You can finally lay hands on The Long Dark this September, Windows and Mac users. Developer Hinterlands just confirmed the game will be playable in prerelease form by way of Steam Early Access — a program whereby developers can sell unfinished versions of their projects in advance of final code. Buyers pay to be testers, though feedback isn’t required (some people just want a peek behind the curtain early, and this lets them have it for a price).
The game, Kickstarted last October to the tune of a quarter million bucks, was estimated to arrive in October 2014. The final release is currently set for “later in 2014.”
No, the game’s title has nothing to do with “The Long Dark,” a Babylon 5 episode about a phantom space creature that chows on cryonic explorers (I mention it only because that’s what comes up if you scan Wikipedia for the game). The Long Dark is rather a first-person survival simulation set somewhere in the “Northern wilderness” after a global disaster.
Speaking as a frequent visitor to said wilderness, how a post-apocalyptic version might differ from what it feels like to camp or hike through northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin or Michigan’s upper peninsula (or heck, any part of Canada) today, I have to wonder. Anyone who’s done so knows how disconnected parts of those places can seem right now, no need for a holocaust’s helping hand.
On the other hand, there’s something unmistakably romantic about being in the middle of cold, dead, godforsaken nowhere, the day fading to dusk and then blackness, the raw elements (and your hierarchy of human needs) scraping at the door. It’s part of what draws us to tabula rasa tales, that confluence of isolation, beauty, primitivism, terror and possibility. That’s the vein The Long Dark seems to be tapping, anyway.
As setups go, The Long Dark‘s is part of a storied tradition of survivalist fiction and films. If you’ve seen Revolution, the gist isn’t so different: a “geomagnetic event” comes along and knocks out the lights, the power, everything. Food and water are in short supply. And you’re not completely alone: there’s the wildlife to consider, and then you’ll wind up bumping into other survivors, resorting, one assumes, to the kinds of disquieting things survivors do.
The new trailer above is just a few panning long shots of the lovely-looking scenery — sunsets and starry, starry skies and an ocean of snow shrouding the world. The art team’s apparently going for a look somewhere between the austere geometric angularity of a game like Mirror’s Edge and the saturation-cranked colorific vibrance of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.
The final version will incorporate two play modes: sandbox and story. Sandbox mode starts the clock ticking and drops you into a non-narrative resource management game (you have to manage body temperature, caloric intake, thirst, fatigue, windchill and so forth), while Story mode has you playing episodically as bush pilot Will Mackenzie after crashing into the wilderness (the crash is caused by the geomagnetic disaster), trying to figure out what happened and why. Sandbox mode is what you get if you sign up for Early Access, whereas Story mode won’t be available until launch to keep it from spoiling early.