After almost 3 years in Steam Early Access, The Long Dark is finally out for PC and consoles, and the end result is a truly harrowing and immersive survival experience along with a compelling episodic single player campaign.
The game is set in the harsh cold Canadian wilderness in the aftermath of a geomagnetic disaster. The climate anomaly is clearly giving a nod to today’s climate sentiments. While the game features a robust single player campaigns with 5 episodes, two of which are available as of writing this review, the main component is the Survival Mode, which is a free-roam non-narrative survival sandbox.
You start off scavenging for the most basic of items to survive, including food, shelter and a source of heat to stay warm. Surviving in The Long Dark is a brutal, challenging and ultimately satisfying endeavor. There’s also an immense sense of freedom as there are no objectives to keep from going as you see fit. Dynamic weather, hunting and scavenging for food, and fending off attacks from wolves can get daunting, but the fun in The Long Dark is in living to see another day. While I really enjoyed the exploration and discovery part of the game, the wolves felt like a constant pain to me. They do add to the tension considerably, but I felt overwhelmed by them too often. Maybe it’s just me being new to survival games, but I ended up turning off animal attacks after a few deaths, and that improved my gameplay experience significantly. To be clear, this is not an issue with the game, it’s just how I preferred playing the game, and I appreciated the game giving me the option to do so.
The Long Dark’s Survival Mode gives rise to some really dynamic situations, and even dying – which is permadeath, and you will lose your save – never leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Instead, you always come across interesting situations and challenges that keep you coming back for more. Weather can change in an instant, and depending on how it goes, you can be left clinging for dear life or free to venture further. This is easily among the best survival games on PC and the best on consoles right now.
The story mode is where we recommend you to start since, along with the compelling narrative, it also does a great job of introducing you to the game’s features. The mode is called Wintermute, and has two of five episodes for you to play. Lasting around 12-15 hours, the story follows Will Mackenzie as he searches for his friend, Astrid Greenwood. As the story unfolds, which has a fair bit of intrigue to it and is presented really well, you also learn the mechanics of the game. You also meet some other survivors on your journey, but they offer smaller fetch quests and not much else. The main focus here is to make the player feel lonely and isolated in a harsh open space, and the game does this really well.
The Long Dark is a beautiful game, which is mainly due to the game’s art direction. Muted colors and excellent sound design help bring the Canadian wilderness to life – or more precisely, the lack thereof. Speaking of sound the game’s characters are voiced by the like of Jennifer Hale and David Hayter, and the performances are on point.
The Long Dark is one of the most enjoyable and complete survival games I’ve played so far. The Wintermute story is interesting and well presented, and the Survival Mode is a truly challenging and rewarding experience of slowly trying to keep death at bay. Exploration and discovery are key parts of it, and both feel very satisfying.