The Long Dark

The Long Dark is hands-down one of the best video games I’ve ever played. It is one of those rare pieces of entertainment that seems to be about so little, yet it makes no qualms about sapping hours of your life in what seems like mere moments.

The Long Dark is the kind of game in which you will spend an inordinate amount of time slowly walking. The walk is seemingly endless, and your traversal across the Canadian winterscape is painstaking. Each step sounds like you’re trying out for the role of The Junk Lady in a community theatre reprisal of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth.

The Long Dark

This is a game that pits you against the elements, that forces you to survive on cattail stalks and the melted snow you boiled into potable water. It’s a constant balancing act between your sleep, hunger, thirst, and body temperature meters. And, while you’re managing all of those things at once, you’re also counting the sticks you have on hand so you can estimate how much longer you can keep your fire going. It was a miracle that you started the thing in the first place, but you know you don’t have enough firewood to last until daybreak. This probably doesn’t matter anyway, because the wind is starting to shift directions, and the blizzard you got yourself stuck in doesn’t look like it will let up any time soon. In the meantime, you can’t see shit, and you don’t remember which direction you walked when you left the nearest outpost for supplies.

That’s some heavy stuff.

To put that more succinctly, The Long Dark is a beautiful game about staying alive against all odds. And, believe me, the odds are greatly stacked against you. It is also about facing utter loneliness head-on without succumbing to the crippling sense of isolation. Here, every other person you come across — at least in the survival mode — have long since frozen to death.

The Long Dark

This game can be hauntingly gorgeous at times. Its beauty is not limited to the luminescent Aurora events, which are quite impressive.

No, there are numerous moments when playing this game that I just have to stop to take it all in, gasp at how perfectly a burning stove is framed by the entrance to an abandoned fish house.

The Long Dark

Or a blazing sherbet-colored sun that looks like it is about to crash into a distant mountain peak as it sets for the day. Or the haunting flicker of a singular floodlight in a cabin, usually bereft of life, now crackling as if possessed by the aurora infected neon-electric sky.

Sometimes it can be as simple as a snowy vista, a frozen lake ringed by cabins waiting to be pillaged.

Other times it is simply the act of emerging from shelter after having spent a day and a half breaking down wooden furniture and sewing tattered garments — seeing that desolate, silent predawn snow-covered field as your breath turns to steam and billows out into the cold nothingness.

The Long Dark

It is during these moments that you can’t help but reflect on the trevails you had to overcome to get this far, wondering how many more you’ll encounter as you try your damndest to stay alive in a cold, cruel, punishing world. 

Sometimes The Long Dark can hit a little too close to home.

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