I had never tried The Long Dark before the developer, Hinterland, decided to listen to fan (and internal) feedback and completely overhaul the single-player experience, taking a big risk financially to do so. The original Wintermute chapters were poorly received, described as a slog to get through. Thankfully I never had that experience. Instead I was able to play the Redux versions of Chapters One and Two, and was blown away by the experience.
In The Long Dark: Wintermute Redux you play as remote pilot Will McKenzie (voiced by alternate Commander Shepard voice actor Mark Meer) as he re-unites with his ex-wife Astrid Greenwood (voiced by the true Commander Shepard, Jennifer Hale). Astrid convinces Will to fly her to a remote location in Northern Canada – which I love as a good Canadian boy. A mysterious storm hits the plane and they crash-land in the frozen wilderness with few supplies.
The intro to this crash and the game proper is magnificently done, with Will first exploring his hangar and investigating mementos and the basics of the game systems. The narrative style is very akin to the amazing game Firewatch and that is a very good thing. Researching the previous version of this game I was shocked that this intro is all new: the original game had started right away with the crash.
Without this narrative back story and the introduction of Will and Astrid I can understand why the previous versions were ill received. The intro explains why supplies are limited, explores the relationship between the two, and completely sets up both the rules of the world and its visual style.
After the crash Will wakes up, separated from Astrid. This is when the true beauty of The Long Dark’s survival mechanics come into play, as Will struggles to stay alive and track down Astrid.
Basics are introduced, such as starting fires and creating bandages to heal wounds, but there is also a lot of self-discovery into the systems, which I frankly loved. Wandering and discovering and creating new items are brilliantly implemented and always made exciting, as there is a real need to find, scavenge, craft, and equip items to stay alive. When I was able to finally repair my clothes I was actually ecstatic.
Hinterland made this game in the Unity engine yet somehow it looks completely unique and handcrafted. The characters, creatures, world, and items are all lovingly represented, and with the new voice acting the story truly comes alive.
From the start I was invested in Will, Astrid, and other characters I won’t reveal to keep the story fresh. Rest assured though, there are many characters in these first two chapters, many of whom would fit right in on Twin Peaks. The story starts fairly innocently, but tidbits of information and character dialogue hint at a quiet apocalypse that is revealed as the story progresses.
Having come into this game late into its lifecycle, I was impressed. The story, scenario, and setting grabbed me from the loading screens and did not let me go until Chapter Two was completed Now I want more as quickly as possible.
What truly helps this game is the incredibly mature and brutally enjoyable survival game The Long Dark, which Wintermute uses for its core mechanics. I dabbled with the survival portion outside of the story, and it is something I plan to sink a great deal of time into.
The Long Dark has a number of maps suited for Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced players, as well as challenge sliders dictating how hard survival will be. And then I was left to my own devices. Find shelter, scavenge, craft, and survive as long as possible.
I played for a few hours and truly felt like I was in a frozen-apocalypse movie. I had set up a home base with lots of food and fuel and would wander farther and farther afield. I eventually died from an animal attack but I was not angry. This was a survival game I really wanted to come back to over and over.
This incredibly strong core of game mechanics and the newly revamped narrative and stellar voice cast make The Long Dark: Wintermute Redux a truly compelling game, and one I encourage everyone to dive into and explore. Hinterland will release additional chapters when they’re ready at the same level of quality as these excellent redone first two parts.