Currently in The Long Dark I have survived four days and some hours and I’m in a good situation except that now I’m faced with the true horror of the game — tedious boredom. It takes a lot of experimentation to survive four days and also requires a lot of luck and intentional death in previous game lives. You need to die enough to start the game in all the beginning areas and learn their particular quirks. You need to spend many lives simply exploring the sandbox, because there’s no map unless you make one. Since there are no instructions beyond the keyboard map, you need to waste lives finding out how to do things. Most answers you’ll find somewhere on the game forum or in update notes on Steam, but the answers are to questions no player should have to ask so first you’ll need to play and die often enough to be very frustrated. Then, when you’ve become insane because you can’t figure out how to do something terribly simple, you’ll find out through the forum research that the answer is either oddly complex or the game doesn’t allow this.
The sorts of people who write games today must be mentally deficient. If you grow up with computers and cell phones and video games and spend all your time working with those devices, probably one of the most exciting things you can imagine is a tiny keyboard with new key assignments, or maybe a very detailed game with an amazing number of pixels to sort through with your mouse. Thankfully The Long Dark is not a pixel hunt, and so far lacks the need for lying flat on the floor to look under things or jumping high in the air to look on top of things, but probably that is coming soon. No doubt there will be a mini-game within the Long Dark someday where you find a haystack and can actually spend many wonderful hours looking through it for the essential needle while you burn calories and die of hunger and thirst. Some people do think this sort of activity is fun, and those people write today’s games. I think the professional term for that is Asperger’s Syndrome and that might be the norm for the human race after another few thousand years of life with high technology. Then I suppose The Long Dark will be classical literature.
I’m old school when it comes to life in general. I’ve been outside a lot and I’ve actually done many of the things the game includes, so it angers me that the game designers state that they try to make the game as realistic as possible and caution that it’s not actually a survival course (implying that the game might actually include some useful real-world advice). I’ve seen nothing in the Long Dark that’s real, and despite having been told by people on the game forum that actual life is boring and takes a long time, I find the opposite to be true. The game is boring. Life is fine. They could improve the game by modeling it on life, but I suppose that would mean the game designers would have to get out and actually do things and try some of the things they’ve reduced to numbers and algorithms, in order to see what real life is like and how it might fit their game.
Here’s a list of some of the things that have infuriated me (I won’t post this on their forum because they’d have to pay me for this information — I have tons of it):
Fire. Fire is the fundamental resource for arctic survival and you must have it. If you have fire you can even survive naked for a little while, but without it you will surely die. In The Long Dark, until you’ve acquired an unusual amount of resources you really don’t have fire. You start out with 50 percent chance of success and the right materials, but in this game a one-in-two chance of success means nothing. You might use twenty matches with no success. You might use two and get a fire. That’s supposed to be fun, I suppose. Game Designers decided to assign different burn times to different fuels, so no matter how large a stack of firewood you gather, the fire goes out after one load of fuel burns and you have to try again. Use poor fuel and you’ll have to start your fire twenty times. You can’t cook food unless it’s raw. You can’t cook and melt snow and boil water at the same time. None of this makes any sense and it isn’t fun.
Water. You must boil any snow melt water or risk illness. Oh, that aggravates me so much! It’s so pointless! The first thing you learn in arctic survival school is not to eat the yellow snow, and even if you do eat it there’s no risk of illness. Snow is like rain, you can eat and drink as much as you want so long as you have fire, and you don’t need to boil it unless it’s dirty. Even frozen pee won’t make you sick, it’s a good source of salt. Grrr. In this game you can spend all freaking day trying to build a fire and melt snow and boil water and then die because the game won’t allow success. In real life I’d strip naked and go sleep in the snow if I were faced with this level of stupidity.
Opening cans. OMG. You do have several options if you have the right tools such as hatchet, can opener or knife. But if you don’t have any of those you have the smashing option, which yields less food but always works. This angers me because I’ve been in situations where all I had to eat was a couple of cans of food and I had no tools. I remember trying to smash open a can of pork and beans one night on the Nebraska plains when I was hitchhiking across the country and trying to live by civilized rules. I’d never been around civilized people much and I’d picked up some of their preconceptions while in the Army, where people wondered why I would do things like carry a personal knife and survival supplies if I wasn’t actually in a combat zone. Seemed rude to them and I tried to adapt. Then I encountered the can of pork and beans. Cans don’t smash open, they just deform. I know this from real world experience.
Things that don’t freeze. In this game no matter what you do you’ll freeze to death in twenty minutes, yet canned food and bottled water remains liquid. Duh?
Warmth. You can’t warm up by running or walking uphill. Yet you can warm up by stopping in the shelter of a cold rock outcropping and standing in the snow. I so very much want to go hiking with the people who wrote this game and see them try that! One person told me the game makes sense because it’s designed for conditions similar to the Pacific Northwest and he’s been running in the park there in winter. Dude, I lived there for 15 years, even in the summer it’s a great place to die of hypothermia if you actually get out on the water or into the mountains or the woods. But the park is fine, so long as you aren’t homeless and you can run to the next coffee shop and warm up. Warmth in this game just makes no sense at all, it happens for the wrong reasons.
I could go on, but there’s no reason to do that. Some people like The Long Dark, but for me and very likely for anyone else who has some knowledge of the world outside the office cubicle, it’s not entertaining. It’s a bother. World of Warcraft is more realistic and lots more fun. The simple things should not be insurmountably hard. In WoW I can build a fire and cook food, just like in real life, and go on to other things. Which brings me to my last criticism, the most important one of the many I could offer.
Story. There is none. A basic story is implied, as the framework for the game, but you can’t get there because they haven’t built that part. They won’t build it, because they aren’t the sort of creative people who can.
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