As I slowly hobble my way up the snowy mountain path, I feel the bite of the cold against my face. The wind whips through the lonely valley and cuts through my meager collection of foraged clothing as if it weren’t even there. Each step sends shooting pain up my leg as I try my damndest to haul a few pounds of venison to an abandoned watch tower where I might, assuming I am able to use my last bit of cedar and a piece of crumpled newspaper to fashion a fire, make a much-needed meal to pair with my last few sips of water gleaned from a couple handfuls of snow that I melted earlier, but which I never had time to boil as to safely remove the threat of sickness.
The storm came upon me suddenly and without warning as I was hunting. How long had I been in this god-forsaken valley? Seven, eight days? My hands grasped the cold steel of the hunting rifle I had found at a small cabin at the foot of the northern peak a few days prior. It was my liberation; a godsend. No longer need I fear the roving wolves dogging my heels, no longer did I need to watch in frustration as deer ambled about freely and my stomach rumbled in discontent- kilos of food waiting to be harvested, and yet no way to do so. That is, at least, until my 3 remaining bullets were spent.
I raised the barrel and peered down the sights at my target. A young buck lazily strolls through a patch of forest that used to be populated with large, proud trees, now reduced to stumps in the wake of a long-abandoned logging operation. I held my breath, knowing that should I miss my mark and he should escape, that I would surely die of starvation before the night was through. The loud CRACK echoed across the valley.. the barrel smokes, the deer falls. I hurry to my task. The darkness will be upon me soon.
It took hours to harvest the meat from the carcass, which quickly grew cold even as I worked with my hatchet- worn and nearly broken, it is one of the few tools I have managed to scavenge amid this wretched wasteland. I should have left when I heard the wind pick up, but I stubbornly kept to my work. To leave the rest to those damned wolves would be unthinkable- a matter of pride and principal. They would receive no free meal from me.
As I stood, my pack was heavy. It would be a struggle, but I would surely be able to make it back to shelter with my prize. When had my teeth begun to chatter? I looked around, trying to determine which way I had come from, but I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me. I trudged off through the ever-worsening storm trying to find my way. Perhaps it was the exhaustion, or perhaps this valley had finally grown tired of toying with the pitiful being trying its best to survive where clearly no man was meant to, but I missed my footing. Pain shot up my leg as my ankle twisted, and I fell to one knee. Is this it, then?
As I slowly hobble my way up the snowy mountain path, I begin to go numb. First my fingers and toes, then my calves and forearms. I can’t see, I can’t think. I can only go forward. My breathing becomes more and more labored. I will my body to move, but it doesn’t. It can’t. It would be so much easier to.. yes, I think I’ll just rest here for a moment. Perhaps close my eyes, just for a second. I feel my body, once so heavy, so wracked with thirst and hunger, begin to float. I smile to myself. I suppose those wolves will get a free meal out of me, yet. I share a small laugh with the valley as I fade into the long dark.
The Long Dark is an upcoming first-person survival simulation by Hinterland Studio Inc in which you, as a pilot who has crash-landed in an isolated valley in the northern Canadian wilderness, must do your best to survive for as long as possible.
The valley itself seems to have at one time been sparsely populated as evinced by the hydroelectric dam at one end, the train tracks running through the middle, and the few cabins, logging huts, and ice-fishing shacks dotting the landscape. While your main adversaries are cold, thirst, hunger, and exhaustion, if you aren’t careful you may find yourself the unwitting meal of a hungry wolf. By foraging for firewood and raiding the long-abandoned huts and cabins for meager supplies such as worn wool socks and an energy bar or a soda here and there, you are able to prolong the inevitable for just a bit longer.
The graphics are minimalist, yet striking. The trees tower above you and as you trek through the rugged wasteland you come to see that you are but an ant playing in a vast desert. The weather is dynamic and unpredictable, and the sun (when you’re able to see it through the snow) slowly marches across the sky, reminding you that there are only so many hours left in the day before you must resign yourself to huddling in whatever bit of shelter you can find.
The music is rare, usually only playing when you discover a new ‘landmark’ (and I use the term loosely, as a landmark could mean a lonely cabin on a hill or a collection of tree stumps tucked away in some hidden corner), and it evokes memories of that lonely, vaguely sad piano music from Minecraft. In fact, this game really reminds me a lot of Minecraft, from the minimal graphics to the blocky wolves to the sheer terror you feel when you realize you will be caught outside when the sun sets. The main difference between the two being this: in Minecraft, supplies and resources abound. In the Long Dark, they are finite, and precious.
While I did have a lot of fun playing the game this weekend, it really doesn’t take very long to explore the entire map, nor to experience most of what the game has to offer. As of right now, you may only play ‘Sandbox’ mode, and only on one map. The game promises a story mode and another map as well, and I am certainly excited to try those out once it moves out of Alpha.
I read somewhere that one guy survived something like 78 days in the valley, and that’s just insane to me. The best I’ve managed so far is about 18 days.. but to be fair, I ended up just killing myself because I got bored of the ‘scavenge wood, hunt, repeat’ pattern I had fallen into.
Overall, if you’re a fan of the survival genre, this one is right up your alley. You will most likely find yourself, as I did, trying over and over again to survive just a bit longer. The Long Dark is currently in Early Access on Steam and the full release of this game is definitely one to look forward to. If I can offer a bit of advice to you, it’s this: don’t go to sleep while you’re thirsty, and never go gently into the Long Dark.