Maybe it’s because we are Canadian. Maybe it’s because we love the howl of frozen winter wind and the lurking menace of nature. Maybe it’s because this game is so dark and so bleak yet we keep returning to it because we can’t get it out of our heads. If you have not played this game then you simply must.
We’ve played at least four separate adventures, and each time after we die from a ridiculously pointless and completely preventable death (freezing, freezing, falling into a fire, being eaten by a wolf) we toss the controller aside and pull out all of our hair. We swear we are done with this game. Then, after a few weeks and after tufts of hair have regrown, we begin again.
My son is eight and he is the instigator. The game simply terrifies him. And yet he insists on playing. He knows we won’t be eaten by wolves or bears in the basic mode, but still he hands me the controller and watches with anticipation and horror as we stumble our way through the wasteland. He doesn’t want to play yet he can’t help but want to watch it being played. This game, with its minimal violence (a wolf eats a deer, a frozen body is found here and there) and next to no action (in alpha sandbox mode), both frightens and compels him. This is his horror movie that he watches through his fingers.
Let’s not kid ourselves – this is my horror movie, too. This is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. A twisted ankle, getting caught in bad weather, simply being too cold for too long all invite death’s embrace. So far the antagonists are limited, though your fiercest opponent is nature itself. The weather, in all its realism, wants to freeze your flesh and chew your bones to dust. Perhaps you manage to build a fire and go to sleep, hoping that the next day you’ll wake up to a clear view and the ability to navigate through the dense forest. But then you open your weary eyes to a thin fog that devours the landscape. You are going to continue to struggle without a good sense of direction. You are not going to make it.
While I cannot use enough exclamation points to proclaim that you must play this game, keep in mind we have not even played two of the main regions yet. No. We have been struggling our way through the first scenario for hours and hours and are determined to come across the more recent additions to the game during the course of successful exploration.
In real life, the allure of hiking through nature is the calm and physical beauty all around us. This game has that feeling. The snow covered trees. The frozen lake. Your hurried breath condensing in the winter air. Now imagine that you’ve become lost and your pack weighs too much and night is falling and you can hear the not-so distant howl of wolves. Now imagine that now matter how smart you think you are and how hard you want to stay alive nature may simply decide that a blizzard is overdue. Nature doesn’t like you very much.
While this game has only recently celebrated its first year of Early Access on Steam, it has grown so much. The graphics are better, the UI is better, and the upcoming Story mode will probably add something so rich and deep that we will be lost in the forest forever.
At time of review we’ve played: 10 amazingly bleak hrs
Videos: Our Long Dark Let’s Play series
Publisher: Hinterland Studio