During the early to mid 90s, point & click adventures were everywhere. Some were funny, some were serious, whilst others handled contemporary issues in unusual ways. Most of them shared two things: interesting stories and insane logic when it came to puzzle solving. Towards the end of that decade, as graphics improved and tastes seemed to shift, the genre appeared to die out save for the occasional release. In the past couple of years though, there has been something of a resurgence in the genre, with games like Thimbleweed Park, Dropsy, and (to an extent) the Telltale Games releases. There has also been a sub-genre of sorts, combining the type of puzzle solving found in these games with action and horror themes, leading to games like Uncanny Valley, Distraint, and the newly released The Long Reach from Painted Black Games.
After a cold open (in which a lot happens in a short time), The Long Reach begins with us taking on the role of Stewart, a test subject involved in a scientific experiment to wirelessly implant new skills into people. Of course, this being scientific research in a story, everything goes wrong and Stewart finds himself in a nightmare scenario and has to escape the lab, all while avoiding those seemingly driven mad by the experiment. Without spoiling anything, it seems that people are having hallucinations as a result of the tests being run, and the lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur during your escape and beyond. There are points in the game in which you are made to question what you’re seeing, and it becomes very unsettling in places.
The Long Reach plays as a side scrolling exploration/puzzle solving game. Controls are simple, with the left stick handling movement whilst the face buttons handle sprinting, interacting and inventory. Throughout the game, as with most point and click games, Stewart explores his environments with various goals in mind, picking up items to help him progress.
Items that can be interacted with are highlighted as you approach them, with only some of them being of value. Regardless of this, most of the puzzles are very sensible, and resorting to the old classic of combining objects with everything else until you get the right one is very rare. Problems such as an electrified button are solved by using a rubber object on it rather than something silly and illogical. While getting stuck due to obscure puzzles is uncommon, you may run into the occasional obstacle of having not picked an item up because you didn’t spot it in a previous room. An option to highlight all interaction objects in a room would have been helpful here, but I suppose that might make the game a little too easy.
The other challenge is in the form of occasional enemies, who will chase Stewart down and kill him if he can’t get away quickly enough. They tend to be able to match pace, but transitioning from one room to another slows them down, allowing you to throw them off or hide in a cupboard (or similar) until they go away. These are often puzzles in themselves, with you needing to find a way to trap, or distract them to continue on. Getting chased down by them is pretty intense (helped greatly by the music and sound effects) even though dying doesn’t set you back too far.
It can get a little irritating to be continually killed as you try to solve puzzles around them, but this was — again — a very rare occurrence. Enemies are used sparingly in the game meaning they tend not to wear out their welcome. Interestingly, the game cannot be paused, meaning you need to be on your toes when playing. This also goes for cutscenes, so be aware should you feel the need to take a break!
Between puzzle solving and enemy evasion, you’ll spend your time talking to the various survivors, some more sane than others. These will progress the story and give you a greater insight into the other people working at the research centre. There are conversation options during these sections that lead to different responses, although I don’t think they have any impact on the game’s progression. There was one very interesting puzzle late in the game that was entirely based around conversation options, and I’d have liked to have seen a bit more of this. The only conversation that genuinely seems to impact the game’s conclusion is the final one that determines The Long Reach‘s outcome. Outside of the two previous examples, I don’t think the conversation choices you make change the dialogue all that much, which is disappointing as I feel it was a good opportunity to flesh out some of the characters further.
The visuals are based on pixel art, which works very well for the game. The art style combined with the animations are really very pleasing, and make some of the unsettling scenes carry more impact than you might expect pixel art to pull off. The backgrounds are also very well designed, with potentially drab hallways being made all the more interesting as they gradually morph into more and more bizarre environments. The sound design is also very good, with meaty sound effects which carry just the right strength during certain scenes. The music is quite atmospheric, but the pieces that are there are fairly short when you’re exploring the lab area, this means you do tend to hear the same bits over and over. It’s good all the same and does a great job of setting the scene.
It should be noted that I was playing this on Nintendo Switch and ran into a couple of crashes during the 5 hour play time. This mostly happened when I had been playing for a couple of hours at a time, and — having spoken with them — I can confirm that the developers are looking into the issues ahead of release. Due to the length of the game, this is unlikely to be a significant issue for most. I also found the load times a bit longer than I would have liked considering the game isn’t especially intensive on the system. Again, these flaws were few and far between, and there were no loading screens upon death meaning it didn’t prove to be a huge issue.
In spite of these technical concerns, I had a really fun time playing The Long Reach. The story was engaging, the twists were genuinely surprising and I didn’t see them coming at all, even in spite of the foreshadowing. The puzzles were smartly implemented and just on the right side of challenging without being frustrating, all while managing to be logical rather than “guess what the developer was thinking”. I would recommend giving this game a look, just try to avoid spoilers before heading in.
The Long Reach is available now on PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, & PS4.