Spooktober 2018 Entry #3 // Previous Entry: Rise of Insanity // Next Entry: Indie Investigation Vol. 666
Alright, I don’t recommend films much, but here’s one: The Signal.
It’s a 2007 anthology film, with three different parts directed by three different people. A signal infects the entirety of the town protagonist Mya is situated in, and it follows her and other people who have been affected by the signal in different ways. It’s a great film, and it’s the only way I can segue into today’s game, The Long Reach.
This is the debut title from Ukrainian studio Painted Black Games, who have been working on The Long Reach since… I don’t know, honestly. Information on the studio is hard to come by, and the only thing I know is the influences for The Long Reach: Resident Evil, Lone Survivor, TV shows like True Detective and Fargo, there’s a bit of everything here. Does it make a concise product? Well, let’s see.
You’re in a store. Everyone’s a bit festive. A man goes to the storage closet to call the hospital after another man convulses on the store floor. He returns to find the store in bloodshed and SMASH CUT! Suddenly you’re Stewart, the subject of contempt around the office complex you’re located in. You play a piano for a bit and then pass out, with the walls covered in blood, and the buildings population either insane or in hiding. It’s up to you to find out what the hell’s going on.
Now if I had to give you an idea of what type of game The Long Reach is, I’d say you add the atmosphere of Uncanny Valley to the gameplay of The Coma, and then give a sprinkling of The Signal over it. It’s not as uneven as I’ve described it however, but it’s also not as even as any of those other products either. In due time, though.
Gameplay is side-scrolling, as you walk around, collect logs and hide from the horrors that stalk the town. It’s in “AGS” mode, which means you’re always going to be making insane combinations of items, just to make a door open (Ex: Using a fake candle, some mistletoe, a toy spider, and a crucifix to open a magnetic safe). It’s typical stuff, but truthfully? It’s actually not that bad.
Let’s divert the journey real quick, and go full speed towards the story, which I didn’t actually think much of at first. However, certain lapses of reality begin to emerge, trivial details become big plot points, and the first half hour might genuinely be the greatest narrative payoff/twist I’ve seen all year. It was slightly marred by the gameplay, I’ll admit that, but that’s the kind of thing you have to expect with adventure game point-n-click titles. Except it subverts expectations!
While reading up on the game after I completed it, I noticed tens of complaints about the gameplay and how it doesn’t make sense, except it actually does. There’s a bit at the beginning where you use a rubber chew toy as a way to press a broken elevator button with exposed wiring, which confused a lot of people. If you’re someone who even passed science as a kid, you’ll know that rubber is an insulator, meaning that electricity can’t pass through it because it lacks free electrons. It’s fairly smart design, and if you apply a bit of thinking, it starts to make sense.
Those magnetic keys I mentioned? It’s possible that someone shoved the keys inside the items, and they can still be registered by the safe. You use cut hands for fingerprint scanners, you slam a bit of WD-40 onto the rusty keyhole in order to fit the key through, etcetera, etcetera. There is real-world logic applied to these puzzles, it’s just that the stigma confuses it.
As for the rest of the game, there’s not much else to say. There’s no combat, there’s nothing else except solving logic puzzles, it’s quite barebones in material for the player. The only other element of gameplay is some stealthy sections, but these are really cheap, and rely way too much on timing sometimes. Also, taking that gun away from me? Bastards.
Back to the story, and you’ll notice that some of the characters talk rather unrealistically. This is actually something that I can’t defend, and this might be dialogue that’s lost in translation. A lot of the female characters talk like how men would talk about women, as opposed to the other way around, and when a woman is talking about “her panties being see-through”, it’s a bit iffy. What haven’t been lost in translation, however, are the dialogue options for Stewart, and how much of non-options they are.
When you engage with some of the characters that haven’t been decapitated, you’re forced to repeat the same conversations with them, no matter what dialogue option you pick. I’m talking about the Telltale “Whatever decision you make gives you some different dialogue and the same ending”, it all leads to the same thing every time. Whether you’re being nice or a dickhead, the outcome is always the same.
