The snow crunches against your feet, the winter wind chills you to the bone. A wolf howls in the distance.

Forage for food, keep warm and find out what happened to this Great Bear and the rest of the world.

Can you survive the quiet apocalypse?

“The Long Dark” is a work of art made by Hinterland Studios, a Canada-based company. It was released on Steam Early Access on September 22, 2014, then given a full release in late August of 2017. As of now, “The Long Dark” has been nominated for 5 Webby awards. Prototyped as an iPad game, it eventually evolved to be a full-fledged experience on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Steam.

The Long Dark has two main game modes: story mode (WINTERMUTE) and Sandbox.

The story follows Makenzie, a pilot who has been asked by his old friend, Astrid, to fly her to Great Bear, Canada so she can deliver a sealed briefcase. Mackenzie reluctantly agrees but fears geomagnetic storms and atmospheric problems. Somewhere over the Greater Great Bear Area, an anomalous aurora borealis causes the plane to crash, separating Makenzie and Astrid in the snowy mountains of Great Bear.

After finding your way into the small abandoned town of Milton, your adventure begins.

In Sandbox mode, you are dropped at a random point on the map and tested on how long you can survive. The Explorable Sandbox map is currently over 30 kilometers (~18.6 miles) with more being added as time goes on. The map is divided into several sections, such as Mystery Lake, Desolation Point, The Forlorn Muskeg and Pleasant Valley. All of them have a variety of mini locations and landmarks, as well as a variety of landscape and weather patterns. I have played 100+ hours of this game and still have not been everywhere.

The weather and travel play a big part in gameplay. As you trudge through the snowy forests and ice-coated rivers, you have to keep track of your temperature. Even what you’re wearing and how much you are carrying affects how long you can survive. This is one aspect that makes the game both stressful and fun. The game is about trying to balance risk and reward — when you’re nearly freezing and starving to death and you see a cabin on the horizon, do you stop and make camp or push forward and hope you can make to the cabin?

There is wildlife wandering around, looking for their next meal, which is interesting because you can try catching a rabbit for more calories but risk the threat of getting smelled out by a wolf. Or you can shoot a deer for meat, but can you carry all of it back to the cabin?

The music is good, what little of it there is. It’s all small instrumental pieces that play in the background as you explore, so no big swinging orchestral ballads, just a quiet cello or plucky violin. The best song of the game is “The Curse” by Agnes Obel, which is the song used in the WINTERMUTE launch trailer. Most of the game consists of atmospheric noise like birds chirping and howling wind — which you should be listening to at all costs because sounds can determine life or death.

Even with how great this game is, I have one complaint. Backtracking.

During story mode, you are instructed to go up to the Carter Electric Dam to get medicine, then go back, then go out and get food, firewood and other necessities before returning to the cabin. Looking back, it wasn’t too bad, but in the moment it makes you feel like an errand boy, especially when you have to fight a bear. The story paces well but sometimes makes you feel stuck.

All this being said, I give “The Long Dark” a 4.75 out of 5.

Everything blew me away even back in 2014 when I first bought the game. It’s definitely grown into something deserving of its nominations. I’m excited about Episode 3 of WINTERMUTE as well as the possibility of a multiplayer version further down the line.

You can buy “The Long Dark” for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC (via Steam), and thanks to Skybound Entertainment, we will be seeing “The Long Dark” on store shelves later this year.

 

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