The Long Dark's Early Access delivers some quality alone time

Nemesis system.

I've encountered three main antagonists during the dozen or so hours that I've spent with Hinterland's early access survival title, The Long Dark. That takes some doing in a game that's currently without its upcoming story mode and the mooted addition of AI survivors to its open-ended sandbox. Nonetheless, I encounter the same three foes frequently enough that they bear telling of here, so that you might avoid making the same mistakes I have.

My first nemesis is my own stupidity. Fortunately, this has rarely been colossal enough to prove fatal but has been apparent too often for me to ignore. I've contracted dysentery by failing to boil melted snow before ingesting it, I've busted my ankle scrambling down a snowy hillside to reach a remote cabin, I've done any number of other foolish things that have dented my chances of long-term survival.

On the plus side, I'm usually only left a little worse for wear and a tad red-faced, while what ails me can be fixed with antibiotics, antiseptic, bandages and bed-rest. This takes time and eats into precious resources but at least I have a well-stocked first aid kit to patch me up. That said, no amount of lotions and potions could save me from the time I stubbornly spent three hours stripping a dear carcass of its meat, hide and guts only to die of exposure when the sun went down. Idiot.

My second nemesis has been the wildlife, specifically wolves. Despite Hinterland's early disclaimer that the developer knows wolves do not typically attack people, it's apparent that whatever freak geomagnetic occurrence has seen me stranded in Canada's frozen landscape has also sent the wolves barking mad. Consequently, the number of times I've watched the screen fade to black and been informed that I've died from "loss of blood and shock from a wolf attack" are too numerous to count.

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The art style keeps the snowy climes interesting and makes cresting a hill at dawn or dusk well worth the arduous hike.

That's not to say that I've gone quietly, of course. I often manage to drive them off with flares or with torches crafted from deadwood, cloth and kerosene. I've even got my own back a couple of times through lethal self-defence with a hatchet or knife or through deliberate hunting with a rifle. Nonetheless, the collective wolf pack has seen to my end many more times that I have its. This is unsurprising, as a single wolf attack can leave you bleeding and at risk of infection, so if you're not in optimum condition to begin with (perhaps because you've contracted dysentery or suffered a freak ankle injury) then a single wolf attack can often be enough to end you. I'm relieved that I'm yet to encounter a bear but the presence of a bearskin bedroll on the crafting menu suggests they're out there somewhere, no doubt waiting to kill me.

Unfortunately for me, my third worst enemy is egged on by my first and makes my second far more likely to be a serious problem. I'm greedy, you see, and for a survival game set in the remote snowy wilds of Canada, supplies here are surprisingly plentiful. Idyllic lakeside cabins yield tins of sugary soda, some tools and an item or two of woolly clothing; fishing huts can be relied upon for kindling, fuel and snacks, while the odd deer-stand, train carriage and burnt out husk of a building offers the left behinds of the local population, which has either fled or can be found dotted around having frozen to death or suffered a painful end through telltale canine teeth marks.

Compounding my gamer's greed is the fact that almost everything is useful, which makes leaving things behind difficult. While it can seem ridiculous to have amassed half a dozen pairs of cotton socks and three bobble-hats, they can always be harvested for cloth that can be used in turn to craft bandages, snares and the upkeep of clothing to guard against persistent cold and biting wind. Even keeping within the reasonable 30kg pack limit doesn't solve the problem because as you become fatigued you're able to shoulder less of a burden, which is particularly problematic when you're tired, overloaded and have been mauled by a wolf and yet still refuse to drop the extra lantern you're carrying.

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Three difficulty levels range from pensive exploration to death waiting behind every hill and treetop.

So far, my particular brand of compelling misery has been confined to sandbox mode as I harvest the tools and techniques to help me survive for as long as possible. Later, an episodic story mode is promised, in which bush pilot Will Mackenzie will encounter fellow survivors as he tries to adapt to the changes wrought by the geomagnetic event that forced his plane down in the frozen wilds of Canada.

So, while this early access build will yet benefit from further tweaks to UI, controls and balancing, The Long Dark is already an intriguing experience.

The current development period also feeds into the fiction of the game; jump in now and you start alone, left to guess at the cause of wider world's woes but free to map the surrounding environment and before long you've turned the big white Canadian wilds into your own backyard. Later, when AI survivors are added in, drawn to the same place as you either by purpose or accident, they will likely feel like trespassers and so while it will be interesting to finally meet the trapper whose homestead I've pillaged a dozen times or the inhabitants from the fishing village, I'll do so warily.

Fellow survivors will also add variety and degree of potential danger that goes beyond freezing to death or dying from blood loss from yet another wolf attack. That's all in the future though. For now, The Long Dark is mine alone to explore and so here I remain in this stark wilderness, battling Mother Nature's mutability and my own foolish vices.

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About the author

Stace Harman

Stace Harman

Contributor

Stace Harman is a freelance writer and zombie survivalist. He writes mainly about video games but has also reported on topics ranging from airline security to Claudia Winkleman’s shoes.

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