[Review] The Long Dark – Nintendo Switch

 

30 Days of Night

Welcome to The Long Dark, a stark lesson of survival in the harsh Canadian wilderness developed by Hinterland Studio. Initially released via the Steam Early Access program in 2014 it was a long way from the package bestowed today, featuring a playable area with limited functionality. Even at this early stage in its lifecycle, The Long Dark received positive feedback. After several years of further development and updates, notably in gameplay and storytelling The Long Dark was released on Xbox and Playstation. Now get set to play it all over again on the Nintendo Switch as its announcement and immediate release became one of the hidden gems of the latest partner update.

The Long Dark

Booting directly into a cautionary disclaimer warning of injury, illness or potential death if what you are about to learn is put into practice in real life instantly sets the tone. Although I’ve watched a couple of Bear Grylls specials I wouldn’t consider myself well versed in the field of extreme survival so this seems like a reasonable compromise. The Long Dark splits nicely into two main modes of play, Wintermute and Survival, supplemented by a third in Challenges. This mode offers a selection of objective-based experiences lasting between one and three hours with defined endings.

 

WINTERMUTED?

Choosing to play Wintermute switches focus towards the wonderfully crafted story, split across episodic segments, with less emphasis on survival. At the point of reviewing, three chapters were available to enjoy with two further expected as future content updates.

The story begins with our bearded protagonist, Will Mackenzie, being persuaded into making one last flight deep into the inhospitable Canadian mountains in order to help estranged wife Astrid deliver a secretive aid package. Through cutscenes and explorative interaction, the opening serves as a great introduction to the characters backstories and the current state of their relationship. After loading the aircraft you set off into the skies, alone in a confined space the pair further expand on their chequered history as the conversation slowly warms. Unsurprisingly things do not go as planned. The dark and cold skyline instantly lights and with a geomagnetic blast as the craft plummets towards the ground.

From this point on Will is on his own, injured and fighting the elements to survive. In search of the missing Astrid, he stumbles upon the small town of Milton. Something terrible has happened and the remaining inhabitants help fill in the blanks as Will slowly begins to understand the gravity of what has and is going on.

After watching the partner update announcement, it was the story element really piqued my interest. The team at Hinterland Studio successfully deliver on this with expertly crafted characters, Will is instantly likeable as the broken man trying to put things right while building a bleak world full of intrigue. The story feeds you just enough detail through perfectly timed pacing to draw you in and keep you playing until the end.

The Long Dark

 

SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST!

The other mode of play is simply called Survival and the basis of the game when it was originally released in 2014. This is a non-narrative driven sandbox exploration with one overriding objective, to survive. This mode allows you, through exploration and encounters, to build your own story and only ends if you die. You are given a choice of region to explore, that naturally will have an impact on how things play out, but other than that you are left to your own devices. It’s times like this when I really wish I’d have been a boy Scout.

Irrelevant of the mode, gameplay mechanics and fundamentals remain constant. Each mode allows you to set the difficulty, so whether you are playing for the first time or a seasoned pro there will be enough going on to keep you busy.

In its purest form, you are tasked with micromanaging four dials and an overall health bar in order to survive. Each dial equates to a potentially life-threatening element in warm, rested, slaked and full. Stripping your character right back to hunter-gatherer you must traverse the wilderness in search of essential supplies that may go some way in keeping these topped up. A light crafting function allows for items to be repaired, broken down or combined if you have the right tools but at the expense of exposure to the elements. Before undergoing each action you are given the detail on the impact to each of the monitored levels and then it’s a case of weighing up the benefits.

The Long Dark

 

WINTER IS COMING!

Gameplay is viewed from a first-person perspective, supported with a run, crouch and collect input. Picking up scavenged items is critical to survival. Inventory can be managed by pulling up the menu, be warned the more you carry the greater exposure you are to sprains and injures. The biggest advantage comes from using the quick access wheel which pinpoints essential actions like navigation, weapons and setting up camps. Although you are provided with a map with markers to explore there is no compass beside the landscape and sun. It adds to the grit and overwhelming feeling of helplessness.

Visually The Long Dark can be a really pretty looking game if you dare stop once in a while and take in the wilderness. The snow-covered regions are a stark reminder of the extreme conditions ahead. While some of the building models are on the basic side and the textures on the Switch are muggy in places it never takes away from the beauty. In fact, a lot of the time it helps add to the experience, the day-night cycle plays a massive part in how you play. Often you will be scrambling to find any light source as the screen is flooded in darkness. And with darkness comes the cold which is a much greater threat than the surrounding wildlife.

One of the highlights of The Lone Dark is in the audio department, the voiceover work is excellent in realising the cast and grounding them in the given situation. The subtle use of the sound effects and chilling soundtrack add to the foreboding sense of hopelessness. One minor annoyance throughout playtime was the fairly lengthy loading times when moving between buildings and the open world, it really slowed down the pacing when looting.

 

 

Final Words

With The Long Dark, Hinterland Studio has delivered an innovative survival exploration experience. The various gameplay modes and difficulty settings really add depth and replayability while making it accessible to a wide and varied audience. The visual and soundtrack are used to perfectly encapsulate the bleak wilderness, supported by solid gameplay mechanics. For me the real enjoyment came in the Wintermute mode, the story arc was compelling and supported by a well-rounded cast of characters. I cannot wait to continue my journey in future episodes.

 

Review code provided


Platform: Pc, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo
Release Date: 17/09/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: Adventure
Developer: Hinterland Studio
Publisher: Hinterland Studio
Website: www.thelongdark.com
Twitter: @HinterlandGames
Download link: US eShop / UK eShop

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