There’s something eerie, almost supernatural about winter in the far North. Night that seems to last forever, feeling your breath start to freeze in your lungs, the crunch of hard-packed snow under your boots. Sometimes I miss the long winter nights of Canada and the stillness they bring. The Long Dark is a survival experience that brings me back to my youth in Canada’s frozen north.

Hinterland Studio’s first person survival sim is currently in early access. At the moment the alpha only offers a sandbox mode but there’s a story mode in development for later releases. How does The Long Dark compare to similar games and what are my initial impressions?

In a lot of ways The Long Dark reminds me of other survival-related games like Minecraft and Day Z. You start in a random location and explore a static map (unlike Minecraft’s procedurally generated worlds), scavenging for food, water, and safety from the hostile environment.

In The Long Dark this appears to be the most dangerous aspect. Sure, there are dangerous animals like wolves running around, but you’re more likely to be killed by the cold or hunger than eaten by a wolf. You need to juggle basic needs by eating, drinking, sleeping, and seeking shelter from the cold. You can forage for firewood, repair your clothing, and hunt the local wildlife (if you manage to find a rifle and ammo).

Unlike Day Z, however, I didn’t feel a great sense of momentum when playing The Long Dark. Maybe it’s the lack of external threat in the form of other players or the fact you start with a full set of winter clothing. I spent most of my time exploring the wilderness, looking for interesting landmarks, and trying not to starve to death. At the moment I don’t see a lot of replayability in the sandbox mode, but that could change with later releases.

Unlike Minecraft, a game that combines building with exploration, I don’t feel any need to keep playing The Long Dark for more than one or two sessions at a time. I see how long I can survive and then laugh when I get mauled to death or fall off a cliff. I’m looking forward to seeing the story mode, and finding out if the narrative will keep me playing.

The Long Dark looks amazing. The visuals are striking and the game itself feels really polished. If this is an alpha I can’t wait to see future releases. The minimal HUD, sound design, and art style all serve to create an atmosphere of cold and isolation. The only human contact I’ve had so far is stumbling across frozen bodies half-buried in the snow.

There’s a lot of promise here: good survival systems, amazing visuals, and memorable setting. However, at the moment there’s not much in The Long Dark to keep my interest in the long term. I’ve enjoyed my time playing but I see the alpha as an extended demo. I can’t wait to see what the full game develops into as at the moment it feels a little sparse.

The Long Dark brings me back to my childhood; memories of trudging through the cold, the silence, and the darkness. Like the real Canadian winter, however, The Long Dark is best experienced in short increments.