Sir Paddy Investigates: The Long Dark - HighrezGaming

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Sir Paddy Investigates: The Long Dark / 18th of March 2015

I'm actually really furious at The Long Dark, about a single thing (well, it has lots of small niggles, but hey it's early access). Those fucking, inconsistent as shit, wolves. See, I like a difficult game, I like a perma-death game, or a game where death is a genuine punishment. I'm quite good at them, so once I get the hang of them they become a bit routine (anybody who played through the original Dark Souls likely found Dark Souls II fairly trivial, I’m sure it's wasn’t just me). But seriously, fuck those wolves, acting all routine then changing up their shit.

The Long Dark is a grim yet beautiful adventure and survival game set in the Canadian wilderness with semi-random resource placement for items such as food, tools, weapons and even some of the buildings. Many resources change from game to game, and just like real Canadian wilderness survival, when you're dead you're dead.

The problem is, I've only ever died thanks to those fucking wolves! You have to manage calories, dehydration, exhaustion levels and ensure you stay warm. If any of these drop too low, your condition drops and you eventually die. Being mauled by wildlife causes it to drop extremely rapidly.

Survival is fairly trivial for the most part, keep moving, if it gets too cold out, light a fire, while the fire is burning get more wood, and if you're thirsty melt and then boil some snow. The numbers are still being balanced so hopefully something can be done but it feels like everything short of not being eaten by wolves is just a bit tedious, partially due to having to stop so damn frequently.

A twelve hour sleep will leave you dehydrated and close to starving. I know I'm hungry and get a bit of dry-mouth when I wake up after a long lie in, but as a lazy and generally unfit thirty something I can usually go until midday without needing a sandwich or a glass of water before I drop dead (and yes, condition drops pretty damn rapidly if one of your four basic needs is completely exhausted). I really don't mind that these numbers force me to be constantly doing something about it, that's what survival is, no respite. However, I just can’t be arsed watching a progress bar dwindle when my survivor needs to get his chops around four chocolate bars and a half litre of water before I can start moving after a powernap.

Moments of tense survival, when I'm not sure I'm going to make it back to a shelter I was using as a temporary base, are extremely few and far between, if only because it really is that easy to spend a whole night boiling water and gathering twigs before sleeping off a night's work. Moments where there's a wolf nearby are genuinely tense if you don't have a flare to light or any rifle rounds to kill the bastard. Those moments are great, they’re interesting and make my heart beat in my throat, especially if my condition is low after a fighting off an earlier wolf. The game really shines there, and if you like everything neat and tidy there's a lot of joy to be had in spending two in-game days just repairing all your gear and making yourself the king of the wilds.

There was a point I was the proud owner for fourteen, I repeat fourteen, rifle bullets. I was the goddamn king of the world. Five bullets later I was still the daddy, just walking to a place I knew had a workbench in order to make a new coat out of all those wolves I'd bumped off. I no longer feared their brethren as, although I’d previously been mauled in that spot by an inconsistent wolf that was no longer afraid of flares, I had nine rifle rounds, and wolves definitely run if you fire a shot… or so I thought. One wolf down with a shot to the head, his friend still charged, I managed to fight him off but was now bleeding. With two wolves dead at my feet another one pounces me. You have died due to blood loss!

Okay I get it, having a rifle shouldn't encourage notions of invincibility, whether you manage to harm the wolf or not, but this lack of consistency is just driving me crazy. The game swings from being a bit too consistent where you can guarantee survival with some resource management, to not being able to guarantee forward momentum because of completely unpredictable enemy behaviour. And this game demands forward momentum, there's no farming, there’s limited resources with which to kill wildlife (a whole deer will only feed you for a couple of days and will require a precious rifle round to put down), you need to be constantly pushing forward, but I keep getting wolf-blocked.

Back to the Souls series for a minute. A Souls game will immediately get you back into the action, and you can reclaim your losses, only repeated failure will actually cost you what dearly as you're likely never more than five minutes from where you last died. Usually you can get straight back into the fray, although admittedly some areas are worse than others when it comes to this. Most other rogue-like games won't let you earn back what you've lost of course, but they balance this by being fairly short, your death and the loss of everything valuable might only be two hours in from where you started. My longest game of FTL is probably only about four hours, and that involved suffocating every living creature I came upon. The likes of X-COM: Enemy Unknown and the Civilisation series have some rogue-like elements as well, randomisation can cause you to lose a game you've been playing for dozens of hours, but in these games you can get usually get around that with careful planning.

This is where The Long Dark falls down. It's so damn long, cheap deaths in this like the wolves above might come after eight hours and often have nothing to do with poor management or rash decisions. In The Long Dark, both times I was killed it was in the same area, by wolves that suddenly changed the rules, and I'd been playing for over four hours! That's four hours of consistent behaviour, carefully planning my next moves, planning paths through areas, not going out when it's too foggy or windy because I couldn't see three feet in front of me, four hours of making sure I was ready to go and not stepping foot somewhere until I knew I had a handle on things. The game unscrewed the clips that held on my handle, and then a wolf ate me.

To be fair, even after this I’m not done with the game, fairly frequent tedium and the fury of a few cheap deaths aside, I'll definitely give it more of my time. If you can get past the boredom of watching progress bars it can be a lot of fun.

But back to Souls one more time; like Souls games, it's a game that's most joyous when it's a time of firsts. Your first time discovering a stash of great gear that will save your arse is gleeful, the first time you see the sun come over the hills after a rough night is beautifully reassuring, the first time you manage to fight off a wolf and make it back to your basecamp alive s exhilarating, as is the first time you find your way to somewhere safe whilst blinded by a snow storm. These moments feel like something you’ve genuinely achieved, it's just a shame that once you get any good they feel a bit run of the mill, that is until a wolf wrecks your shit. Seriously, fuck wolves.

Paddy Maxson
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