Despite initial appearances, The Long Reach is not a zombie apocalypse game. Probably for the best, there’s already far too many of them these days. No, this game is more Stranger Things and Stephen King than The Walking Dead. Essentially, it’s a 2D adventure game with puzzle solving and horror elements.
What’s the story?
For the most part, The Long Reach puts you in shoes of Stewart. He’s a lowly technician and volunteer guinea pig who works in some kind of underground research facility. General Education is the name and “Better brains for a better America” is their game. They’re experimenting with technology that can transfer new skills and knowledge into any person.
After the latest session, having never taken a lesson, Stewart can now flawlessly play the piano concertos of Bach and Beethoven. Neato! Of course, it all quickly goes south. Well, what did you expect?
Stewart passes out. He awakens to finds himself trapped, the complex in a security shutdown. People he once knew have been brutally murdered and mutilated, while others stalk the corridors looking for fresh victims.
What to do you actually do?
The gameplay largely revolves around solving puzzles with a little bit of running and hiding from gore-drenched loonies. There’s a lot of walking back and forth and the occasional NPC interaction.
The 16-bit-style pixel art is simply sublime – some of the best I’ve seen in a while. It’s chunky and minimal, yet at the same time detailed, colorful, and multilayered with great use of post-processing lighting effects. The parallax scrolling is fab, and the animations are simple but expressive and humorous.
The audio design is also top notch. The soundtrack is a delicious blending of John Carpenter, Goblin (Dawn of the Dead, Surprisia), and Wendy Carlos (The Shining). At times it’s sparse, other times it’s complex and layered. The ambiance is frequently oppressive and unsettling, yet it’s not overdone and always fits the scene perfectly.
As a consequence, The Long Reach is impressively atmospheric and immersive. Some of the environments are stunning – a veritable feast of gloomy pixelated locales. There is one sequence, in particular, a long walk in the falling snow through an abandoned town, that is just mesmerizing. It’s easily the best moment of the game.
Ohhhh, where to start? Okay, the puzzles are sleep-inducingly simple. You have an inventory, you pick up stuff and find ways of combing and using items.
Not that I have a problem with that. It’s the staple of every point-and-clicker ever, and I love point-and-clickers. But the solutions are just too obvious, too predictable, too unimaginative – even when they don’t make much sense!
Part of the problem is that there are so few things to interact with, it all just becomes a very straightforward process of elimination.
The action sequences are little more than an inconvenience. You flee from deranged co-workers that occasionally block your path. It’s too easy – there are too many places to hide, no real AI to outwit, no real tactics or stealth involved.
Then there’s the story. The Long Reach desperately wants to be edgy, thought-provoking, and subversive, but it’s an incoherent, rambling jumble of half-baked ideas – perception and reality; Prometheus; cults and lunatics; holy wars and religion; psychological horror, slasher films, and sci-fi; etc.
It also lacks interesting or fleshed out characters. Calvin is snarky, Simon is snarky, Stewart is snarky, Shelly is snarky, and Walter is snarky. Everyone else is bat-shit crazy. They pretty much all talk in the same voice and there is no attachment to any of them, least of all Stewart.
You’re often presented with dialogue options, but the choices are almost always meaningless – just another opportunity to be snarky. And while on a few occasions The Long Reach does manage to be quite funny, the jokes largely fall flat.
The final word
In their blurb, Developer Painted Black Games, seem keen to point out how clever and witty The Long Reach is. They also enthusiastically cite the game’s key influences: Jasper Byrne’s Lynchian, Silent Hill demake Lone Survivor; Ron Gilbert’s flawed but enjoyable puzzle-platformer The Cave; and the classic adventure games of yesteryear.
Clearly, it does strive to be like those games. And while The Long Reach does have an appreciable old-school charm to it, it tries too hard to emulate its influences without really understanding what makes them good.
It lacks the cleverness of Lone Survivor’s bleak mysteries and subtle humor. In Lone Survivor, virtually every action, every decision affects your character, his encounters, and the ending of the game. But, aside from one decision at the very end, the choices in The Long Reach are without consequence.
The Long Reach also lacks the engaging storytelling and the wit and humour of Ron Gilbert’s best outings, along with the intricacy, ingenuity, and satisfaction of his puzzles.
Ultimately, The Long Reach is in need of a clear direction and more solid writing and game design. If only the gameplay and narrative lived up to the audio and visuals. That said, if you’re a pixel art addict, you still might want to check it out. Luckily, there is a playable demo you can try.
The Long Reach is available on Windows, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. It was originally released on 14 March 2018.