The Long Dark video game: Can you survive Canada post-disaster?

The Long Dark, a new Canadian-made video game, challenges players to survive as long as they can in an unforgiving Canadian post-apocalyptic wilderness.

Vancouver Island-made game challenges players in brutal post-apocalyptic North

Hinterland Games' The Long Dark is an immersive survival simulation game that challenges players to survive in the remote Canadian wilderness after a global disaster. (Hinterland Games)

You're alone in Canada's remote North, food and water are scarce, early winter is biting at your delicate human flesh and — in a situation that strikes terror into the heart of every tech-loving gamer — a global disaster has rendered all electronic devices utterly useless.

That's the premise behind The Long Dark, the first title from Vancouver Island game developers Hinterland Games.

The Long Dark challenges gamers to see how long they'll survive as stranded bush pilot William Mackenzie. (Hinterland Games)
The first-person survival game draws players into the dangerous footsteps of stranded bush pilot William Mackenzie (a shout-out to Canada's 10th prime minister, perhaps) who faces brutal Canadian conditions with only his wits and supplies scavenged from his surroundings.

"It's a fairly deep simulation," explains Raphael van Lierop, Hinterland's founder and creative director. 

"You're tracking your calories and you're worried about body temperature, when you're going to eat and when you need to drink water."

A newer feature allows users to select either a male or female protagonist.

Wild early response

​An early access version of The Long Dark debuted earlier this week on Steam — a popular PC gaming platform and storefront — and, as of this writing, it's already among the site's top three bestsellers.

Critical reaction from players who spent $19.99 US to suffer certain digital death seems largely favourable, with the biggest criticism being the looming threat of ravenous wolves.

  • On mobile? Read The Long Dark Twitter reaction here, here and here.

Despite the promise of a desperately short life expectancy, van Lierop says players are eating it up.

"One of the things we're really hearing from our fans right now is that they love the level of challenge, they love the fact that when they have success, it's their own success."

Survival: an enduring trend

From TV's The Walking Dead, to the hugely successful Hunger Games film franchise, survival as a genre is thriving.

Popular video games like DayZ, and State of Decay draw on the audience's desire to test their mettle in a post-apocalyptic setting from the safety of their own homes.

But unlike the online multiplayer struggles in DayZ, and the community-building skills needed to outlive the undead in State of Decay, The Long Dark was specifically designed to be a solo affair.

"We don't have zombies," boasts van Lierop.

"It's more of a deeply pensive experience where you're wandering around in this beautiful world while worrying about keeping yourself from freezing and starving to death."

If you're going to die, die in Canada

Nestled in Vancouver Island's Comox Valley, Hinterland Games' headquarters is set in one of Canada's most stunning landscapes. It's no accident that the studio's inaugural game reflects its raw and beautiful birthplace.

Raphael van Lierop is the founder and creative director of Hinterland Studio Inc. The Vancouver Island video game studio expects to launch the full version of its Canadian-set survival game The Long Dark by the end of the year. (Hinterland Studios Inc.)
"I've worked on many projects," explains the veteran game developer, "where you're discouraged from putting any personal cultural references in because you don't want to alienate people that don't come from that country."

If he was holding back before, the newly independent developer is raising his Maple Leaf up high with The Long Dark.

"I was thinking about Margaret Atwood's book Survival and how it's a part of this Canadian mentality of being a small bastion against this massive expanse of wilderness pushing down on you, and I think that's what we're creating here."

Canadians, or anyone else who wants see how well they'd fare north of the 49th (post-apocalypse, of course) can check out The Long Dark's early release on Steam.

The full version is expected by the end of the year.