[Review] The Long Dark – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Hinterland Studio
  • Publisher: Hinterland Studio
  • Release Date: 17/09/2020
  • Price: £26.99 / $34.99
  • Review code provided by Hinterland Studio

Introducing The Long Dark Nintendo Switch Review

I have a confession to make. Playing The Long Dark on the Nintendo Switch was not my first experience with the game. I’m a sucker for survival experiences and I jumped at the chance to play The Long Dark while it was in Early Access on Steam sometime back in 2017. At the time, there were just two explorable areas and no story to speak of. As time went on, the game was refined and tweaked to give us the product it has become today. When I installed it on my Switch, I was surprised to see how much had been added. Though the supplies in the game may be scant the content included in this purchase is anything but.

Wintermute

I was hesitant to play the episodic story in The Long Dark. For me, this game was all about the open world survival aspect. Of course it’s difficult providing a comprehensive review if all outlets of the game aren’t explored. I suppose it goes without saying that I put myself in the survivor’s shoes despite any apprehension. The story is currently broken up into three episodes.

Stationed at a remote airstrip, William Mackenzie is going through the motions of a tepid day plagued by a nasty storm. He’s shocked to receive a request and have a visitor appear. Dr. Astrid Greenwood isn’t a stranger and it’s soon clear that the two have a dark history. Astrid pleads with Mackenzie to take her to a distant town for a reason she can’t disclose. Any pilot worth their salt would have declined considering the current weather complications, and surely Mackenzie wanted to. Their history however, forced his hand and he agreed to fly into the ominous.

The Great Outdoors

There’s a little interactivity sprinkled into the opening sequence and the two travelers soon find themselves over a sea of darkness despite the white snow swirling around and masking the landscape. An unexpected flash burns across the sky and is the beginning of the end. The plane ceases to respond and Mackenzie loses control. The story picks up after the plane crashes into the frozen wilderness of Northern Canada. You take control of Mackenzie and set off to find the missing Doctor. All the while having to survive day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. The frozen wild is anything but gentle and survival is not guaranteed.

I really enjoyed the story. More than I thought I would. Story has always been one of the most important points in gaming for me but as I said above, the survival gameplay is what drew me to The Long Dark. When I saw the Early Access updates that slowly added the story elements, I ignored them, instead opting for the survival mode everytime. Now I wish I hadn’t. The narrative that the team at Hinterland Studio created is masterfully done. The enigmatic characters and the challenges they face engulfed me. The Long Dark weaves a fantastic tale, called Wintermute and shores up the difficult survival aspect by giving purpose to keep going.

Into the Wild

If I weren’t abundantly clear already, The Long Dark is a survival game. It pits you against the elements. The darkness kills, not things in the dark. The monsters that lurk around every corner are hunger and thirst. Never knowing what you will find when you see a shack a mile off and sauntering slowly through snow banks praying that some food and a fireplace will be tucked inside. Even the vicious wolves and bears that occasionally wander about were less threatening than an empty stomach or freezing toes. Anything and everything can become a hazard. Carry too much gear and you risk tripping in the snow and spraining your ankle. Iced lakes may tempt you to cross only to break and spoil your day and damage your clothes.

The Long Dark calls to question our basic human needs. Food, water and shelter. It becomes a delicate ballet while fighting to balance these needs to stave off the cold and avoid starvation.

Throughout your time in the wintery world you’ll explore and seek out supplies. There’s a crafting component as well as mild building. You won’t construct detailed forts or anything but building fires and snow caves are critical skills. Repairing clothes to maintain their integrity and some hunting come into play. There’s a lot to simulate survival skills but the team makes it clear that they have taken liberties to make it more engaging. Every action you take eats away the day and costs time and energy. The Long Dark suspends realism while still feeling realistic. Same with the outstanding story, the gameplay is enticing and draws you in with a strong atmosphere. There were times when the novelty grew a little thin after sinking countless hours in a row. It was nice to play in the various sandboxes and modes to keep things fresh.

The Grey

The narrative and gameplay are the juggernauts in The Long Dark. The art stands a bit smaller when next to these giants and understandably so. The stylistic approach overall is pleasant but the white landscape leaves a lot to the imagination. The surrounding world does a great job creating an ambience of drudgery and despair. Looking too close, however, you’ll find poorly cropped trees or objects crossing into each other and blurred buildings. The lack of detail makes sense considering the scope of the game and expansive Canadian landscape.

The music on the other hand is bold in its defiance. There will be long excursions where the soundtrack is absent and the howling wind or growling wolves assail the ears. At seemingly random points the music will cue and does a perfect job adding suspense without breaking immersion. The wide open world feels claustrophobic and the sounds build on that anxiety. Its direction is well presented in any of the modes you play.

Final Wrap

The Long Dark excels with its story, Wintermute and has a provocative survival experience that can take time to explore. Added challenges are available for intrepid adventures looking for a definitive ending. Though there are some graphical issues, they hardly detract from the foreboding feeling that The Long Dark attempts to conjure. The whole experience is engaging not only for the player but for anyone who watches. This survival adventure is one worth embarking on and would especially be pleasing to play during a winter storm.

Pros

  • Inviting Story
  • Harsh Survival Elements
  • Remarkable Atmosphere

Cons

  • Tame Graphics
  • Consecutive Hours Thin the Experience

Verdict
The Long Dark is a chilling survival adventure which has everything it needs to endure.

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