The Long Dark Review: Survival of the Fittest
It took three years for Hinterland to finally bring the complete version of The Long Dark to PC and consoles. If you’ve ever wondered what happened to the main character in The Long Dark, then you now have the chance to discover the full story behind an estranged survivalist in the ice cold wilderness.
The Story mode, titled “Wintermute”, is now available for purchase -- and the first two episodes will take you on a journey of many questions and answers. We don’t get to see the complete story yet, as there are three more episodes to come, and the developers are hinting on another season after this one. However, that kind of decision strongly depends on the popularity of the game.
In any case, it looks like we’ve got a lot of story to go through, so let’s see what the game has to offer at this early stage.
Story Mode: Through the Eyes of a Survivor
The Story mode begins with the first episode – “Do Not Go Gentle”. The main protagonist of the game is the pilot named Will Mackenzie, who crashes somewhere in the North Canadian area. He is looking for his partner – Dr. Astrid Greenwood – who got sidetracked in the process.
The episodes are divided into smaller chapters, which makes sense given that each one is rather long (up to 15 hours for the first two episodes). This is the result of several years of development -- and initially the Story mode was planned to be released in 2016, but it took another year to put all the pieces together.
Without spoiling too much, the main character will have to face many different obstacles on his way through the wild forests. Just like the Sandbox mode, there is a change of day and night in the Story mode that serves as the game’s progression indicator.
The tutorial mode is embedded into the Story mode, so new players will have no trouble adjusting to all the mechanics. The task to find Astrid becomes the main priority here, but the rest of the activities are pretty much similar to the Sandbox mode with all of its survival elements.
Right from the beginning you need to get warm and find some food. The first few hours are not terribly exciting, as the character is basically located in a small enclosed area. But later on you will find the way out.
Every day brings new challenges and you learn new things. Fortunately, the first days of survival are accompanied by flashback cutscenes that give you a more intimate look at what’s going on between the characters and why they care so much about each other.
As soon as the character reaches the first town, there is hope for something extra… and indeed there is. The looting process begins and new things start coming up. At this point you start to understand that behind each item and each building there is a story that is being revealed more and more.
Mackenzie meets other survivors and some more meaningful plot points are being explained. Whether the story in itself is good or not is to be decided by each player individually, but at times you may find yourself wanting to return to the Sandbox mode, where everything is much more mysterious and intriguing.
New Mechanics and Interactions
The new update includes a few other things except the Story mode, such as polished visual and audio elements. The Sandbox mode received a new location, although not as large as you would assume. But it’s all about the new mechanics in the Story mode that elevates the gaming experience to new heights.
Some mechanics have been updated and will serve you well, such as the ability to dry wet clothes by the fire. But other things have become more complicated -- including the making of the tea that now requires the preparation of rosehips and reishi mushrooms. So more clicking ensues!
The wild animals are just as annoying, but at times it seems that the wolves are bugged, or maybe it was intended. If you get stuck in some areas with the wolves, they’ll be patiently waiting for you to show up -- while before the update they got bored pretty quickly, and you could continue walking your way. Now they’re sniffing around for far too long.
You may find yourself wanting to return to the Sandbox mode, where everything is much more mysterious and intriguing.
A trust system between the NPCs has been implemented as well to make the dialogues and interactions more realistic. The players must take on many fetch quests from Grey Mother for her to be able to reveal more plot points. Successfully accomplished tasks build the trust even further and help the story progress.
Sometimes getting into small debacles about the item distribution makes the world of The Long Dark more believable. But in the end it all boils down to rather shallow decision-making, which should be improved in the future.
On the other hand, finding collectibles is not a chore at all, but turns out to be a series of fun logical puzzles that elevates the whole looting process -- but may get stale in a while.
The technical execution in The Long Dark could be better than it is currently. The game has been in development for three whole years, so why there are still crashes and glitches all along the way? Reportedly it has something to do with the incompatibility of the Unity engine and Radeon graphics cards -- but then again, the updated release should have fixed it all.
Other than that, The Long Dark’s story is well-rounded and quite satisfying. Although many plot points will be revealed only in the future episodes, it is already clear that Hinterland put a lot of effort into the writing, animation, and voicing process.
At this point The Long Dark has taken the shape of a real product and not just an experimental survival sandbox that is way too extreme at times. So even if you couldn’t play the game before, now you will be greatly motivated to help Mackenzie find Astrid and the way out of the frozen hell that is North Canada.
If this sounds like your sort of survival experience, you can pick up The Long Dark for yourself from GOG.
Note: A copy of the game was provided to the writer for the purposes of this review.