Early Access reviews check out a title but never have a final score, just the writers thoughts and recommendation.
In the open world survival genre, games need to really differentiate themselves from the likes of Day Z and Rust to even get the attention of most gamers today. The Long Dark, an early access title from brand new developers The Hinterland, still manages to give players a fresh and ruthless take in the oversaturated survival market.
While there is a promised story mode that is to come later this year, currently you can only play a sandbox mode which puts you in the shoes of a sole survivor of a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness. The moment you spawn at random locations in the game’s huge map, you are pelted with blistering cold winds, deteriorating gear, and an insatiable appetite for food and water.
One of the most defining features of The Long Dark is its brutal take on micro-management. While it may seem like worrying about your clothing breaking apart due to harsh weather conditions and items breaking down after a few uses would be a big turn off in most survival games, The Long Dark manages to make these tasks meaningful. Within my first few deaths, the game made me repair my breaking ski jacket countless times, and made sure I had enough back up sewing kits in my backpack so I knew I was going to be okay if my thin wool socks turned into smithereens.
While the game’s atmosphere is extremely bleak, especially since there is no rescue crew to save you, or a town with living inhabitants nearby, there is still a certain beauty to The Long Dark. Watching the deer or wolves trot along the horizon, and the quietness of the wilderness being cut down only by the crunching of your character’s boots on the snow makes the struggle for survival almost seem a little bit more tranquil. The paper-craft like aesthetic within the calm isolating environment the game is set in also makes the harshness of the Canadian winter seem like a daring adventure out of a children’s picture book.
The survival mechanics in The Long Dark are simple enough: find shelter, make a fire, loot buildings to find supplies, get enough sleep, rinse, and repeat. Along the way you meet wild animals that will get aggressive should you come close, and the only weapons usually at your disposal will be your bare fists or a rusty hatchet if you’re lucky.
But it’s not the wild animals that are the scariest aspect of The Long Dark, it’s how every action you take uses up calories and precious supplies. There are four main meters players need to constantly manage: thirst, fatigue, hunger, and cold. Even just standing in the wilderness will start making your character feel tired and cold, so players need to constantly be on their toes to make sure they’ve scavenged enough supplies so they don’t freeze to death. Every second counts, and that’s where The Long Dark’s problems also arise.
The day and night cycle is sped up so that your waking hours of sunlight are shortened to around fifteen to twenty minutes of walking around before you have to hit the hay. While such mechanics work fine in other popular survival games such as Minecraft, in The Long Dark you have to constantly be taking care of yourself during the day. By the time nightfall came and I clicked on a bed to fall asleep, I felt as if I had barely achieved anything while the sun was out. The day and night cycle almost feels like something the developers tacked on to make sure it was marked off the “open world survival game development” checklist.
This accelerated sense of time also messes with the player’s intimacy with their gear and supplies. On the third day in one of my playthroughs I had eaten four granola bars, a can of tomato soup, and some cooked venison within a matter of seconds to make sure my hunger wouldn't deteriorate my condition. This really broke the sense of immersion that I had playing the game, making me feel less like a human being that was always on the brink of getting killed by nature, and more like a resource hungry machine that just emptied out whatever location it plundered. The sense of excitement from finding food and supplies that you find in games like Day Z unfortunately doesn’t seem to lie inside The Long Dark at the moment.
As I ventured around the wintery landscape, I also noticed how restrained the world seemed. There are areas that were clearly blocked with a dense group of trees so players couldn’t proceed, and repetition of some landmarks, such as cabins, along your route to stay alive. This however doesn’t detract from the fact that the game is still beautiful to look at, from abandoned railroads to the warm orange sunsets, The Long Dark is definitely an eye pleaser.
I’m sure the developers will continue to make the desolate world of The Long Dark more detailed, but as of right now I’m getting a bit tired of eating ten granola bars to make sure I can sleep through the night without starving to death.
- Survival mechanics are strong, leading to intense resource management.
- Graphically, the game is beautiful to look at.
- The sense of urgency from the harshness of nature to hungry animals keeps players on their feet.
- The sense of time is sped up too much, leaving players feeling like they didn't accomplish anything during the day.
- Intimacy with supplies is not there as you consume too much too quickly.
- The map, while large, still feels lacking in terms of what players can do.
For 19.99, I think the price tag is somewhat too steep for the content that is in the game right now. There are enough things to keep players occupied, but with no real goals yet implemented, I find it hard for players to stay motivated in the game. If it’s on sale I would definitely still check it out.
Strong. The game is constantly getting updates, and the devs are communicating with its fans, so it’s an early access game that is getting all the attention it needs.