I normally don’t play survival games or walking simulators, but The Long Dark by Hinterland Games, which I purchased back then when it was still in early access on Steam, took me into new realms. You are tossed out into the Canadian wilderness with hardly anything, and your only aim is to survive, find shelter, food, craft tools, hunt for food, explore. And while everything by now is Sandbox mode, on August 1st the first episode of Story mode is released. Best time to get the game!
You will be greeted with some icy nights, but also with great vistas, relaxed evenings at a fire place, you will try to survive on moldy food and rotten energy bars, but also feast on the fireside while reading a good book. A real treat this game!
Sandbox mode features five different areas to explore. Each one is large enough to spend weeks (in game time) wandering around. The easiest area to start with is Mystery Lake, with plenty of shelter (several huts) and abundance of resources. And just in case you are getting bored, all the areas are connected via tunnels or caves and one can wander of into the neighboring places. My home in Mystery Lake was always the Camp Office, the usual suspect. Nice views, fishing huts nearby to get fresh fish, lots of space.
After managing to get from your starting place (which is arbitrary as far as I see) to one of the shelters, one starts collecting food, wood, savaging every accessible place for tools, weapons, burning material. And soon the backpack becomes to heavy, and one needs to store stuff and decide what to take.
This is a very well done part of the game. The backpack is not limited by number of items, but you are limited in weight you can carry. That includes clothes (which can get quite heavy) and all the items in your backpack. In addition, the longer the day and the more tired you become, the less weight you can carry. And if the backpack starts getting too heavy you crawl to a very slow movement.
There are many influences of the outside world on the player’s condition: temperature, the wetness of your clothes, hunger, thirst, exhaustion, but also infections and bruises, all need to be taken care of, otherwise the end is coming faster than one wishes for.
I have only two things to complain: First, if one walks outside, or runs outside, the own body temperature does not rise. This is unrealistically and should have been taken into account. The other thing is the difficulty: I have played weeks in game time in the easiest level, without any problem. But the moment I switched to the second level of difficulty (of 5!), I not even manage it for 2(!) days. Wolves, starvation, thirst, any of those kills me within an instant. I don’t want to know how the hardest level feels, but it has a certain steep step here.
The game takes a very realistic view onto the weather: Every day is different, sunny, foggy, blizzard, windy, often changing very quickly. It is wise to plan one’s activities according to the weather, as it is very unforgiving.
With beautifully crafted landscapes, loads of areas to explore, your own pride to survive for at least a few weeks, and lots of tools to find and craft and try out, this games, even while it is still in Sandbox mode, is a real feat. My absolute favorite since I have finished the Talos Principle and Portal series, absolutely recommendable!