Developer: Hinterland Publisher: Hinterland Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
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I’m tired. I’m cold. I’m alone. There are bears. No, this isn’t my normal Friday night (even if it’s pretty close), this is The Long Dark: 2017’s best survival game.
Hinterland’s misery simulator spent a long time in Early Access, time which was used properly to work on and improve the game – it really shows. Its earliest versions and the finished product couldn’t look and feel more different. I don’t think I will ever play a survival game so thrilling and emotional, even if it can at times move at a slow pace.
If you have preconceptions about the genre, put them to one side – there are no swinging dicks or zombies in The Long Dark. It’s just about you and the Canadian wilderness. By avoiding PVP elements, Hinterland have created a solitary but incredibly involving affair that will create its own stories. One of my most treasured memories of my time with The Long Dark was after feeling so vulnerable for so long, finding a flare gun, and shooting a wolf in the face. Morbid, yes, but when you’re plagued so often by wildlife, it’s a relief to finally get one back on them.
As well as helping the player weave their own stories, The Long Dark’s full release brought with it a narrative experience called Wintermute. Its episodic nature means that it hasn’t really got going yet, but it shows plenty of promise. For my money, though, the real appeal of The Long Dark will also come down to being dropped in a part of the expansive map and simply trying to survive.
And you will struggle to survive, particularly as time wears on. To begin with, it’s pretty easy to come across supplies; you won’t even need to thank the skies for how much some crackers just saved your life. However, as time wears on, you will be pushed to the more extreme areas and all the dangers that come with them with little in the way of respite, let alone supplies.
It’s here where The Long Dark becomes true survival and the pressure almost becomes too much to bear. If you’re armed with a gun and plenty of bullets, you can hunt deer and even wolves to give you enough meat to tide you over for a week or so. But then you have to consider water and rations as time goes on: do you sit in one house and simply survive or do you push on and make the best of the fair temperature while it lasts?
Writing all of this just makes me want to dive back into The Long Dark, even if I’ve taken my character as far as I can possibly go. It’s often miserable, but above all else, Hinterland’s beautiful, desolate world is totally compelling.