Game Review: The Long Dark

The long dark has been part of my life for seven years. I remember watching a youtube video from StacyPlays, jumping from Minecraft UHShe, FarLands, and OneLife to her relaxing Meadow gameplays that I binged at 10 PM, thinking I was being super sneaky on my mother’s laptop, hiding it under the sheets in my bunk bed. Sometimes I would fall asleep to a video and be too lazy to figure out where I last was, so I continued the next morning on whatever episode I had been on, even if I was confused. One of the series had ended, and a new one started. The Long Dark.

StacyPlays released the video eight years ago, the title ‘SCARED WOLF! – THE LONG DARK (EP.1)’ makes me smile to look at. There are officially sixty-nine episodes of this game, some of which were released recently. Stacy had become a big part of the game’s success, and her videos have been welcomed by the game developers for saving them from almost needing to shut the whole game down multiple times. This video ended up changing my life and too did the video game. Two years later, for my 9th birthday, I asked for the game on my brother’s Xbox. It was around forty bucks, and I remember a comment about how it was expensive and trying not to feel guilty, knowing I would enjoy it. To this day, I still play the game.

I watch playthroughs to fall asleep, listening to game plays and a stranger’s low voice as they are immersed into the soundtrack and the odd calmness of it all. It is a game in which you are in the middle of an abandoned area of Canada. It is freezing. You have nothing to count on, for there are no consistencies you can fall back on. There is always a limitation to your resources. With all of the regions, no matter how sustainable, you will one day need to meet your fate. You can kill the wildlife, and have them come back for a renewable source of clothing and food, but you can never depend on casually using your sewing kits, for once they are out, you are done for. There are moments when you are in such desperate need you’ll tear apart the clothes on your back for a bandage in hopes you’ll make it to shelter in the harsh cold after an animal attack.

It is a brutal game. There are levels, alternate modes, and challenges, but no matter what, there is always an end to what you can do. Despite this, it is comfortable. You can find peace when next to a fire as if it is warming you up. Even if the outside is howling with wind, your wood is running out, and even if the canned foods, heavy and without a can-opener, start to lose their quality, you aren’t outside.

There is a lot to say about this game. There’s a hidden hope every time you are attacked that it won’t be the end. You have antibiotics on hand, a bandage, and painkillers, but this can all be futile if you do not find shelter to build your strength. At no point, you’re thinking it is hopeless until you see the end screen because there is always a chance. For the first couple of rounds of playing, you may need to start slow. It isn’t an infuriating game, but there is an adjustment to get used to, like where you should start first. Each territory has good and bad stats and the game will tell you which are beginner friendly before you travel outside your designated region! But, at some point, you will find yourself somewhere with harsh lands and no shelter because of your own curiosity or desperation for new sources.

A virtually praised part of this game is the beautiful visuals and soundtrack. I have been trying to learn the main theme on the piano for over five years. How do I mess up that much? I don’t know. At first, my hands were too small for the keys, and now some parts are simply too boring. I started rewriting the entire piece to fit my expectations and have one that is altered to my strengths–because hand size isn’t one. It is beautiful. When the intense climax comes to its rise, I get goosebumps, even if it’s my own hands playing it. When I watch videos of other people’s interpretations of the music, I can’t help but have it on a loop. That song has possibly sparked my love for piano and drive for it. At least, it’s what keeps me coming back, because one day I want to have it complete.

There is an added mechanic to the survival game, The Northern Lights. The Northern Lights come out every once in a while, and when they do, the sky lights up beautifully. The normally dark and cold night now has the added feature of dancing above. You can look up and even in your most desperate times feel at peace. But there is always a catch. For some discernible reason, even in the white out of the desolated world, electricity comes to light in flickers. You can wander around empty villages and towns, broken and struggling in their last moments, to open up someone’s forgotten laptop to read an entry of their life. Sometimes they are sweet. Stories recounting friends and children going to school, while other times, it is the progression of worry as someone is yet to show up, the storm outside getting worse.

There are some criticisms to come with this game, but I do not believe they out-way any of the positives. Looking up and around at the beautiful surroundings, harvesting on an old, ravaged deer carcass for the hide, under the lights in hopes a wolf won’t come around as the wind starts to pick up with shelter a region away. Even in moments of desperation, doing what you can to survive, there is always the want to keep going. To keep fighting in dire times, even if it’s to explore a new area. There is a loneliness to the game, and yet, that is why it is beautiful.