ride, and if you're tired of games with a bad case of the hand-holdies, you might find it refreshing.
In every game mode, death is permanent. You may not load a save to counteract the erronous and foolhearty ways that led you to your demise once you're cold and dead.
As I played, I noticed myself constantly evaluating the need for food up against the need for warmth and safety. The choice was not always easy, and there were many times where I felt real terror as the fog settled in while I was trying to find my way back to my designated bunk in the cabin I found, as the sun was setting and I could hear the wolves howl in the distance.
As mentioned earlier in the node, this game is still in development, but an alpha version can be purchased on Steam and in whatever marketplace is available for Xbox One. More information about the game is available at the website of Hinterland Studios.
I think the graphical style (similar to cel-shading) and audio work on this game so far is superb. The ambience varies between calm and gorgeous to horrifying, all without any bogeymen or aliens or dropbears or ghosts.
The game is irregularly but not rarely updated and modified by the developers, adding some things, removing others or tuning the gameplay in some way congruent with input by the community or in-house playtesting.
I had very real emotional experiences with this game. It presents a very clear and not too unrealistic scenario that highlights how vulnerable we are as humans, and how dependent we are on technology and tools. I cannot recommend this game enough, and I hope some of you will also find it entertaining.
3 of 3 crow's feathers.