Gaming - Case File: The Long Dark

Long dark

The Defective Inspector whiles away the long dark nights of January perusing his latest Case File: The Long Dark...

Early Access Survival games are becoming a dirty thing in the digital world. There is this sudden apprehension when you mention the genre and the classic stock of questions to follow. Will there be zombies? Are there NPCs? Will it have weapons? Is there multiplayer? It all becomes a giant question mark of how violently you can survive like a superhero in a Mad Max flashback. So when games like The Long Dark come out I feel that standard apprehension, but a friend of mine insisted I give it a go and try it out… So I did.

The Long Dark is not your standard survival game but for all the right reasons. In your ‘average’ survival game the primary function seems to be getting a weapon and either killing animals for food or fighting off Zombies/Other Players/Katie Hopkins/something equally as hostile. Hinterland Studios have really proven the gaming world is not just into the churning out the same old piff and that people want new and sophisticated gameplay and not just violence all the time. The people supported this concept via KickStarter proving we, as a consumer, want things like this. We wanted something more complex than kill, skin, wear skin, eat skin and become skin-king. Instead this game is based on one simple concept about the apocalypse; you must survive not thrive.

This is an ambitious goal for the game, note the fire
This game actually focuses on what I’d consider REAL survival. The primary focus from what I can tell is food, warmth, water and keeping out of the weather. This isn’t a randomly generated universe either so a lot of effort has gone into the concept of survival. Sadly the story mode doesn’t exist in the Alpha stage but you can pick out from a selection of maps with fairly calm comforting names like “Pleasant Valley” or “Costal Highway” but they are truly a misnomer as each place is a crippling cold corner of Canada.

The beauty of this game is the forced feeling of desperation. In first play through I felt a constant sense of “OH god! I’m gonna die, that’s it isn’t it? I’m gonna die!” followed by a sense of euphoria when I find a magazine to burn or candy bar to stuff into my computerized gullet. Trying to elevate myself beyond hinterland scavenger seems almost impossible, I found out I could rip apart bookcases for firewood but I needed tools which is a perfectly reasonable requirement in the real world. Try and rip apart your bookcase right now, go ahead try it! Assuming it’s not held together by IKEA design flaws or university grade poverty planks of wood it shall not be an easy task. These sort of limitations are very clear when playing the game and it even quantifies the amount of effort required by burning calories. It really comes down to the fact there is no presumption you’re some kind of Chuck Norris/Bear Grylls hybrid and thus when you try and start a fire, it’ll probably go wrong. If you attempt to fish, you’ll probably hook a shoe. Nothing in this game comes easy and nothing is presumed.

You'll be surprised how happy you'll be with a fire going
There is a reasonable question which doesn’t get answered in the game, how did society fall so far from grace? It’s fairly unusual to find yourself lost in a snow sodden mountain or an empty field because of a drunken orgy without at least one or 2 phone calls on the ol’ cellular. The likelihood is the story mode will answer such questions but the concept has a fairly solid foundation. However dig a little in the wiki and a fairly vague answer will appear. It has something to do about some sort of geomagnetic disturbance which has completely destroyed everything and anything with technological purpose. This does make you realise that the GPS you bought to ensure you’d survive the end times is completely useless in certain circumstances, but at least you’ll enjoy the view while crying over your D-Cell batteries.

Graphically this game is rather enchanting. When you’re not crying over the failed firewood or begging for a sustainable food source you get to enjoy the scenery. There is an almost philosophical feel about how the game portrays a world where human kind has crumbled and nature has pushed itself ahead once more like a winter version of I am Legend. Regardless of motive there is always a reason to be happy when you look up, observe the weather crows (Google it) and appreciate the aurora.

What a great thing to see before I die...
As with all Early Access games I reserve complete judgement, I think of it as an unfinished painting. Yes it looks beautiful now but it could be a masterpiece when completed while at the same time a single brush stroke the wrong way could ruin it without serious effort. So while the permafrost sets in for The Long Dark and its continuing development I am going to sit here in my not so cold house, with a warm cup of tea waiting in anticipation for the story mode.

Images - Steam’s store page.

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