Written by Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller // Edited by Drew Beyer // Header Image courtesy of Hinterland Games
A few months ago, my boyfriend and I were sitting on our couch, browsing through various games available on his Xbox One. We were discussing our preferences, weighing our options, and generally coming up empty… until we stumbled across something intriguing. It was titled The Long Dark and was described as a “thoughtful, exploration-survival experience that challenges solo players to think for themselves as they explore an expansive frozen wilderness.” It had glowing reviews– a near perfect rating– despite being only a preview. The price of admission you got immediate access to the full preview and the promise of the full story mode once released. For $20, that seemed like a steal. After watching a few videos of gameplay, we took a deep breath and went all in. We feverishly waited for the game to finish downloading, eager to try to survive and test our luck in the Canadian wilderness. The second the game was ready to go we started it up and got to it.
I play The Long Dark, frankly, more than I should. I never considered myself a sandbox game person until I started playing it and now I’m hooked. But after about a week of playing the game I began to ask myself questions about it. When was this preview released? How long has it been in this state? Are they still working on it? When is the story mode going to be released? Months after the initial purchase I find myself still asking those questions, which brings me to most important one:
Why doesn’t anyone seem to care?
I would imagine that a game that promised a story mode a year ago and still hasn’t delivered to this day would be the talk of the town, especially a game as well received as The Long Dark. It’s essentially become the Frank Ocean of the gaming community (or the Rick and Morty if that’s more your speed); they keep delaying releases but ultimately keep their base at a steady number of fans always willing to come back for more in a way that I don’t quite understand, but also completely understand at the same time.
In order to help you understand this issue, here’s a brief timeline of the game. The alpha was released early access on September 22, 2014 on Steam, later released for Xbox in June 2015, receiving several updates throughout September and October until a major update on October 30, which introduced a new area to the map, “Coastal Highway” (I’m assuming just “Mystery Lake” and “Pleasant Valley” were available previously.) Aside from an overhaul of several game mechanics in late November 2014, a map changing update was not seen again until September 2015 when “Desolation Point” was added, also known as my favorite location. “Timberwolf Mountain” was added in December 2015, and in April 2016 one of the biggest updates ever was released – the creation of sandbox challenges such as “Tireless Menace” along with other, literally game changing updates to mechanics and gameplay. June 2016 saw the “Penitent Scholar” update, adding the feature that allows you to build skills and gather knowledge through various survival books strewn about the game; September saw “Vigilant Trespass,” and in December 2016, the most recent major update was made – “Resolute Outfitter.” Since then, there have been bug-fix updates and various short sneak peek videos have been posted to the Hinterland Studio YouTube channel, but nothing too important.
On December 19, 2016, Raphael van Lierop, the artistic director of TLD, posted a story mode update to the Hinterland Studios website, outlining the progress made so far on the game and informing the public on why the game wasn’t released the previous spring like they had previously promised and planned. He and the other developers expressed their displeasure with the build of the game they had produced thus far and made the decision to hold off and improve it rather than rush to release it, a decision I greatly respect even though it infuriates me. On April 1, 2017, another update was posted on the Hinterland Forums by one of the “advanced members,” outlining the most recent and most descriptive development update yet, but still no news as to when we can expect the release of the story mode.
Although the updates and constant communication are nice, I can’t help but still feel slighted by the game in some way. Every time I go to play, I’m hoping that the update will be there and I can dive into the story mode that I’ve been ever so patiently waiting for for months, but it’s never there. Frankly, I’m starting to wonder if it’ll ever be there. Fun fact, I’ve been writing this article for about two months (listen, it’s been a busy past couple of months) and nothing I’ve written has lost merit or accuracy, aside from the quick April update. I’m at a loss – at what point do we give up? At what point does the hype wear down and reviews stop coming in and people stop purchasing the game?
My theory is – never.
Video games have this odd ability to always remain hyped, even when they’re outdated or overshadowed by better, more advanced games. Movies can lose their intrigue, tv shows go out of style, just about every other form of media loses its appeal at some point except for video games (and books.) When I was writing about my favorite game, I talked about Super Mario Sunshine and about how I could start up that game right now and still have just as much fun as I did the first time I played it. I feel that way about almost every other game I’ve ever played too, that’s why it was so difficult to choose a favorite. Why is it that video games never lose their appeal for us? Even a game you get tired of, you can pick it back up after a few weeks or months without playing it and enjoy it all over again. Is it because of their interactive nature? Or is it because of something else, something I can’t put my finger on yet? In any case, I find it fascinating that video games — even games like The Long Dark where there is no story mode and hasn’t been for quite literally years — can withstand the test of time as well as they do. So although this is the longest dark ever, I and the rest of their fanbase will ever so patiently wait in the Canadian wilderness for The Long Dark to truly begin, perhaps for no other reason than we found it one day while browsing the games available online and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.