Naked and Afraid: The Long Dark Preview
I finish eating the last bites of my granola bar as I stare across the frozen lake. Cold and empty, the hills around me reach upwards into the cold blue sky where heaven is sending frozen bits of hell down to earth in an ironic twist of divine retribution. It is very very cold. I see a single deer in the distance scavenging for whatever frostbitten shreds of grass it can find among the towering heaps of snow. As I stare, I wonder if it feels as alone as I, or as hopelessly lost.
Night is beginning to fall as I light my kerosene lantern and head back to the camp office, the howling wind pressing stubbornly against my chapped face. I see a secluded pass between two hills that I think will take me back to the safety and relative warmth of the camp office. As the last light begins to disappear behind the stoic pines, I have still not made it back. Smoldering panic is beginning to rise in my chest when I hear a vicious barking from behind me. It is then that I know I have made a terrible mistake.
The Long Dark intrigues me. There is something very unique about an open world survival game that is basically Jack London: The Game. It has no zombies, no procedural generation, and (in a future update) a full story mode. The build I played was a 60 minute demo of the sandbox mode. This mode is played on the same map as the story, but without any explicit objectives besides don’t die.
Of course, that objective is easier said than done. The mechanics of The Long Dark are as brutal as they are thematic. Like any self respecting survival game, The Long Dark has full crafting, hunger, and thirst systems. Added on to these genre staples are the concept of “wellness,” warmth, and calorie management. Wellness measures overall well being and is a sort of surface level metric showing how well you are doing. Calories are a constantly ticking down resource that must be maintained as the player completes tasks and is refilled by eating and drinking. Warmth is similar to hunger or thirst in that if the meter gets out of control you will die.
All of these systems combine in really interesting ways with the crafting and main game play loop to make a very immersive experience that I immediately lost myself in. Crafting seems to be tiered based on what materials you can find with more complex weapons and tools allowing for more convenient resource gathering and so on. In my demo, I was unable to craft anything past a simple torch and fishing line (really useful on a frozen lake, I know) but I saw several points of interest that made me really want to keep exploring. The beautiful world of The Long Dark is not realistically rendered, but it’s minimalist style really worked for me.
The Long Dark is in alpha on early access on Steam and the game preview program on Xbox One. I would not recommend paying 20 dollars for what I saw in the demo, but The Long Dark is definitely going to be one to watch in the coming months. And please, zip up your jacket.