167 people found this review helpful
12 people found this review funny
0.0 hrs last two weeks / 9.1 hrs on record (3.6 hrs at review time)
Posted: Nov 29, 2015 @ 4:33pm

Early Access Review
Rummaging through garbage is a long and storied tradition in video games. Players have been raiding shelves and garbage cans for decades now, and it's hard to argue the popularity of Elder Scrolls and Fallout games is not thanks in part to the immense amount of junk you can scavenge. The Long Dark feels like an entire game built around looting, giving your lizard brain tingles every time your progress bar is interrupted by a new item. That's selling the game short, and I'll fix that, but when you're on a somber trek through a featureless snowfield, aching for a dresser to upturn, you'll remember I said that.

The Long Dark strands you in the northern wilderness of Canada in the wake of a mysterious geomagnetic event. All the people are dead, all the animals are acting weird, and all the electricity is out. You have four bars to manage if you want to survive: Temperature, fatigue, hunger, and thirst. Scrounging up leftovers and boiling snow will cover the latter two, sleeping in beds and not running everywhere will keep your fatigue down, but traversing the wilderness will freeze you fast, making warmth your most sought-after resource. The game offers a pretty robust survival sim, with many interactions between objects. You can break things down for materials to repair other things, craft tools like bows and fishing lines, and cook and store food. Just making a fire is its own skill, involving starters and fuels and accelerants and chances to fail based on all that and where you're making the attempt. A clean and slick menu interface keeps you from staring at lists too long to accomplish all this, which is some very welcome design.

A big part of the game (at least early on) is indeed finding houses to loot and clicking on all the containers, while being mindful of how much you can carry. In between looting sprees, however, are journeys across the frozen wilds. The Long Dark does not screw around here, as getting lost in the woods or running into some unpleasant wildlife can very quickly be the end of you. You need plenty of daylight for exploring, and if you're lacking warm clothes you really cannot stay out very long. When one of your resource bars, such as temperature, bottoms out, it starts a percentage countdown. When that hits zero, you die. Just being outside on a windy day for an hour or two can take your bar to zero, so you have to plan all your actions carefully. Intensive activities like chopping wood or fishing are abstracted to take up to an hour unto themselves, too. The constant threat makes the game an intense survival simulator, but the barren wastes between shelters that facilitates this design can get kind of boring to traverse.

There are three difficulties to play on, depending on how eager you are to have wolves snap your appendages in half. You can also start in different areas once you find the paths to them from the starter zone, which can change your experience dramatically. The maps are not randomly generated, so having a few hours of exploration under your belt will most definitely help you survive longer. It seems that the game is designed around scavenging and getting your bearings for the first few days, and then transitioning to hunting and foraging for food and wood in true mountain man style to survive further. It's a long road to get there, though, with a lot of traipsing across snowfields and forest paths, but the painted art style and minimalist soundtrack make the solitude meaningful, and give the game a somber, melancholy feel. If you have the patience for planning long, deadly walks through the wastes, this is a solid survival choice.
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Dr. Clocknik Nov 30, 2015 @ 11:28am 
Argh, just waiting for this to come out of Early Access, like Subnautica!