If facing total isolation at the hands of a global pandemic feels overwhelming, video games are proving to be a suitable medium to turn to in these uncertain times. Whether you’re creeping around the lonely town of Silent Hill, or excavating dark caves alone in Minecraft, there’s always a clear-cut feeling of solitude when navigating these singleplayer spaces.
For the past month I’ve been playing Studio Seufz’s The Longing, a survival adventure where the ‘survival’ is to merely exist. You’re a lonely Shade, a servant of an underground kingdom whose ruler has recently gone into a 400-day slumber to regain his power. In his absence you explore the dark, winding caverns while waiting for his awakening, and this is how you complete the game.
The big hook of The Longing is how time passes at the same rate it does in reality. If you turn it off and return a week later, that exact timeframe will be reflected. Essentially, it takes 400 real days to complete. You can play every day, performing daily tasks in a ritualistic manner, or instead switch it off for a year, and the countdown to the end of your campaign will be identical.
Of course, there are more benefits to frequently returning. Certain key events take time to transpire, which made every return quite exciting for me. On my first session, I happened across a huge ditch that prevented me from pressing on ahead. Tiny drops of water trickled from the ceiling above, slowly filling the hole. I returned to this spot a week later to find a small lake had taken the place, allowing me to swim across. It was effects like this, stuff that makes you really feel the movement of time, that got me excited to keep revisiting the game.
It’s a marathon not a sprint, as the saying goes. The Longing feels like a game you should be returning to every so often. Don’t rush the content but take a little taste of the experience whenever you come back. The world is constantly reactive, less to your actions, but more to the passage of time, and you’ll collect more items and discover new routes that lead to hidden secrets within the kingdom. You can read full classical works of literature such as Nietzsche or Moby Dick, or even create art of your own to help kill time.
There’s a slow pace to this game, but it’s also extremely respectful of your time. The Shade’s leisurely movement means it can take ages to get anywhere, and yet there’s never a rush to reach your goal. If you can’t do what you planned to do in your allocated fifteen minutes of gaming that day, you can come back tomorrow and finish it off. Trust me, you have 400 days. There are enough opportunities to do everything.
All of it is neatly packaged in a dark fairy-tale art style and a haunting score Studio Seufz describes as ‘Atmospheric Dungeon Synth’. It’s an aesthetic that feels appropriate in presenting the isolation that accompanies the Shade’s year of seclusion. The music is echoey, seemingly bouncing off the walls of the caverns itself and making the kingdom feel epic while simultaneously portraying the Shade as small and unimportant.
But despite the dark imagery, The Longing also brings comfort in its isolation. It’s really about finding ways to embrace that. The Shade, inherently a lonely being, is always given the courage to continue its existence and await the king’s return. It finds solace, an escape, in the activities it participates in, not too dissimilar to our own situation in the pandemic. As more people find relief in art and entertainment during the lockdown, there was never a more perfect time for this game to release.
Tested on PC
Developer Studio Seufz
Publisher Application Systems Heidelberg
Disclosure a copy of The Longing was supplied by Application Systems Heidelberg