During my first winter living in Berlin, I discovered just how much I hate the cold. While being hot is uncomfortable, the cold is a more fearful brute, stalking you through streets, walls and layers of clothing. Living in a large, first world city definitely takes away the impact of the cold, however, as respite is always around the corner. But what would it be like if there weren’t coffee shops, pubs or wool blankets to shield you from Winter’s arsenal? The Long Dark not only answers these questions, but makes sub zero temperatures the break out villain of this year.
When I first boot up the alpha for The Long Dark, I find myself panicking a bit. I’m in the middle of a snowy, wooded area with very few supplies and no way of knowing what direction to go in. Instead of the unsettling sound of other worldly voices or explosions in the background, all I can hear is the wind and it’s absolutely terrifying. Instinctively, I begin running towards an outcropping of rock, but quickly realize that my character is burning excessive calories (one of the many parameters one must take into account in this game). Not knowing when I’ll find my next meal, I begin what must be an excruciating walk in hopes of reaching a bit of shelter before my appendages snap off in shards.
While this pace would annoy me in many games, it makes perfect sense in The Long Dark and actually adds to the experience. You are constantly deciding when to rush things and when to take your time, a mechanic often lost in modern games. Speed can definitely kill in this game, but lingering can as well, especially when you run into the wildlife that inhabits The Long Dark.
When I saw a deer run by, it was a bit of a relief as up to that point everything had felt a bit desolate. With nothing to kill it with, I decided I’d enjoy nature instead of making it a meal. Then, I realized the deer was actually running for its life as the game introduced me to the second scariest sound effect it had to offer; the howl of a hungry wolf.
At this point, conserving calories took a back seat to preventing myself from becoming them, and I sprinted away. In a game all about bad luck, I actually found a bit of good as three trailers came into view. Their shelter offered safety from the pack of wolves that were hunting me, some time to warm up and quite a few supplies for where ever my journey would take me. I was pleased but kept in the back of my mind that such an opportunity would not always present itself. The Long Dark is not one for coddling.
The Long Dark is currently in Early Access on PC. The full release ETA is 2-3 months as of this article.