This week I returned to a title that I played a lot earlier this year but, I never got around to writing about. It’s a game called The Long Dark, a survival game set in the wilderness in the dead of winter. More so than any survival game in my memory, The Long Dark thrives on its focus on realism. The Long Dark plops you down in any one of the survival regions with a thin layer of clothes and a hunger, thirst, rest, and warmth meter which you must balance as you search the frozen wilderness.
Quickly you discover that The Long Dark is not quite like other survival games. You can’t build many tools or a shelter for that matter and you won’t be creating any sort of farm. Instead, you’ll be working with what’s already built, the remnants of human settlements peppering the landscape. The only active physical threats to your safety are the occasional wolf or bear but, these creatures can be easily scared away and don’t necessarily constitute a malicious force. The predominant enemy is the bitter cold and the oppressive loneliness. More so than any game I’ve played in recent memory, The Long Dark gives me a feeling of utter terror as I play it.
The Long Dark reminds me how terrifying nature can be. Though you have to scavenge and explore, find tools, and keep yourself nourished, the game doesn’t give you enough time to do those things. The days are short and the nights are terrifyingly long. The weather changes suddenly and visibility isn’t guaranteed. Everything can be going great for you and suddenly a blizzard will come and stay for days. Going outside is out of the question, you’ll freeze, or get lost, or get lost and freeze. So you wait, alone, in a cabin, hoping you gathered enough to survive the storm. Or you’ll be out and suddenly a storm will hit and won’t be able to find your way home, so you stumble into a cave and start a fire while you wait for it to pass. Simply put, you’re powerless. And that’s what makes it so terrifying.
But nature is every bit as beautiful as it is terrifying and it’s no different here. The Long Dark is a stunning game, every few minutes or so I had to stop and stare at the incredible vistas and it added to my anxiety. Every time I’d stop, I’d know my meters were dropping lower and I’d hear wolves in the distance or observe the sky shift to signal the weather was about to change and I knew I had to move. It was incredibly lonely and brutal to play but worth it.
I’ve carried this game with me since I first played it and I’m convinced it will stay with me for a very long time. Video games have never turned away from horror but, often, horror is defined by a very narrow definition. The Long Dark explores loneliness, the quiet, nature, and the true terror that is our ultimate powerlessness. And for this reason, this is the first game I am suggesting is a must play for 2017.