How do you make a game ‘edgy’? Shove in a truck load of curse words, obviously. How about ‘experimental’, maybe even a bit ‘postmodern’? A couple of abstract set-pieces and self-referential jokes should do the trick. You’ll find examples of these key concepts and more as you trudge through the mundane corridors and nonsensical plot twists of The Long Reach. Does any of it make much sense? Is it fun? Doesn’t matter, it’s really clever. Honest.
Essentially The Long Reach is just a straightforward, pixelated horror game that’s littered with annoying, failed attempts at pushing boundaries and, to quote the developers, “screwing with your perception of things”. The bulk of the game plays out over three floors of a research facility in the side-scrolling equivalent of a point-and-click adventure. The main protagonist becomes trapped inside the building with zombie-like colleagues after an experiment goes awry.
The foundation is decent enough; wander around the building in search of items and clues to progress the story. In absolutely textbook fashion, you generally access new areas simply by using the correct item, or combination of items, on the appropriate piece of scenery. Shockingly, these little puzzles stay fairly logical and reasonable throughout. The game is enjoyable and quite endearing during specific, fleeting moments. Namely, when you’ve collected the necessary objects from the currently accessible area, and all that’s left to do is figure out how they might come together to form a solution. It’s at times like these that The Long Reach experience, complemented as it is by moody visuals and unsettling music, works. Tragically, it shits its pixelated nest in literally every other way.
Note the use of ‘shit’ there to add edge!
The Annoyance Part I – Dialogue
The Long Reach is one of the most irritating games I’ve played in a long while. As I look back on those four hours of game time, I can’t help but picture myself sitting there, belly half exposed, arms outstretched, face contorted with horrified incredulity. There are barmy design choices that beggar belief at every turn.
Almost every dialogue and monologue is a badly written flop, which is a touch problematic for a narrative-driven game that conveys its storyline predominantly via that very method. The first annoying red flag is the excessive cursing. The noble protagonist puts sailors to shame. It might have come across as a bit of colourful personality if only there was any nuance whatsoever to be found elsewhere. Unfortunately there’s about as much subtlety here as a brick of solid annoyance to the face.
To tell the truth, I can make my peace with the swearing. First of all, I swear like a seafarer myself, but more importantly, it’s at least there for a reason. This thing is supposed to be edgy and gritty or something so, fine, shove in some ‘fucks’ if you must. But why, oh why, does my guy insist on making weird little jokes in the middle of what should be some truly harrowing moments? This is not a satirical game. There’s absolutely no hint of irony present anywhere else. It would be one thing if the ‘humorous’ asides were actually funny, but they’re just not. It seems as though the writers decided it’d be a cool idea to throw some jokes in without considering for a moment that they might impact the atmosphere, or that they might not be funny.
Then there’s the intertextuality. Well, is it intertextuality? I have no idea what they were going for. Out of nowhere I’d find myself confronted with a not-so-subtle reference to some popular video game or other and just sit there with my incredulous face on again. Were the developers showing off their familiarity with incredibly famous games? Were these ham-fisted attempts at breaking down the fourth wall? No idea.
In between these irritating failed attempts at depth, Painted Black Games graciously tide you over with the constant annoyance of dialogue options. The game prompts you to pick a response every two or three lines during every conversation. In the vast majority of cases, the options express the very same sentiment but use very slightly different words. Oh, and the NPC usually completely ignores you anyway. Your decisions have absolutely no impact in any way beyond the occasional, superficial, one-line reaction. One choice at the end of the game determines which final scene plays out. I saw two endings, neither of which was worth mentioning.
The Annoyance Part II – Plot
In all its unremarkableness, the storyline itself isn’t particularly offensive. Experiment goes wrong, people start confusing dreams with reality, struggle ensues between progress for the greater good and compassion for the individual. None of it is restrained by logic, and it definitely isn’t informed by any kind of science.
If you read the game’s Steam page before playing, the annoyance of such a mediocre storyline is exacerbated. Check this out:
“At its heart The Long Reach is an adventure game. Closer inspection also reveals it’s a thrilling horror story, flavoured with sci-fi ideology, psychological context and a skeptical view on the human psyche.”
Wow! I don’t think that actually makes sense but it has to be deep, right? The page is riddled with this stuff, which is frustrating because it’s so misleading. If you feel the need to fill your entire Steam page with statements about how clever and deep your game is, it probably isn’t that clever or deep.
The Annoyance Part III – The long trudge
On the off-chance that you’re able to hack your way through the dense jungle of annoyance that is the plot and dialogue, I should mention some of the core gameplay issues, primarily the trudge. As I said earlier, once you’ve gathered up the items from any given area, the game is almost good for a while. But to reach that point, you need patience. A yellow outline appears around pickups and objects of interest as you walk past, but it’s subtle, so you’re bound to miss some things if you don’t keep hammering the “interact” button at all times. Of course, if you hammer the button at all times, you inspect every interactive piece of scenery in sight. I hate to use the ‘a’ word again, but it’s very annoying.
In one area of the game, a boring, sprawling office, the trudge was at its peak. I spent over half an hour scouring the place for items, retracing my retraced steps over and over again. The relief of finally locating the remaining piece lasted all of a few seconds. The developers hit me with a really clever plot device that kindly reset my progress in the area and provided me with an entirely new set of items to find. In the very same office. The ol’ double trudge. I was so incredulous I think I pulled a face muscle.
I also have to bring up one of the worst concepts for a puzzle I’ve ever seen, if ‘puzzle’ is even the right word. Late in the game you end up conversing with an NPC in the hope of extracting some key information. The usual barrage of prompts begins and you quickly realise that the conversation is repeating itself. It’s basically trial and error until you pick the correct set of options for the entire dialogue, with some ‘checkpoints’ here and there. This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered the multiple-choice-conversation puzzle in a game, but it’s the laziest example and by far the most disrespectful of the player’s time.
Should you buy it?
Four hours of almost unremitting annoyance for over £10. It’s a resounding no from me. The Long Reach is a muddled, shallow attempt at depth that falls short in almost every area. I applaud ambitious indie developers, but Painted Black Games really overreached on this one. The story does have its moments but my recommendation would be to save yourself the annoyance and just read a good short story instead. It’ll be written better and won’t make your face hurt.