Wednesday 31 December 2014

First Impressions – The Long Dark

First Impressions – The Long Dark

Written by Casey Douglass

Survival games have been the flavour of the month for...well, years it seems. I like this in a way as it means a departure from the infinite-spawn run-and-gun tripe that gamers seem to lap up like fizzy drink raining from heaven. Give me a game death that has consequences over one that can be erased with a few button presses any day.

The Long Dark Screenshot
The starting screen of the sandbox alpha.
The Long Dark is another so-called survival game. On first impressions, it’s very good indeed and is only in a very early stage of development. Created by Hinterland Studio Inc., The Long Dark places the player into a frozen wilderness after an apparent global geomagnetic disaster. The player must survive by scavenging food and supplies from cabins and huts, rummaging through the belongings of dead bodies, and hunting for food from nature’s larder. All of this while trying to stave off the deadly cold, hunger, thirst and illness. The crafting system will also keep you occupied.

The game has no story as yet but one is planned. The sandbox mode is where the fun is at the moment and it is this mode I have been playing for the last few days. The game offered me the choice among three difficulty modes. I opted for the easiest as it means that wolves etc. will not attack me (the forums abound with complaints of them being too aggressive). I just want to explore and survive.

I spawn near an icy lake and proceed to ransack the cabins around, picking up wood, matches and anything that is offered basically. I don’t run anywhere as there is no need and it is nice to have the illusion of walking in nature, however inhospitable. The first thing that got to me was the wind noise. I would guess that after around ten minutes, it began to seep into my mind and began to make me feel the virtual isolation. I gut a deer that has already been killed by wolves and make myself a meal of venison as the dark closes in.

The Long Dark Screenshot
I enjoy a lovely sunset as my bones freeze.

This is the start of the journey that impresses me the most. A game should give you stories to tell, moments of triumph or stupidity that stay with you and bubble up inside you urging you to tell other people. I walked through the night, using a flare as the darkness seemed to deepen all around me. I followed a rail track until it ended high on a hill. I frequently found myself about to step into an abyss below as I tried to walk down into the valley below, even the flare failing to spit its light further than a few paces. I knew that I could pass a hut or cabin and not even know it. I walked for around five minutes and decided to give up for the night and wait until morning. I found a rut in the landscape, made a fire, put all of my firewood on it in the hope it would stop me freezing to death in my sleep, and placed my sleeping roll nearby. I told the game to sleep for around five hours and crossed my fingers.

When I woke, the red smear of sunrise was painted across the horizon. I was relieved to be still alive but my character was complaining of being “So cold!” I checked my health bars and thirst and cold were at their most dangerous levels. I downed a can of soda to sort a little of my thirst and climbed out of the rut. I laughed. About 20ft away was a road, the other side of which was a collection of log cabins! I had almost died mere yards from safety! I liked this moment a great deal as it cemented in my mind what a harsh environment the game world is.

The Long Dark Screenshot
Searching through my supplies for something to eat.
I am unsure of the game’s replay value once the maps are known, but even if it is just a play-once and-move-on kind of game, it is a very cool experience. The wonderful art-style is like a graphic novel and the sound design deepens the feelings of really being there. As other things are added, like the story mode, it will be interesting to see how the game develops. If you fancy it now however, I think you will get your enjoyment from it whenever you decide to jump in.

The Long Dark is in Steam’s Early Access section and will grow and be patched over time. Only buy it if you are fully aware of this so that you don’t spit your dummy out if the game development changes drastically or even stops completely. Check it out here and visit the game’s official site here.