Screenshot: The Long Dark/Hinterland Studio

Welcome to our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans, nagging questions, and whatever else we feel like talking about. No matter what the topic, we invite everyone in the comments to tell us: What Are You Playing This Weekend?

My favorite thing about Steam’s massive sales—the current summer sale will be running until July 4—is that they encourage me to finally branch out and try new things. I’ve been avoiding survival games like the plague, thinking that they’re just too slow and monotonous and wonky for me. Also I’m terrified of Lord Of The Flies-style inhumanity found in multiplayer games like DayZ or Rust. But after hearing Sean Murray, one of the lead developers of No Man’s Sky, and lots of you fine folks in the Gameological comments praise The Long Dark, I went out on a limb and grabbed it for around $7. I haven’t put a ton of time into its intimidating lone-survivalist sandbox yet, but I’m already impressed by its approach to this difficult genre.

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Screenshot: The Long Dark/Hinterland Studio

To me, one of the most impressive things it does is immediately present the player with three difficulty options. Its stylized frozen wilderness is barren and beautiful, the kind of place in which exploration-minded players might just want to live and traverse. For them, The Long Dark offers “Pilgrim” mode, where wildlife won’t attack and your character is much more resilient to hunger, thirst, and fatigue. What’s refreshing is how this mode is presented. It’s not “easy” mode and the game doesn’t insult you for picking it. Instead, it frames it in an encouraging, thoughtful way: “You wander the long road to observe the quiet apocalypse and chronicle the passing of an era. All about atmosphere. For players who are most interested in pensive exploration.”

This shows the developers at Hinterland Studio understand that people come to video games for different reasons. There’s value in welcoming all kinds of players, especially when your game is capable of offering diverse goals. Not everyone wants to scrounge for soda and sticks or freeze to death after wandering around for a few hours and finding nothing but frozen woods and toppled train cars. Sometimes you just want to go for a walk in a frozen wonderland, occasionally stopping to rest and eat a granola bar. That Hinterland put this kind of thought into what different people get out of its game is admirable and reflects the more measured, quiet experience that makes up the meat of The Long Dark. There’s no zombies or roving bandits (as far as I can tell), just you and nature in all its gorgeous and cruel glory.

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Screenshot: The Long Dark/Hinterland Studio

On the higher difficulties, I’ve found that cruelty really depends on what region you’ve decided to play on. The default map, which the game claims is the best ratio of wildlife to man-made shelters, was horrifically grueling on my three attempts at it. Other than one true shelter, I found nothing but snow and ice as far as the eye can see. The second zone, a stretch of coastal highway with lots of cabins, has been more interesting. I’ve felt some accomplishment there, finding real tools and resources. I understand that withholding is part of these games’ appeal—that finding shelter becomes more meaningful when you’ve been stumbling through the snow for ages and are at death’s door—but it’s also nice to get somewhere. Besides, I still get those moments of discovery and relief, like the elation of finding my first hatchet or barely making it into a gas station before a wild dog is able to sink its teeth into my leg. With that much variation between the maps and difficulties, The Long Dark goes out of its way to cater to as many people as possible without sacrificing its allure.

How about you, Gameologerinos? Did you pick up anything good during the Steam sale?

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