Name: The Long Reach
Developer: Painted Black Games
Publisher: Merge Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PSVita, Xbox One
Reviewed on: PC
Acquired: A copy of this game was provided from publisher for review purposes
The Long Reach is a horror adventure game set in a fictional American town in 2017. Thematically it reminds me of Netflix’s Stranger Things with its mixing of realities and conspiratorial horror, but mechanically it is firmly planted in point-and-click adventure games of the 1990’s.
The basic premise of The Long Reach is a fairly standard horror plot. Something has gone horribly wrong at a science lab and you need to figure out what happened while avoiding madness and death. In The Long Reach the catastrophe comes in the form of psychological horror with a dash of “portals to a different dimension” which means the game is constantly and intentionally trying to mess with the player’s head. Figures appear and disappear, rooms change their interior, and things move while out of sight.
The themes of Painted Black’s game revolve around religion, psychology and the classic sci-fi question of being so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they never stop to question whether or not they should. I personally think the most interesting and well established part is about psychology and mental health. The game prominently features one character with clear symptoms of OCD, as well as several others who experience a great deal of psychological stress and cope with it in a variety of ways. The characterization of these struggles is probably the strongest part of its writing.
Without spoiling much, I found the story of The Long Reach to be well told and engaging. The warping of reality actually enhances the story and makes it more interesting than it would be if it were told plainly, and the pacing of the story itself is excellent.
The game does run into some issues with pacing and tone when it comes to the interplay of story and mechanics, but we will get to that in a later section.
There isn’t much to say here except good job. Alina Berdnyk’s chunky pixel art is consistently both intriguing and off-putting in a wonderful way and the game runs smoothly throughout. The style does a good job of combining 90’s adventure games with a modern world while reinforcing the creepy, disturbing vibe of the story.
My only gripe with the artwork is the occasional issue of clarity, especially with some fiddly puzzles, but like the pacing I think this is mostly an issue of gameplay and mechanics.
The gameplay of The Long Reach has a lot in common with old-school point-and-click adventure games (except for the pointing and clicking). Challenges are overcome by combining items in your inventory with elements in the world, often several times in quick succession. One early puzzle has the player lure out a man with a box of chocolates to make him drop his rubber bone. The rubber bone is then cut into shape using broken glass from a soda machine and inserted into an elevator panel to be used as a button. This is literally one of the first puzzles and the complexity mostly goes up from there.
This leads to the classic adventure game problem of puzzles that combine elements in such a mind-boggling way that you sit there thinking “how on earth was anyone supposed to figure that out?”. Or maybe that’s just me. If you’re the type of person who thought Broken Age was an excellent game long overdue, or played The Secret of Monkey Island back in 1990 this might be exactly what you’re looking for. For us mere mortals though, the puzzles can get pretty obtuse and it is a major issue.
The issue of some rather obtuse puzzles is magnified by the lack of clarity in their design. I was stuck on one particular puzzle for longer than I would like to admit despite having found the right solution within the first couple of tries because I was standing slightly too far to the right. The games does not do a good job of communicating whether you have found the wrong solution, or are making an error in execution and it can lead to some serious frustration. This is what I was referring to as an issue of clarity earlier.
The other problem with The Long Reach’s gameplay is the pacing. Even when the puzzles are well communicated and interesting to solve (which, to be clear, is most of the time) the thinking, trial and error approach has a tendency to kill the pacing of the story. I would not go so far as to say puzzle/adventure games are antithetical to horror/thriller narratives, but there is a clear conflict to be found in The Long Reach.
Overall, however, The Long Reach is an interesting and engaging puzzle game that uses tried and true ideas of adventure game design to good effect despite their conflicts with the thrumming pace of a thriller.
When I said The Long Reach was similar to point-and-click puzzle games I was not referring to the controls. The controls are very simple. A and D to move left and right, shift to spring, E to interact with stuff, I for inventory and that’s about it. In order to interact with multiple objects on screen then, the player must move around rather than pointing and clicking.
This control scheme generally works well, but it does have some shortcomings. Firstly, interacting with and item resets your movement, meaning you have to let go and press the button again to keep moving – a minor annoyance that becomes a hindrance in some high-action scenes. Secondly, the inventory menu is somewhat unresponsive, which makes it difficult to quickly select, say, item number 4 without spamming directional keys. Finally, the camera can get a bit nauseating – panning left and right depending on the direction the player is facing – especially when the player has to move back and forth to interact with an item.
There is also the classic “Pokémon problem” of using the same button to speed up dialogue and enter conversations leading to restarting conversations without meaning to. This is an extremely minor nitpick, however, as the controls do their job most of the time with some minor hindrances.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t think “replay value” is any indicator of quality in an adventure game. That said, there isn’t a lot of it. All puzzles have one solution, and although some can be solved in a different order, there isn’t much point in going back. There are, however, some alternate paths towards the end so maybe the story is worth revisiting for those.
If you are looking for a time sink, The Long Reach is not the game for you. It is somewhere between two and five hours in length and I that first playthrough covers most of the worthwhile content.
The Long Reach is an atmospheric adventure game with great pixel art and an intriguing and suspenseful story. It brings the mechanics of old-school puzzle adventure games to modern times and is definitely worth a shot if that sounds exciting.
It may not be for everyone and it may have some unpolished corners, but it is an overall solid indie game.
Total Score: 7/10
A great game, but something is missing, worth for fans of the genre