Growing up in the Great White North, I’ve often wondered what it would be life to have to survive in the frigid wilderness with nothing but my wits and resolve. Could I find food, shelter and warmth before meeting a chilly demise? Playing a game like The Long Dark it has become clear to me that boredom and tedium would be my undoing, long before hypothermia ever set in.
Originally released on September 22, 2014—back when games like Rust, The Forest and DayZ were dominating the indie survival game conversation, and many developers were trying to get in on the action. The Long Dark initially caught my attention with it’s bleak setting and, seemingly, intense survival elements; but I never got around to playing it.
Playing now on the Switch is a bit of an underwhelming experience. I don’t know if maybe I’ve changed, or maybe these survival games were never all they were cracked up to be. Whether you’re playing the “Wintermute,” story mode, or just jumping into standard Survival Mode; The Long Dark places you somewhere in the middle of the Canadian wilderness after a mysterious plane crash. Players must face the elements and the wild in order to stay fed, stay rested, and most importantly stay warm.
And while all of this sounds compelling in theory, I can’t help but find The Long Dark to be a dull game about managing meters as your character is constantly hungry, constantly thirsty, and constantly freezing to death. On top of that, The Long Dark is an incredibly slow moving game—and I’m not just talking about the character’s walking speed.
Jumping into Survival Mode, it never felt like anything was ramping up at a reasonable pace. You’re not provided with anything—crafting or otherwise—to get you started on your quest for survival. Basic tools like an “improvised hatchet,” or “improvised knife,” require an item that needs to be found, and during all my playthroughs I never did. it can feel like an eternity before you approach the start of your survival challenge. I played for hours without ever finding any kind of weapon or useful items, and even in the “beginners,” and “intermediate,” areas most of my time was spent slowly searching through empty cabinets, and waiting by fires.
And this slow pace bleeds over into the aforementioned meter management. Even on the easiest settings, the game is just so unbearably dull. Harvesting any materials you can’t immediately pick up is relegated to menus and a game-stopping loading bar while time passes, so you’re not even given the visceral satisfaction of gathering materials to stay alive.
Everything in this game just feels like an act of futility. It’s like a perpetual motion machine of misery—breaking down objects to get much needed resources puts you at the mercy of hunger and hypothermia, which forces you to slowly move through the landscape in search of food, to provide you the much needed energy to continue your slow march towards a frigid death.
You craft a fire to provide yourself with warmth, but it takes forever to get the meter up; so you’ll stand by your fire for countless minutes as your temperature meter slowly ticks back up, and if your fire starts dying, or needs more fuel, you’ll venture out into the chilly wilderness only to have it drop back down to nothing in a matter of seconds—your time wasted, and the game none the better for it.
Furthermore, it’s a pretty technically underwhelming game too. While it runs fairly well on the Switch, both in docked and in handheld; it’s somewhat visually unimpressive. While it has a fairly unique, minimalist art style, it doesn’t really do anything interesting with that aesthetic. But there’s a noticeable downgrade in graphics on the Switch, particularly in item detail which all looks compressed and low-poly; and small errors like when you equip gloves, but the in-game character still has gloveless hands, makes the game feel unpolished and amature.
But visuals and performance aside, at the end of the day The Long Dark isn’t very fun, even by survival game standards. While I slowly trudged through the game, I constantly found myself wondering, “to what end am I surviving in this game?” I’m not building anything interesting like in Minecraft, I’m not exploring a galaxy like in No Man’s Sky. And when you have to question why you’re even playing a game, it’s not a game worth playing.