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…

Linux Format - - CONTENTS -

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.

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