The Long Dark: Hands-on Preview
The first two paragraphs of this preview detail what makes The Long Dark so different from every other survival sandbox game, so if you wish to read about my first real adventure, skip forward to the third paragraph. Please do not forget that The Long Dark is in very early alpha, and so anything can (and likely will) change.
In The Long Dark, you play as Will Mackenzie who has been unfortunate enough to crash his plane into the Canadian wilderness and is now fighting for his survival against all odds. The Long Dark is an interesting game, since it takes the dangers you already know of and expands on them in ways you would never expect. For example, you do not just simply get cold in The Long Dark. Instead, you have a meter that shows exactly how cold you are as well as various clothing that effects this stat which can be upgraded by finding much better attire. Starting off with the most basic of apparel, it was not long before I found a new love for recklessly searching around for premium winter coats and more. But doing things such as this makes your calorie count go down and so keeping on top of that with all the food, drink and sleep you can get is also a must. In many survival games, I have found that unless you have a predetermined goal, there are often moments where you have nothing to do. In The Long Dark, however, I was always on my toes since one of my survival bars was always filling up and in turn speeding up my demise shown by the small number on the bottom right hand corner of the screen stating my condition.
Once I had first started The Long Dark I was not exactly wowed by it, I even explained my experience to a friend which I will relay out below.
“From the small amount I played, I walked around a snowy ice land and got loads of resources in very similar looking huts, all while running from a very glitchy wolf. Then I slept in a random bed woke up dead and said screw this and turned it off.”
In response my friend told me that I had just described Rust and 7 Days to Die, and he was right to an extent. Initially, I had gone into The Long Dark with the same drive many of you will, passing it off as yet another survival sandbox title unsurprisingly in Steam’s Early Access program. This was the first and biggest mistake I had made, and my comments earlier now falsely reflected on just how deep The Long Dark is. You see, all that I had said boiled down to me booting up the game and going in completely blind. I had not looked at anything beyond graphical options and so had no idea of the controls, story or the mode I was about to play through. It was no wonder that I had died since my stupid mistakes made signed my death certificate. It really was no fault of the game itself. The resources I gathered also played a much bigger part of the puzzle, but unfortunately that same puzzle is incomplete, with no crafting options yet available in this early alpha release. They are, however, now available, so it is fantastic to see these ideas developing in front of my very eyes. As for the glitchy wolf, I should have expected that also. My point here is, is that The Long Dark is very clearly in an early state, yet it has some seriously solid grounding for an amazing experience many will adore. Even in its current state The Long Dark is a lot of fun once you understand its mechanics.
Now that I have discussed what makes The Long Dark such a unique experience to all those other survival games, I shall recount my first proper attempt with the game’s Sandbox Mode. The Sandbox Mode is likely where gamers will spend most of their time when The Long Dark launches. Though it is the only one available at the moment, it will soon be accompanied by an episodic story mode. In Sandbox Mode, players must try to survive for as long as they possibly can. It is all set in one location known as Mystery Lake, though more are planned according to the grayed out map selection box in the game. Also, the ability to be male or female is present and will please many of you who strive for gender equality. In my playthrough however, I played the male. I had some pretty exciting moments across my journey in The Long Dark, and I cannot wait to see what moments other players have had also.
Spawning in a mountainous area, I climbed up the sides, pushing down the shift key as hard as I possibly could to get myself up. It was Skyrim all over again. However, in Skyrim, I did not risk spraining my ankle by falling a few meters but in The Long Dark, this is a constant threat. I made my way up and came to a passing with a fence blocking a part of the mountain side. In the corner of my eye, I noticed a bag next to an open part of the fencing and grabbed it. After I had looted its contents I peered over the edge to see a body at the bottom. I absolutely love this kind of silent story telling in games, and have done ever since the brilliance that was Fallout 3. Being able to piece together simple parts to make such a tragic conclusion feels like an incredibly important part in making the player stay connected, and The Long Dark does it beautifully.
I decided to investigate the body below, slowly making my way down to the bottom of the mountain before I looted the frozen corpse. In The Long Dark, the protagonist says things which indicate what the player should do. This can be as simple as saying ‘I am cold’ or even yawning, but it really worked in terms of immersing me in the game world, but some parts I found quite strange. If I found a corpse in real life I would not loot it and move on, I would be mortified and likely show this vocally. I know it is early stages, but for me, these vocal cues are something that should be prioritized, since some pulled me out of the cold desolate experience and straight back into reality. The Long Dark definitely blurs the line between game and experience, but with the right attention and care I am positive it can be both.
The next exciting part of my journey through the cold was when I came around a corner, only to enter a blizzard where I could not see a thing. I managed to make my way over to the broken down old shack shown above which contained the corpse of a frozen deer. The area sheltered me from the vicious temperatures which led me to hole up there for a while. I waited for the blizzard to pass, but alas it did not. Knowing death was imminent, I pushed through the blizzard in search of better shelter. As luck would have it, I noticed a desolate house complete with piping chimney. With some places in The Long Dark, music will chime as you enter an area and this house was one just one example. After making it to the house, I was honestly just glad to be inside and get the chance to heat up and get rest in the random bed next to me.
I slept for as long as my calorie count would allow me, which unfortunately was not very long, forcing me to keep moving through the night. In the house, I had gained some lighting tools and discovered an inoperable Workbench and a rifle with no bullets, but I remained optimistic. A few yards later and I made my way to a bridge (check out my let’s play to see that very bridge!), where a bit further up was a spooky looking metal door. Since I was low on food, drink and energy I had no choice but to enter the area. When I entered it I told myself this.
“This is The Long Dark, not Day Z. No zombies here, stop being a wuss”
I entered the room, as skeptical as ever. I literally stood watching for a good few minutes knowing full well I was not safe. I ignored the creepy looking warning signs and moved onwards. I barely made it a couple of feat before I was annihilated by a wolf out for my blood. I had the option to fight it off, but because this was my first encounter, I failed. After this though, I turned the game off and rested since it really messed me up with how scary it was. I cannot wait for more moments like this, and was so impressed that The Long Dark managed to make one. Gamers should absolutely take a look at The Long Dark, even in such early stages the game shows incredible promise.
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