The Long Dark Alpha Review

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There are a lot of games built around the idea of survival in an unhospitable place. Often these also have zombies running around, which never fails to raise the question of why you wouldn’t try to survive anywhere else.

In most of these games, you eventually become something of a god of the wilderness, lugging around a presumably massive backpack full of crafting materials and DIY survival tools. The Long Dark says screw all that and sets out to remind you that you’d be a massive liability in any sort of survival situation.

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Ooooooh! You said don’t poke the bear?

Now, The Long Dark is of course still in its Alpha stage at the moment. That means that any issues or criticism we bring up here might be resolved at a later date.

That being said, it seems rather unlikely. We originally stopped playing this game close to 6 months ago and, upon playing it again recently, we found that there had been no significant changes made to gameplay. Story mode wasn’t complete then and it’s still not complete now, so either that’s going to be extremely engaging and immersive or Hinterland Studios is working on this with all the speed and urgency of a glacier.

To be fair, they have kept people updated on their progress…Though at least in part by ignoring the questions on when story mode would be finished and trying to use the work they’ve already done as an excuse.

All in all, Hinterland don’t exactly leave a good impression as developers, though the game they produced is fairly good.

There’s a few things to like about The Long Dark. It’s hard enough to be a challenge, the mechanics generally work well and the game is not unfair. It offers multiple difficulties settings, so you can explore a region unmolested first, before actually trying to survive in it. This is also the best way to actually look at your surroundings, which can be quite pretty during sunrise…for a frozen hell hole.

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Ah, a brief moment of relaxation and appreciation for nature before the wolves come to wreck your day again.

Trying to survive the cold and local wildlife can lead to some really cool adventures and tense moments that leave you just barely hanging on! You’ll have to venture off the beaten path now and then to get what you want, so there’s good reason to explore. If you want a nice survival game where your enemy is the setting rather than zombies or some other arbitrary foe, this is the game for you.

However, there is also a lot wrong with the game. Let’s talk some details.

The main downside is, of course, that there is no story mode. Sandbox mode can be fun, though the term sandbox is used a little loosely there. There is no way to change any settings like how many wolves spawn or what the crafting requirements are. Mainly, though, sandbox mode gets boring after a while.

Eventually you’ll find yourself with a pile of resources and nothing to really strive towards. Well, nothing that won’t require you to walk halfway across the map. Which brings us to the next point.

Let’s talk about item placement and crafting recipes. The game offers you a few places to start in, some with more shelter, some with more wildlife. The ‘beginner’s region’ is Mystery Lake, which offers a lot of shelter and wildlife. However, you can’t learn everything the game has to teach here, as certain items are completely unobtainable.

If you intend to make a bow and some arrows, you basically have to start in ‘Desolation Point’, which is a much more unforgiving place to try to survive in for a beginner.

This has to do with the crafting recipe for arrows. See, to make arrows, you actually have to forge arrowheads from scrap metal you can loot from containers or metal shelves. Seriously.

For a game that proudly calls itself realistic, this is an amazingly stupid and nonsensical thing to include. Sharp pieces of stone or metal would have done fine as arrowheads and those could have simply been crafted at a crafting bench, like everything else. Not to mention that it’s a far more realistic method than trying to forge arrowheads without a mold.

The only place you can do this is in Desolation Point and just lighting the forge is not enough. You need to find coal to ensure the forge reaches the required heat and the heavy hammer because…We honestly don’t know since, like our character, we are not medieval blacksmiths. Are we seriously supposed to be hammering arrowheads into shape?


Actually, maybe our character is a blacksmith. We certainly wouldn’t know how to make this.

The developers and fans of the game have defended this choice for the sake of ‘realism’, but there is a problem with that. Namely, the fact that realism only seems to be a factor when it’s convenient for Hinterland studios.

First off all, realism kind of stumbles and falls at the first hurdle. The game’s premise is that your plane crashed due to some kind of geomagnetic disaster, which is why you’re stuck in the mountains and can’t just bust out your cell phone or find a radio.

Really, guys?

That’s the explanation in a game that calls itself realistic? Ok, listen to this: Your plane crashed because of a heavy storm/shoddy maintenance/mechanical failure. You are now stuck in the mountains and you lost your cell phone in the crash/your cell phone broke in the crash/your cell phone’s battery is dead. Furthermore, a radio tower in the area broke, so most of the radios you’ll find are no use either.

Sure, that explanation still has holes you could drive a parade float through, but it’s one hell of a lot closer to being realistic.

The fact that there has been no evident effort to address some of the more important points like bizarrely fast item degradation, an unrealistically high calorie intake for your character and the absurd number of hyper-aggressive wolves on certain maps is rather frustrating.

All in all, The Long Dark is a rather good game that is somewhat let down by a lack of a goal to strive towards in Sanbox mode and the way the developers cling to realism as an argument when the game’s faults are brought up.
You can have some truly epic stories of survival and conquering nature, and the game is at its best then, but it becomes pretty clear that any time Hinterland Studios mention realism, they’re really saying “Because we say so!”

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