icon Author: Zipakna
The Long Dark Review

No zombies, no mutants, no monsters. In this survival game, made by Hinterland Studio Inc., your worst enemies are mind-numbing cold, bone-chilling winds, and your empty stomach.

When Nature Fights Back

The game features two main modes: Survival and Wintermute story mode. Both modes let you roam a vast wilderness of fictional Great Bear Island which is based on territories of Northern Canada. Great Bear used to be full of natural resources and people were quick to exploit them, building mines, logging camps, and hydroelectric dam. But on this island, nature itself fights back. Long before our character even gets to the island, the mines are hit by earthquakes, the island economy collapses and the worst is yet to come…

In story mode, you play as a plane pilot Will Mackenzie who was hired by Dr. Astrid Green to take her along with a mysterious suitcase to Great Bear Island. But before they can reach their destination, a strange flash of light appears in the sky and the plane crashes in the wilderness. When Mackenzie wakes up after the crash, he is injured, Astrid is nowhere to be seen, it’s freezing cold and it’s getting dark.

Your goal from now on is to search for Astrid and make sure Mackenzie does not freeze to death, does not starve, or die from dehydration in the process. And the weather is very unforgiving on Great Bear. The weather system behaves very realistically and feels highly immersive. When it’s getting dark, it’s also getting much colder, when it snows, the top layer of your clothing is getting wet, when you’re caught out in the open in a snowstorm,  you quickly lose visibility and you struggle to move forward against strong winds. Fire can make you warm, but starting it with just a few twigs and with no skill will be hard and not always successful. And if you chose the wrong spot for the fire, you might soon lose it, because a strong gust of wind will put it out. 

Your survival will equally depend on scavenging supplies from nature and abandoned man-made structures. The game takes a reasonable approach to scavenging – improvised tools will help you get started but if you can find a hunting knife you’ll be much better off than with an improvised blade. Of course, you have to deal with weight limits. I struggled with this part of the game probably the most, because there are certain items that make your survival much easier, but they are also usually very heavy. Especially when you try to cover longer distances, it takes a lot of experience to choose the right mix of gear to not be over-encumbered yet with enough supplies to overcome everything the game throws at you. My least favorite parts of the game were when I arrived at a place with a climbing rope, which you can use only when you’re not carrying too much weight. So I had to stop, look through my inventory and decide which of my precious supplies I should leave behind.

The search for Astrid will take you on a long journey throughout the island. The map of the game is rather large, divided into multiple regions, each with some unique features. Some regions have much harsher weather, some have multiple buildings where you can hide from the elements and find supplies, and some have unique crafting stations.

Bears on Great Bear

The harsh weather is not the only thing that will try to kill you on your way. Naturally, the island is home to some animals too.  The first ones you encounter are harmless rabbits and deer, but quickly you discover that these two serve as a snack for something more dangerous and that is a wolf. In the beginning, you’ll have to avoid them because you have no way to fight them. And they often avoid you too, if you don’t come too close. But if you do, they can be very deadly, not just in the immediate sense, but also if you fight them off and you find that most of your clothes are torn to shreds and you’re not only bleeding but also freezing to death. But at least you have a fighting chance. When you don’t have a fighting chance is when you encounter a bear. Even if you have a gun, you are not guaranteed to win this fight. So when you see a bear on the horizon, you better change your direction. But if you’re really confident in your hunting skills, animal skins provide the warmest clothing in the whole game, which will allow you to travel to the coldest regions of the map.

Watch for the Light 


Remember that strange flash of light that caused MacKenzies’ plane to crash? Those lights are called Aurora and they are an integral part of the gameplay. They appear at night and allow you to travel in the dark without any light source. The Aurora has a strange effect on electronic devices so when it appears, the street lights and various electronics start to work and you can get to the areas closed behind electronic locks or elevators. However, animals are also affected, and not in a good way.  Predators will become much more aggressive and much harder to scare off. So watch out for those green glowing eyes in the dark!

Once Upon a Time

The story is divided into chapters, it is very intriguing and well-written, and there is a lot of lore hidden around the island if you look for it. But sadly the final chapter is still not finished, despite the fact that the game was released in 2017. It’s not like the game is in early access, the game mechanics are finished and everything works, but there are only four out of five chapters released, the authors are still working on the last one. However, even the four chapters provide about 20 hours of game time and serve as a good way to introduce you to survival mechanics so you can then jump into Survival mode and easily sink dozens of hours into that, exploring and testing your survival skills.

How Long Can You  Survive?

There are several major differences between the story and survival mode. In story mode the regions unlock gradually, as the story progresses, in survival mode, you have access to the whole map right from the start and you can start on various parts of the map. Story mode is more forgiving, if you die you can load the game and try again. Survival mode is much more punishing and if you die, you lost all your progress, and the save file is deleted. Survival mode has four difficulty options, from Pilgrim, where the predators almost never attack you, loot is plentiful and your stats decrease rather slowly, to Interloper difficulty, where loot is scarce, predators are very deadly and the weather keeps getting worse and worse.

The survival mode is a sandbox experience, so you do what you want and try to survive as long as possible. The issue with this mode is, that you cannot build your base. Not that you could build it in story mode, there you also depend on abandoned buildings. But the story always leads you to your next goal so you never stay in one place too long and don’t feel the need to set up a base. However, in survival mode you eventually find a location you like and even if it’s a finished building, you feel a need to customize it, to make it your own. But the only interaction the game allows inside buildings is to destroy broken furniture and place your loot into existing drawers. And outdoors you can only build temporary shelters, nothing personalized.

So if you’re fine with the simple challenge of survival against elements and you love exploration, the survival mode is great for that because there is a lot to explore considering the size of the map. But for me personally, the endless survival without base-building options soon began to feel repetitive. 

There is also a challenge mode, which is similar to the survival mode, except it offers time-limited challenges. This feels like a true step up from the Story mode because you need a good knowledge of the map and survival techniques to finish the challenge in time. Challenges range from collecting lore on laptops in certain locations during the Aurora to killing an Old Bear or banishing an invisible Darkwalker that hunts you across all regions.

Can you survive the loneliness?

The game has no cooperative mode. And even though I love co-op survival games (and there is a fan-made co-op mode for the game) I think The Long Dark should be experienced alone. Wandering alone through a frozen and desolate landscape is a huge part of the atmosphere of the game. I can’t remember how many times I sat in an abandoned cottage, huddled close to a wood stove, and just listened to windows rattling in the strong wind. It makes you appreciate moments of safety much more and gives you time to clear your head. The game does not only teach you how to survive the elements but also how to survive being alone with your thoughts. In the story mode, you encounter some characters to interact with, but in survival mode, it’s just you, your skills, and frozen emptiness.

Frozen beauty

The graphics of the game have a distinct,  hand-painted look that is not very impressive when you study it up close, but where the game visually shines is when you look in the distance at the landscape. Every hill you climb simply forces you to stop and admire the view.  And the Aurora effect simply looks gorgeous, lighting up the sky and bringing derelict buildings back to life. Combined with awesome sound effects the game creates a serene atmosphere even though you struggle for survival every step of the way.


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