The Long Dark..................
Brutal, unforgiving, a survival of the fittest… these are just some of the words Andy Kelly uses to describe working at Linux Format Towers…
Desolate, freezing cold, scavenging junk to survive and avoiding dangerous predators… but enough of the LXF offices, let’s game!
Ageomagnetic anomaly has plunged the world into darkness and rendered all technology useless, including the plane that you were flying over the vast, frozen wilds of Canada. You awake surrounded by flames and wreckage – injured and freezing to death – and find yourself in a battle to survive in one of the most inhospitable corners of the planet. It’s a hell of a place to spend the apocalypse, and death lingers around every corner of this deadly, wintry expanse.
There are two distinct ways to play TheLongDark. There’s Wintermute, an episodic story mode that follows bush pilot Will Mackenzie as he searches for his missing friend. Then there’s Sandbox, which enables you to tell your own stories and explore at your leisure. The only objective here is surviving for as long as possible, and how you do that is left to you.
Wintermute is a good place to start. It begins with a series of tutorials designed to drip-feed the game’s systems to you. Sometimes you’ll meet survivors who need your help, forcing you to complete a series of thinly veiled fetch quests, which grind the story to a halt and feel a little too much like busywork at times.
But it’s in Sandbox mode where The LongDark’s survival knife is sharpest. Having the freedom to explore and travel between its large, interconnected regions is more compelling than following a prescribed path. Choosing how you spend each day is more engaging than ticking off objectives. This freedom, along with the dynamic, unpredictable elements such as the weather, make every Sandbox game fertile ground for emergent storytelling.
Some of the most vivid memories of TheLongDark weren’t created by the developers, but emerged naturally. Like the unbearable tension of being on the edge of starvation, one bullet in the rifle, and a skittish deer in our sights. Cowering in a cave at night, campfire about to burn out, listening to wolves howling outside. Limping half-dead and hypothermic through a blizzard, only to see the silhouette of a life-saving shelter through the wall of snow.
The weather is constantly in turmoil, which can change the mood of the game – and your fortunes – in an instant. One minute it’s a crisp, clear day with piercing blue skies. The next a stormfront is rolling in, wind blowing the falling snow so hard it moves horizontally. Watercolour skies shift from a blanket of looming grey to the dusky pink of early evening, painting the snowfields around you in vivid colours. It’s an incredibly atmospheric game, with a hand-painted art style that lends it a peculiar, ethereal beauty, despite how gruelling it is.
Like a lot of survival games, everything in TheLongDark boils down to managing a series of perpetually dwindling meters: hunger, thirst, tiredness and so on. But thanks to the elegant design of the simulation, and a slick, minimal UI, it’s not a game where you feel like you spend half your time buried in menus. The abundance of progress bars is slightly disappointing, though. Many actions, such as breaking a branch down for firewood or cooking food, happen off-screen, illustrated by a slowly filling circle.
There are only a handful of really great survival games on PC, and this is one of them. The story mode has its moments, but it’s when you’re creating your own stories in the sandbox that TheLongDark is at its most absorbing. Beautiful art direction and rich, nuanced sound design bring the deep forests, frozen lakes and ragged mountains of the Canadian wilderness to vivid life.
Living the apocalypse in the Canadian wilderness. It warms our cold hearts.
Do spend some time admiring the beautiful art direction of The Long Dark. But not too long, else you may freeze to death by sundown.