First in a series of articles about Steam Early Access Titles.
The Long Dark is a recent title to take the Early Access route on Steam where consumers get the opportunity to pick up the game and play through the alpha/beta before finally getting to play the full game on release. While the game is stated to be in an alpha state, it plays very much like a polished, fully made game. The Long Dark is one of many survival games to hit the Early Access scene, this game bringing a winter environment, a whole slew of implemented and to be implemented survival factors, varying modes of difficulty, and a stylistic cell-shade art style.
So, is The Long Dark just another dull survival game in a sea of poorly designed, often times abandoned to half-finished survival games, and games that want nothing more than to be Minecraft? Thankfully, no. The Long Dark takes the survival genre in a direction it has needed to go for years now and it’s a shame it couldn’t have come sooner. First and foremost, there is no crafting system for building new tools to survive. The only crafting you’ll be doing is salvaging parts to try and keep what little gear you have in one piece and that’s only if you make it long enough for your gear to break down in the first place.
The Long Dark creates the perfect blend of challenge, wonder, and engaging gameplay that more games should try to match. Every second of gameplay matters, with the player needing to ration food, water, and whatever they can to stay warm, all while trying to gather supplies to make it through the next few hours, maybe even the next day. The roaring wind of the bitterly cold tundra only adds to the severity of your rapidly deteriorating stats, which your character will occasionally chime in to remind you that he is in fact starving/dehydrating/freezing to death, while growing more exhausted by the minute. Wolves roam the wilderness as the only menace that can rival the cold, as desperate as you are for food, though unlike them you don’t have the luxury of having a pelt or sharp teeth. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a gun before wolves find you. If you’re not so lucky, be prepared to run for your life and suffer the consequences.
You can be climbing a snowy mountaintop, being berated by a severe snowstorm, your body temperature quickly dropping and hypothermia begins to manifest within you and at the moment you reach the top of the mountain you pause. Before you is a world of striking colors and bold lines that only serve to make them more striking and off in the distance a yellow sun paints the sky orange, completely striping away the idea that at that very moment, you’re freezing to death. Shortly afterwards, you die and are reminded of why you wanted to get that mountain in the first place.
The Long Dark is a buoy in the sea of mediocrity that currently is the survival genre and we can only hope it stays that way as the developers continue to refine and polish it. Keep an eye out for it and consider picking it up before it fully releases and undergoes a price increase.