The Long Dark is one of the latest editions to the Xbox One Preview program. Released several months ago on the PC, this survival adventure is a welcome edition to the Xbox One’s indie catalogue.
Survival games have seen a big surge in popularity over the last few years. Most have focused on an apocalyptic theme. Zombies, mutants or something in between. The Long Dark takes a slightly different approach. The cold and bleak horror of nature. Players are dumped in the reasonably large landscape of Northern Canada. Your aim is to simply survive. The danger comes from the elements and the local wild life. There are no undead here.
It’s an interesting premise. Man against nature. Even if nature is an unforgiving and brutal opponent the change from battling zombies or just other players is a welcome change to the genre. I’m a huge fan of these open world survival games. They offer a great deal of player freedom. Allowing you to carve your own story from the environment.
Cold weather and your need to eat and drink are the main dangers in The Long Dark. Balancing your need to search for food and water with the blinding snow storms and blizzards that randomly assault the world. Like most games in this genre, you’re going to die a lot before you get the hang of it. You’ll push your characters limits, then die.
As this is still an early access title the developers are still adding new features and tweaks to the game. This initial offering is still incredibly playable and has a host of fun (probably the wrong word) elements.
Starting in one of three locations your first priority is to find a suitable shelter. The weather in The Long Dark will kill you as quick as any animal. Players have the ability to create a small fire but this requires resources. Matches, newspaper and twigs will be the first things you’ll want to find and you’ll never have enough. Creating a small camp fire will keep you protected from the harsh weather but it won’t fill your tummy. So you’ll need food, which means venturing out into the wilderness. This is dangerous for many reasons. One, you can’t take your camp fire with you and the weather, much like here in England can change from a mild wind to a toe curling white wash of snow in seconds. Losing your way in The Long Dark can also mean death is not far behind.
While all of this sounds like no fun at all, surprisingly its the opposite. The challenge of managing these simple tasks adds tension and haste to every journey you take. Find yourself one of the few houses of cabins and set up a home base. Then its a time management game. With the nights offering little to no visibility, even without a blizzard destroying your face, you won’t want to be out. The temperature drops, the wolves come out and then you’re dead. Again.
Your movement speed is slow, trudging through the think snow your almost always at a walking pace. This does add to the urgency of your ventures out into the white unknown. You can sprint, for a short time, but this will drain your overall energy quickly. Putting another spinning plate onto your balancing act. Exhaustion will lower your carrying weight and empty your food and water meters much quicker.
Food and water can be found in several ways. Scavenging for these item is the easiest means but you can also hunt the wildlife. First you’ll need a gun or a bow, but both of these items are hard to come by. So for the most part you’ll be searching through abandoned houses and caves for your loot.
The pace of the game is slow, the movement of your character is a walking pace. You do have a limited sprint but you’ll really want to save that for when you need to leave an area quickly. The weather, like the wolves will come at you quick and mercilessly.
The game has a very distinct look. Choosing a simplistic and slightly cartoony look with low detailed textures and environments. It’s a rather nice overall, the indoor locations all feel lived, the forests and caves suit the game well.
While this game isn’t for everyone, it will definitely appeal to fans of survival games. Its unforgiving nature and focus on the basics of staying alive are a change to the norm. You might find little to do after around eight hours of play but the developers are dedicated to adding new features and improvements. At only £15 its worth the risks.
(Because this game is still in a preview state we’re not going to give this a numbered score. We’ll come back once the game is in full release for that.)