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The Long Dark, Bringing Survival To Consoles

by William Schwartz

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What is your worst fear? Fear of the unknown, fear of being eaten alive or possibly freezing to death in below zero temperatures. The Long Dark looks to dive into these fears as a survival game that explores new ground. Now being offered as one of the first two titles available in the Xbox One Game Preview Program, it serves as an early access look at what the game is shaping up to be on the platform. Curious gamers can even download a trial version that allows them to play for an hour of game time.

Although it is not included in the preview that I played, The Long Dark does have a story mode to supplement the sandbox exploration mode that many will sink time into. It casts a story of Will Mackenzie, a downed pilot who has to survive the Canadian wilderness during a global catastrophe. The story is planned to roll out in an episodic formula. Even without it, there is still plenty to do in this preview build of The Long Dark.

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To break The Long Dark down to its bare bones would be difficult, but here’s me trying. If The Long Dark was a movie, it would be The Grey and your character is that of Liam Neeson. Your goal is to survive as long as humanly possible in the harsh Canadian wilderness. The sandbox mode opens up with three difficulties, Pilgrim, Voyager, or Stalker. Each being incrementally harder and will put the player in a much harsher environment depending on their choice. From there you can choose your spawn area, Mystery Lake, Costal Highway or Pleasant Valley. Finally you get to choose if you want to be a male or female, it doesn’t really matter except the character voice and grunts you will hear.

Players will spawn in a randomly generated area based on the map of their choosing. My first go around I spawned in the middle of a forest and started to learn the ins and outs of the game. Each spawn is a learning experience as permadeath is always looming. It can strike by freezing to death, wolves eating you or even a fall from a great height. Your goal in The Long Dark, is to gather materials and do your best to fight the cold and other environmental hazards. There are plenty of options, but proper monitoring of the weather conditions, your thirst, calorie intake, and body temperature will all be keys to your survival.

Even during the single hour I had, I was able to go really deep into the game. Foraging for venison from frozen deer carcass, plundering for firewood, everything you do takes up precious time, energy (calories) and resources. It all equates to a rather tense and rewarding survival experience. The small choices are what will keep players coming back. Should you go out and look for more wood or should you take the chance and start the fire with the kindling, wood and resources you have now, despite your fire skill is only at sixty percent success rate. I spent most of my time exploring the crafting system and the environment, but there is a whole other aspect to The Long Dark, the night. If you are brave enough to travel during the night expect wolves, bears and other wildlife to come after you. After all, you are just a meal. You can combat them with flares, guns and other resources that you would find from exploring and looting. The wildlife aren’t the only reason to stay away from the night, the visibility can be low as well. The constantly changing weather system can make it foggy during the day and night. The weather system is also tied to the varying degress of cold your character will experience while exploring.

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The Long Dark manages to be a straightforward and engaging survival game that works really well on the Xbox One. Even if it is only a preview, it shows a lot of potential for what The Long Dark could eventually become. The art style is also a wonderful blend between comic and realisim that manages to emphasize the small things like fires and certain colors to catch the players eyes. Even without the story mode, the sandbox mode will keep many players busy, just like it has since September 2014 on PC. As a gauge, I was able to survive for eighteen hours in the game, not bad for my first time. Now go forth and venture into the darkness.

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