Come to think of it, the characters of The Long Reach aren’t as fleshed out as one might imagine. Stewart is a fairly blank slate, and I never understood what his purpose was within the facility. Is he an experiment? Was he dreaming all of this? I don’t know. I get that he’s meant to be a sympathetic character who’s treated with contempt by the higher-ups, but that’s it.
Everyone else falters when they attempt to explain their place in the world and for the most part, a lot of them are just negligible morons that offer nothing to proceedings. Shelly’s presence was off, Maxwell’s appearance was off, Jim’s presence was humorous, and I don’t even know what the shit Josh was doing. Alice genuinely could’ve shed light on the situation, but they don’t do anything with her either.
Visually, the game is a masterclass of murky and blocky pixel art. It’s reminiscent of titles like Uncanny Valley and The Final Station, albeit in a entirely different league. While Uncanny Valley’s undefined nature of people bought muddy terrors, and The Final Station took a mirror shine approach to its people and beings, The Long Reach is looking to be as grimy and as dirty as the story itself.
Characters are well animated in cutscenes, they interact with the 2-D plane as if it’s 3-D, fleshing out the world in many more dimensions. The detail on some of the bloodier landscapes is immaculate, and even manages to pull off the tricks that the two games mentioned above managed, bringing a huge scale to the world at hand. In fact, I dare say that the art design is one of the few factors of The Long Reach that doesn’t fall victim to self-sabotage.
You see, as much as The Long Reach shines, and believe me, you’d need Ray Bans for some of the moments in the game, Painted Black do struggle to keep that momentum going. There’s a fair bit of metaphorical spluttering as the game struggles to be interesting, as it struggles to keep it different against a backdrop of other horror games, and sometimes it all falls apart.
Take the sound design for example, or rather the music itself. Some of these pieces are superbly set into the atmosphere, they’re vibrant, they’re creepy, sometimes omitted entirely to save face. However they don’t carry on for long, usually clocking in at around 90 seconds, and the looping is really apparent. It doesn’t help that half of the tracks offer exceptionally repetitious beats either, as it makes gameplay drag on a bit.
The game isn’t exceptionally long, with my playthrough clocking in about two hours, and for a 15-dollar game, that might be a pisstake. That being said, it will depend on several factors, like whether or not you found the solutions to puzzles made sense, or if you thought the narrative was pretentious drivel. I disagree with the last one, but Painted Black don’t really help themselves sometimes.
While the pacing of the game was perfect, the events that took place were a mixture of blank confusion and unsure relief. On the one hand, loose ends do get tied up, and Painted Black do try their very best to make sure plotholes don’t become an issue. Although plotholes aren’t the problem in this, are they? The problem is providing information to the player, which The Long Reach fails to do half of the time.
The ending and what exactly was happening at Stewart’s workplace definitely needs some other explanation than “it’s the imagination”, because that really doesn’t suffice. I never understood what the bloody point was behind what they were doing here, and the closest comparison I could make was From Beyond. That’s probably the answer actually, but… how does that make you good at piano? It feels like there was a statement to make on humanity that wasn’t prevalent here.
Finally, the only question left to ask: “Is The Long Reach scary?”, and the answer is, “kind of?”. There’s definitely a lot of tension as you walk through the halls, but there were no real moments of pants-ruining terror from it. Interest, disgust, confusion, all of the other emotions were present, but I was never scared, which was a shame.
Despite a fantastic first half, The Long Reach wavers between bewildered and bemused in the second half, leaving you unsatisfied. That being said, if Painted Black do return to the developer frontlines, I look forward to their new release, because seriously, that twist near the beginning? Fucking brilliant. That was then, though, and this is now.
In the end, The Long Reach is just a hair away from making sense. Maybe there wasn’t time to make the game longer, maybe there was a hidden meaning behind the story, like free will or something, but I sure as shit can’t see it, and I’ve replayed the story in my head hundreds of times. Was it supposed to not make sense? Probably not. Was there heart behind it? Probably. Have I ran out of things to say? Yeah. I’m just killing time. Goodnight. Love yourself. The world doesn’t.
This review of The Long Reach is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
A quirky horror title that's too big for its own boots.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.