Sunrise on Timberwolf Mountain.

The Long Dark: A Beautifully Terrifying Survival Experience

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to quit your job right now, pack your bags, and leave for a new life in the northern Canadian wilderness? Well, you’ll just have to keep your job and wait until you’re off work because Hinterland has created a game that’s exactly that, and it’s as beautiful as it is brutal: welcome to The Long Dark.

First released as an in-development title in 2014, The Long Dark started as a very simple game. There was only one game mode, the sandbox game mode, with no choice to change the difficulty. There was only one map, Mystery Lake. The objective of the sandbox game mode has always been the same: survive as long as you can against the beautiful brutality of the northern Canadian wilderness.

When an aurora is in the night sky, electronics mysteriously come to life.

I first bought this game in 2014 when it was early access.

I spawned in and froze to death before I could even meet the wildlife of the game. I saw the potential for the game to be exactly what I had been looking for though, and I was looking for a “real” survival experience.

I will never forget my first time spawning into survival mode. I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. I began to suffer from hypothermia almost immediately. I had sticks and matches, but no tinder to start a fire. I noticed I was getting too tired and would need to sleep soon, so I looked around desperately for something to use for tinder. I found some newsprint, started a fire, and went to sleep on my bedroll. I thought I would be safe, but the fire wasn’t warm enough to stop me from freezing through the night.

I woke up almost dead. My vision was blurry, I was stumbling around desperately finding wood for another fire. I actually got another fire lit despite the condition I was in. But as I was attempting to warm up, I stumbled into the fire and burned to death. I survived for two days.

A foggy morning.

I’ll admit that my first try at survival mode was a long time ago and a lot has changed since then.

Today, if you purchase the game, there are currently 4 difficulties, and a custom difficulty setting. You can play the game on pilgrim, which is the easiest difficulty. Wolves will run away from you and you will never run short of supplies, blizzards almost never occur.

Then there’s voyager, which is the way the developers intended the game to be played. It’s a good balance between exploration and survival. One thing to note for all the difficulties in survival mode: you only get one life, and the game saves only when you enter a building or sleep, so every decision counts.

It’s kind of like real life: when you die, your save file deletes itself and you have to start all over from day 1. It makes the game uniquely challenging.

Moving on, there’s more difficult game modes, stalker and interloper. Stalker is my personal favorite mode. Wolves and other wildlife hunt you down, the world degrades over time, and overall the game is much more punishing and brutal. But once you understand where to go to find certain supplies, how to hunt, and are familiar with the maps and how they connect, among other things, stalker can be conquered and you can feel like a total badass. That is, until you decide to take on a bear and a pack of wolves at night because you’re overconfident and die after a fifty day run of survival.

Bear attacks are especially brutal. There’s nothing you can do as this animal stares into your soul and shreds you like paper as you wither away into darkness.

Then there’s interloper. This is the most brutal survival experience The Long Dark has to offer. Supplies are scarce, no firearms spawn, you have to craft almost all of your tools yourself, the world degrades quickly, and wildlife is even more deadly than on stalker. There are many YouTubers and streamers that basically make a living by playing on interloper.

As you switch difficulty modes, it’s almost like you’re playing an entirely different game. There are skills and achievements to be won in each mode, but if you really want to show off, you’ll need to survive for a while on interloper.

The game can be as challenging or as brutal as you’d like. And whatever difficulty you do play on, the Long Dark’s aesthetic is BEAUTIFUL.

The sun rises on a new day in Desolation Point.

I often find moments when playing this game where I feel something deeper than a lot of other games have to offer. After a few rough days of a blizzard, or getting to the top of Timberwolf Mountain, I will find myself in awe of the sunrise, or the way the trees look, or just how beautiful nature can be. And this is in a virtual world. It almost feels real sometimes. It’s a game that an imaginative introvert can get lost in. Sometimes I have to pull myself out of it because there’s other things in real life that need to get done.

This is the power of The Long Dark. It’s a game that is unique in its ability to make the player have to think about every decision they make. The player must maximize their resources, explore the world, and fight the wildlife. All of this is done alone, the player can only rely on themselves. AS I stated before, the game is a lot like real life if you think about it.

A full moon, a clear night, and a campfire.

There are a lot of elements of The Long Dark that make the game stand out, and the game has gotten better with age.

The user interface went from a clunky mess to something more organized and user friendly. The graphics improved tremendously. More maps were added. A very well written story mode has been added to the game and serves as a great way for new players to familiarize themselves with the game mechanics, and for veteran players to learn the back story of the entire region of Great Bear. The story mode still isn’t finished yet, so there’s more to look forward to. There are so many interlocking pieces to this game that have been added over time that I am definitely going to miss more than a few pieces of content that have been added. The best part about all of this added content is that it’s all FREE. Hinterland has truly made a game that isn’t just a moneygrab for a niche audience, I can tell that they love what they do and it shows in the quality of their game.

Unlike most of the games spewing out of the crapheap of the AAA gaming industry in the 2010s, The Long Dark is the asking price and never asks for more. The usual sticker price of The Long Dark is $30, and it goes on sale all the time. In fact, it’s currently on sale on Steam for $10 as I write this article.

There are NO MICRO-TRANSACTIONS for The Long Dark, which is a huge plus given the current state of the gaming industry.

If you’re looking for a game with a great community, constant updates, free content, and is a challenge, then The Long Dark is for you.

It’s single player only, but there is an active Facebook Group, subreddit, YouTube, and Twitch communities that will be more than happy to engage new and experienced players.

There are so many aspects of this game I could go into, but I hope this overview can give you some of the basics about the game and what you might be in for if you decide to purchase The Long Dark.

Political science graduate, progressive, blue collar worker.

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