Occasionally as I toil away the hours in my lair I get bored of my usual games and style that I play and look for a different gaming experience. Sometimes it’s to get a change from the usual games, the stock classics that all your friends are on and sometimes it’s because one too many squeakers in an online lobby told me how they did something graphic with a family member. Either way I decided I was going to try a survival game, a type of game I haven’t actually played before but have always seen the appeal in.

The Long Dark is one of the games currently available on Xbox’s preview program. A system not too dissimilar from Steam’s early access. This allows people to buy into and support a game that is running in some capacity, but is still undergoing development. In the case of the Long Dark this means you can play the open world sand box survival, but not the story, as it is still to be released (coming Spring 2016 according to Hinterlands’ website). Bear in mind these games are still in Alpha stages so the occasional glitch or issue can happen and is to be expected, however you get the game at a discounted price.

The Long Dark is a survival game set after a world changing event in which technology and society are gone, nature has taken over and supplies are scarce. Oh, and it’s set in Canada during the winter where the weather is harsh and the wild is… erm… wild.

I was drawn into this game initially by the artwork after seeing some video clips and images online, it then popped up on the last Deals with Gold and I picked it up. After starting it up and selecting the first sandbox world with the middle difficulty setting I was dropped into a beautiful snowy wilderness, deep in the midst of some pines at the bottom of a mountain. The sun was shining and the snow glistened. I began to stroll around and explore and as I did a snow storm began to build. In a short time it went from idealistic and picturesque, to bleak with very bad visibility. My character began to complain to himself (or me?) that they where getting cold, I then noticed different stat bars all going down in my menu. I fumbled around blind in the storm, tree’s lurching out of the darkness. Then I died. Cold and alone I had succumbed to the Long Dark (yep, I did that. Couldn’t resist)

I sat back and took stock, it was evidently clear that my lack of experience in this genre of game left me short in my basic understanding of how to play. The general controls where fine and intuitive to anyone who has played a first person game before but I am used to NPC tutorials, easy to see hints and tips that pop up incessantly until turned off and a myriad of other pointers that you are normally presented with at the start of a new game. Not here though, no. Here in the wilderness of Canada it’s figure it out for yourself or, you know… die. So, after restarting and having a play around with the menus I figured out I have a few basic stat bars to maintain so that I stay alive. Nothing ground-breaking, health, rest, warmth etc. All the things you would be doing to stay alive in real life. That’s when I started to think about things in a real world aspect. ‘If I were in the cold trying to survive, how would I do it?’tld 1024

After failing again to get past a few hours on, my third try I survived through the night. I had found an old woodcutters shed with a hatchet by an old stove. I used it to carve some meat from a deer carcass I had come across earlier (it had been half eaten and I was a little worried whatever it was could still be around) and to cut some wood for a fire. With some paper I found I managed to get a fire going in the old stove and provide myself with much needed heat for warmth and fire to cook my fresh venison steaks, Mmmm, delicious. I awoke in the morning, the sun was shining and I felt renewed for my next day of survival. Ready to take on the woods and the wolves, I packed up my sleeping bag and set out into the wild again, then I died. I hadn’t rested properly, I was dehydrated and hungry, once again succumbing to a chilly death under a pine tree on the side of a mountain. GOD DAMMIT!

At this point (honestly, despite the deaths) I began to really enjoy the game. The setbacks only drove me to try and do better, to figure out more, to start once again with a bit more knowledge. It is vastly different to my usual games and the difference was a breath of fresh air (no pun intended). It felt tense and lonely with a real element of risk, each action is broken down into energy used that depletes your stat bars and uses up time – don’t be caught out in the wild at night – if the cold doesn’t get you the wolves will.

Finding shelter and supplies is paramount, clothes for warmth, tools for survival, food! Without boring you with all of my pitiful survival details I eventually made it a whole 5 and half days. After a particularly good stint I looked up to see I had been sat playing this for nearly a whole day! Ok, the whole day. My Saturday had come and gone and I was not even the slightly bit perturbed by this. All I could think about was how to get better at this game, it was very engaging. The stylised graphics (it’s very ‘graphic novel’) are lovely to walk around in and the whole tone of the game is spot on, I felt drawn into the world and how to play, how to survive. To learn new skills, craft items and explore the wild.

The Long Dark is challenging, after trying only the middle difficulty I have not stepped it up as my inadequacy to get through a few days has me hesitant at the thought of an even more challenging mode, but for you hardcore survivalists I am sure the extra challenge is welcome. This is, in my eyes, a very pretty game with some stunning landscapes. Aside from fighting off impending death in all its forms it can be quiet pleasant. There is wildlife to look out for, both for your own safety (stay away from the Bears) and food (tasty deer steaks, mmm, avoiding death). Generally the feel and tone are great I found it tough but not impossible and each defeat left me wanting to crack on further and get better. It will be interesting to see if in a few months I have mastered survival, and if so, if there is enough to explore to keep it engaging and interesting to play. The story mode is set to come out in ‘spring’ and I am definitely excited to see how that changes the game.

Thanks to Hinterland Games & Xbox for supporting TiX