the long dark

The Long Dark Review | Starving, Parched, & Freezing to Death

Freditor says games are totally a form of art so I’m going with it. I’m all tapped out for lookin’ at your artwork, guys. This is December. It’s the only month I can start drinking before 1pm without my family calling an intervention and I’m not wasting my precious NDIS time looking at black and white photographs of someone’s nipples. So stop asking.

Roll on what used to be someone else’s job until he asked for a wage.

the long dark

Last week I played a game where I was one of the only few survivors left on the planet and this week I’m a little miffed you haven’t all died silently off-screen so that I can rifle through the burnt-out shells of your lives. In an effort to recreate the joy I experienced in what can only be described as the gold medal for being antisocial, I’ve been playing the single player modes of multiplayer apocalypse games.

One that particularly stood out to me was The Long Dark, an FP survival sim created by the indie Hinterland Studio, released for early access in September of this year. Only the sandbox mode is currently available, but since breathing is already a pointless activity, I was more than prepared to take it at current value.


Following the geomagnetic apocalypse, my plane went down in the only region currently available for play. Dropped in the middle of the northern wilderness with nothing but a backpack, rifling through it revealed medical supplies, a bedroll, 12 matches and something called a tinder plug. I don’t know what a tinder plug is. I’m probably going to die.

I briefly wonder how long a person can stand around in the snow without dying. I watched  survival shows once. I forgot the dude’s name but he said if you fall into icy water you should get naked and rub yourself in snow. It doesn’t seem like the best advice but I’ve never had my own show so I guess I’ll just go with it if I ever run into that.


There is no health or stamina meter to tell me when I’m about to drop off so I have to estimate within the confines of my own ability. This is oddly realistic but without being able to, you know, actually feel what I’m feeling. I later find you’re notified if something concerning is happening, but after realising I’m already dehydrated, starving and freezing, I kind of wished I hadn’t.

There’s no HUD or compass to clutter up what is a particularly lovely design either.  Instead, players must rely on landmarks and sense of direction to not get lost in the wilderness. Although this almost definitely ensures that I’m going to wander into the literal long dark, I think it gives the game a really wonderful sense of isolation. It also keeps things sleek and simplified which is unusual for a survivalist sim. It’s a rare treat not to be bombarded with a thousand shoddy repetitive textures and only compliments how gorgeous the in-game art is.


Spying a set of train tracks in the snow, I follow them until I spy a cabin to my right and sprint over before heading inside. After lifting everything that’s not nailed down I head upstairs to make a fire. On my way up I notice a corpse and peel off his thermal underwear because, uhh…
As I’m putting them on it briefly occurs to me that my plane went down a few hours ago when the event happened, but the guy I just looted has clearly been dead for ages. Not entirely sure what that’s about but whatever.

I melt some snow, drink it up and instantly contract dysentery. A quick check on google, and I am most likely going to die. Taking one of my two antibiotics because I’m not a doctor, I decide to skip the rest of the day and sleep until morning, where I wake up famished and ashamed. Hunger is measured by a calorie counter more accurate than a runway model, and my only source of food is in a can. Bashing it open, I’m informed I have spilled exactly 24% of it on myself in the process. I eat it cold because I don’t have the skills to start a fire. This game is brutal.


Outside again, and halfway down the tracks I realise I’m in the middle of a blizzard. Natural weather also factors into your survivability here, and it is at this point where I finally realise that I am definitely going to die. The only point to this sandbox is to see how long I can go before that happens.

I’m not complaining. I’ve played open games with less of a point than this (as anyone who has played literally any amount of time in The Sims will confirm). For a game where each second ticks away until you’re eventually blitzed by a wolf or starve to death, it’s surprisingly soothing. It’s probably the clean design and unblemished acres of snow talking but so far The Long Dark has been a pretty, enjoyable and relaxing experience.


Oddly enough, it hits me that the in-game characters are voiced by both Shepards from the Mass Effect series. At first glance I thought this game would be nothing more than a quick-play treat, but perhaps that’s only because of early access. With two notable talents on the script, I could almost believe that when the story mode is released it’ll actually be something really interesting – even if it is only available as a male character. Bleh.

Following the tracks onward, I pass a frozen deer carcass which I’m told I lack any tools to harvest. I’m starving, parched, and freezing despite my stolen long-johns. Crossing over a bridge takes me to a place the game informs me is a hydro-dam. I head inside out of the cold and instantly begin looting. A shelf contains more antibiotics to replace what I wasted on trying to cure dysentery, and I also find some ammunition.  For want of a gun to put my ammo in, seconds later I resort to throwing the bullets at the wolf which tears me to pieces. I am now actually dead.

The game informs me I survived for nineteen hours, and even knowing I slept for most of that, I’m not disappointed. Considering most of The Long Dark isn’t even available yet, you’d be impressed how a game with absolutely no goal but to not die quite yet could be enjoyable. Once survivor AI and co-op options are included, this could really be a fun little package for you and some friends to bash to death and roast over an old stove. Or maybe you could bash them to death, I think they’re offering player treachery as a selling point on their website.


The Long Dark is currently available on Steam for £14.99, but will most definitely go up in price once early access finishes:

Hinterland Studio inc.
The Long Dark’s Game website.

Published by

Zola Paulse

Zola Paulse

Zola Paulse is a jack-of-all-trades from Lancashire, England. She enjoys art, physics and astronomy, chain smoking and speaking about herself in third person.