The Long Reach is a pixelated horror adventure game by small team developer Painted Black Games. The game is set in the American fictional town of Baervox and your story starts following Calvin on his trip to the local store. After a few brief conversations things take a dramatic turn, you then find yourself in control of Stewart, the real protagonist of the story who is seemingly at the center of a lab experiment. The experiment predictably goes wrong and it’s not long before you find yourself in a nightmare situation with psychological twists and turns. You are ultimately fighting to keep your sanity while navigating puzzles and characters that are designed to make you question reality.
Right from the get go you are faced with dialogue choices that for the most part, don’t seem to have have any significant impact on the game, but often make for a comedic break from the overall creepy atmosphere. There are some great jokes and references but not too much as to overbalance the comedy element over and above suspenseful horror. When engaging in conversation, the screen moves up to create a solid black space in which text can appear, this is a much welcomed feature, however at times the color differentiation between different characters’ speech is too subtle that readability can be somewhat of an issue.
The base mechanics of the game are very straightforward and easy to get to grips with. Being a side scroller you are immediately introduced to left and right movement and dialogue options. The game also provides a helpful highlight for all objects and NPCs that provide interaction. Often these objects don’t serve a purpose other than to throw you off the trail. After revisiting places a few times over you may find yourself just clicking around to find anything of use. Some of the items that you collect seem completely bizarre and do not have any obvious intuitive use, discovering what to use and where, is often complete trial and error.
Who knew what helpful purpose a simple rubber dog chew toy could serve? This seemingly nonsensical way of problem solving may infuriate some, but if you are a child of the 90s and remember the old school point and click adventures, this may just be more of a nostalgic trip back in time. Back in this era, a considerable number of the greats were also made this way and this did not remove the enjoyment from gameplay. When you come across a crazed enemy in the game you have no way to defend yourself and your only option is to run and hide before Stewart meets his untimely demise at the hands of a blade wielding maniac.
At times this can be quite frustrating, but it also adds to the suspense and horror element of the game. There is no option to save your progress but the game sets checkpoints often. The checkpoint system is not much of a hindrance due to there being multiple places to conceal yourself, however it is useful to memorize where these spots are located. The story-line of this adventure often seems to make no sense and largely the initial motivations for the experiment remain unexplained. It is possible that the developers wanted to keep an air of mystery, but this lack of knowledge may leave some players unfulfilled on completion.
The pixelated graphical style is beautifully crafted and rather than taking away from the creepy atmosphere of the game, this style only adds to the ambiance and eerie nature. It’s clear to see that much work has gone into the little details within the environments and the animations are very well executed. The grey hallways and corridors unfortunately start to become a bit of a chore to navigate at times, and it can be difficult to decipher where you have come from and in which direction you should progress, due to many of the halls and doorways looking the same. The game does not have much of a musical score but essentially a base of creepy ambient sounds that keeps the atmosphere suspenseful.
The environmental audio is excellent and is designed to immerse the player in the strange scenarios and situations within, which has certainly been achieved. The story is very linear and this removes most of the replay value, but with enough of a break some may choose to revisit, however this seems unlikely. On the plus side the pixelated graphical style makes for a slower aging game that is not limited to any one time period. If you are looking for an interesting bite-sized indie adventure with great graphical style to pass a rainy afternoon, The Long Reach is a great choice and is absolutely worth a play-through.
The Long Reach’s drawbacks sit with the game’s lack of structure, its counter intuitive puzzles and its infrequent readability issues. Though, even with those frustrations in mind, the game still provides creepy, simplistic entertainment. The game’s atmosphere rarely wavers, which is upheld further by its beautifully crafted pixelated visuals. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, but it does enough to stand out.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.