Video games these days are not like they were a few decades ago. When once Pac-Man or Donkey Kong used to dominate the industry with their rinse-and-repeat style of gameplay, now they have been replaced by titles that focus on telling a story. Though games like the Persona franchise and The Last of Us are beautiful in their own right, the gameplay can often feel like it’s taking a backseat.
However, in some of the more niche genres, there are little pieces of gold hidden in the right spaces. Personally, despite the appeal of AAA games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Fallout 4 initially drawing me in (and occasionally entertaining to revisit), I always get more enjoyment revisiting games which feel like they’ll have something new.
The Long Dark is an indie survival game developed by Hinterland Games. It started off with a successful Kickstarter campaign, a release on early access in 2014 before getting a full release in 2017. Though it has a story mode split over five episodes, it’s not the main appeal of The Long Dark. In a similar way to games like Minecraft, its selling point is the gameplay value. However, to describe it as a Canadian cousin to the popular sandbox game grossly oversimplifies what makes this game so good. It has so many different layers of appeal that draws players in and makes it such a unique experience.
A sad reality of games is that after a few playthroughs, they can often stagnate – this is especially true with single player experiences after the story is over. However, The Long Dark is a slightly different beast. As soon as the player gets dropped into the game with limited equipment, every decision the player makes is the difference between surviving another day or succumbing to the many threats that populate this game.
If the player survives the wolves and bears, it’ll be starvation or hypothermia that will eventually get them. Does the player brave venturing out into the snowstorm to run to another building or do they risk going hungry? The game is full of these life and death decision-making scenarios, and it’s the pure simplicity of the sandbox that makes such a challenging – and fun – experience.
Considering the name of the game is to survive for as long as possible, the player will be spending a lot of time in the world on a good run, and it is an absolutely beautiful world to survive in, While The Long Dark may not have the high quality textures like Skyrim or Bioshock, it still manages to make the most of its visuals. Whether it’s travelling across a destroyed road in the middle of the Canadian wilderness or cautiously avoiding wolves lurking at the edge of the flare’s range, the game is full of sights that are wonderful to look at.
It’s a title that also celebrates a simple staple of gaming: get good. It is a game that severely punishes the player for every mistake made and encourages them to learn as much as they can to improve on their next run. The mechanics and control scheme of the game make it easy to learn, hard to master. Revisiting the game to see if you can beat your best run just adds to the fun as well. However, even after hundreds of runs, it can all come down to pure blind luck. Whether that means stumbling across an Elk carcass just as your character is about to starve to death or having that one last bullet in your gun to take down a charging wolf, the game will always keep you on your toes.
There’s also a sense of wonder about The Long Dark. Exploration is a vital aspect of the game as supplies will eventually run out in a certain area, and the player will have to move on to greener pastures. Luckily, the map is gigantic, and every portion of the world has its own secrets that makes the world just that little bit more fleshed out – a note about what happened prior to the game’s events or a tool that’ll aid in the player’s survival.
The most important aspect of the game though is the experience. Everything about this game adds up into a unique survival simulator experience unlike any other. It’s a game of many bitter defeats that feel fair, and few truly rewarding triumphs. It’s packed full of adrenaline pumping moments – sprinting away from a pursuing wolf only to reach the safety of a building at the last second will always get your heart pumping.
Whether it’s having to restart a new game because you have been torn to shreds by a bear or you find a cosy little spot with plenty of ammo for hunting, The Long Dark never gets boring. Even in its quieter moments, the art that was lovingly crafted into every inch of this game makes it a simulating visual experience. It’s a game that is simple to approach, but only through learning can a player hope to improve. It’s a master class in indie development and a must-have for your shelf.
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