Welcome To Canada
The challenges of simply surviving from day to day in extreme conditions are becoming a more popular topic in gaming. There are indie efforts like Don’t Starve and big, AAA productions such as The Last of Us that celebrate even simple accomplishments, like finding more food and bandages. The Long Dark, an upcoming survival game is taking this same route. But unlike the other titles mentioned, this game takes place in the first person perspective, and rather than struggle against implacable foes, it puts players up against the harshest enemy they are likely to ever encounter; the unforgiving Canadian wilderness.
Canadian Survival, Eh.
Hinterland studios is a new, independent game developer based in Canada, so it should come as no surprise that whey they decided to make a game about surviving in a harsh climate, they didn’t look much further than their own backyard in the winter. Thus, The Long Dark was born, and it doesn’t feature much in the way of evil animals or mutated zombie hordes. The premise of the game is that a geomagnetic phenomenon has essentially acted like an EMP on a global level and permanently disabled all electronics. The game to come is about the adventures of a bush pilot named Will Mackenzie surviving in the brutal Canadian winter. The early access alpha does not have this story mode available, instead dropping players into a sandbox mode to learn the mechanics of the game.
The art direction of the game is quite distinctive. As an indie title, it’s not exactly pushing PCs to maximum performance, and even computers a few years old can comfortably run this game at its highest settings. Graphically it takes a more illustrated approach, rendering the forests and snows of rural Canada in bright, painterly colors. Sound is also austere, with the ever present wind blowing, the chattering of teeth from your character as the it gets colder, and the odd remark or two from the same character about the usefulness of scavenged items. The minimal sound design aims to reinforce a sense of isolation, and it works.
Since the main campaign is unavailable, it’s hard to say how factors like moral choices will affect NPC behavior and alter the storyline.
The real heart of the sandbox mode is simply to test your own ability to survive and see how long you can manage. Sandbox mode throws the player into the middle of the wilderness with some basic provisions like clothing, some antibiotics, lighter fluid and the like. It’s then up to the player to explore, scavenge, find shelter, additional food and figure out how to survive the animals and the occasional other NPC survivor, who may be friend or foe.
As with any survival game, the sandbox mode of The Long Dark is more about exploration and resource management than anything else. You’re expected to get out there, find gear, food and other items, and then best decide when and how to use these items to avoid everything from starvation to hypothermia. To add a bit of challenge to the proceedings, there’s item decay for certain items, so don’t celebrate just because you found a ski jacket that keeps the wind out. It won’t last forever, and eventually wearing it will cause it to break down and you’ll have to find a replacement, or simply deal with the fact that you’ll need to spend less time out in the cold. On top of this are the usual concerns of finding food, and securing extra tools for all those little things like making fire or even purifying water if things get desperate.
Since the main campaign is unavailable, it’s hard to say how factors like moral choices will affect NPC behavior and alter the storyline. But from what Hinterland Studios had made available in the sandbox mode, they’ve made a game where time is always the enemy, and players must be efficient about finding and/or maintaining both food and shelter, and balancing physical danger versus environmental ones. Animals might pose threat, or they might simply be a food source, but that does you no good if you’re going to freeze to death outside trying to track them down or scavenge their remains from the snow. For anyone that enjoyed the more exploratory aspects The Last of Us, or simply wanted to play Don’t Starve in a more realistic, less humorous setting, The Long Dark is trying to scratch that itch. How much it succeeds will depend on the kind of story it tells once the game is out. The mechanics of its survival elements are sound enough that it’s a freeform challenge in and of itself that they’ve made available in an early access sandbox mode.