In 2015, at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Microsoft debuted the Game Preview program bringing early access games to Xbox One. The feature premiered with two games, Elite: Dangerous and The Long Dark. Elite: Dangerous was a no-brainer for me to buy. I immediately downloaded the demo as soon as it became available and haven't looked back but The Long Dark took a place on the back burner.
I later downloaded the trial for The Long Dark and it has held a place in my heart ever since. You should keep tabs on it too, and I'll tell you why.
Survival Has Been Redefined
If you're a fan of the survival genre of games, or simply haven't been living under a rock for the last few years, you're probably familiar with the concept of how survival games work. Like most other titles that fall under this category, The Long Dark uses mechanics such as the need to monitor your character's sleep, hunger, thirst, and warmth. This is more or less where the similarities end however.
The Long Dark takes place in the Canadian wilderness in the aftermath of a geomagnetic storm that has resulted in an apocalypse of sorts. In the game's main Sandbox mode, players are required to scavenge for resources, survive the elements, and fend off disease as well as dangerous animals. This may all sound terribly derivative but the devil is in the details.
The world is scattered with items that are completely necessary to your survival, though you need to be careful about how and when you utilize them. Finding a can of dog food will nourish you for some time, though without a can opener or knife, you'll risk losing some of the calories from smashing it open. Then you need to consider that your tools can break. Lighting a fire takes time but can still end in failure, while still consuming the fuel. Weapons, which are few and far between, are precious resources that require care and consideration to utilize properly. Everything you need is available to you from the moment you start as long as you know where to look.
There are no creepers, psychotic people, or zombies; just you, the weather, and the wilderness. Time is your most precious resource, as well as your worst enemy. With the night comes lower temperatures, which forces you to look for shelter. One of the most recent updates adds an additional burden on the player by making you reconsider how long you hole up in shelter. Spending too long inside makes you contract the "Cabin Fever" ailment, which adds to the already long list of things that can go wrong.
The Long Dark is unforgiving to say the least. All of the aforementioned features are compounded with the addition of the permanence of death. There's no recovering your supplies from your corpse like you would in games like Minecraft, No Man's Sky, or Rust. If you freeze to death in the middle of a snowstorm, you lose your progress entirely along with all of your supplies.
More Is On The Way
Currently, The Long Dark's gameplay consists of a sandbox survival mode and challenges that offer objectives to complete, but Hinterland Games has more planned for the future. Furthermore, the list of changes that have already been made is a rather long one.
Further down the line is the addition of a story mode, that will include new challenges to face. Players will no longer only have to contend with the environment, but other AI controlled humans and ethical choices as well. The story mode will consist of multiple hours of gameplay, with unique areas to explore and the developer is aiming to have compelling characters to tell the story.
Hinterland Games Engages Their Community
The Long Dark's developer is deeply engaged with the players of their game. In the time that I've been playing the game, I've had the pleasure of not only getting to know other players, but also being able to converse with some of the staff too. They're a down-to-Earth bunch that stays involved with their player base and they make it a point to keep their players up to date with their plans for the game, which is still in its alpha stages. Their approach to communication with the player base is honest and straightforward, not to mention actually present.
It's refreshing to play a game that feels so supported by the creator. Granted, it's still in its early access stage, but if the developer's past and current behavior is any indication of what's to come, there's hope that this will continue on its path to be a great finished product.
So That's Why
The Long Dark may still be in development - like so many other early access PC titles - but the path that Hinterland Games has taken seems to indicate that they care about their game. I know that sounds like it should be the norm, it doesn't usually feel like that with the way developers appear to churn out games without a thought. This care is something that I feel sets them apart. They aren't rushing to meet a deadline, cutting features to make it in on time, but they also aren't falling victim to feature creep either.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go freeze to death and get eaten by wolves.