For someone who rarely frequents horror movies, I was kept on the edge of my seat during my whole playthrough of the adventure thriller The Long Reach. The game tells a science-disaster-gone-wrong story with a splash of psychological terror and gory murders – especially gory murders – expressively painted in stylish pixel graphics. While offering only a rather hazy conclusion at the end, the plot twists, crazy killer chases, and the protagonist’s heart-pounding struggle for survival in his maniac-overrun office are more than enough to deliver a fun, late-night horror experience.
The series of murders begins in a lab where a group of scientists are holding a musical experiment. Stewart sits behind a piano and begins playing a tune that transitions into the title screen theme. Then everything turns black, with distant cries and screaming heard in the darkness, and when our view of the lab is returned, Stewart is sprawled on the floor. Waking up to complete silence, he soon finds that somehow all of his co-workers have gone berserk and their entire office has been turned upside down. With scientists turned into mindless killers wielding blades and whirring chainsaws now roaming around the blood-stained hallways, it’s up to Stewart to stop the madness once and for all.
Early on, there aren’t many characters that can help along the way, or even have a conversation with, except a woman named Shelly who is still alive and sane somewhere in the building. Shelly guides Stewart through phone calls around the building, specifically tasking him with finding a red button in the security room. The rest of their colleagues have either become zombie-ish killers or think they’re dogs. Most of them are trapped in intense states of hallucination – courtesy of the mysterious failed experiment – so it’s hard to know what they’re really like or who they were before this catastrophe took place. Stewart himself is vulnerable to such visions, which offers some really interesting turns of events. Sometimes he sees people when they are really just a stack of objects in the shadows, and other times he even ‘teleports’ to another realm.
The game is essentially divided into two different acts, with the first raising questions about the experiment, and the second getting more psychotic as Stewart hunts down the source of all this madness while battling his own side-effects. A bizarre cult that worships a guy named Alan becomes involved, while more friends and non-killer co-workers eventually show up, triggering conversations that may or may not help you understand the deadly situation at this facility. Unfortunately, none of the lengthy dialogues, clues or even dream-like sequences ever clearly resolves what really caused the massacre in the first place. I have a guess, but it’s left wide open to interpretation as the information provided offers only vague possibilities.
Presented as a side-scroller, The Long Reach is built around familiar keyboard mechanics to interact with the environment and let you run and hide from the mad scientists from time to time. When pausing the game, a map of the controls is conveniently displayed and the essentials are pretty simple: ‘E’ to use any items you find or have in your inventory, and ‘Shift’ to run (which I used almost all the time, with or without a killer behind me). This simplicity allows you to jump straight into the story, with just the short intro basically serving as a tutorial. Strictly text-based conversations with NPCs and the protagonist’s opinion on hotspots are the main drivers of player actions. You can also read emails whenever an interactive computer is available, which provide bits of information regarding Stewart’s colleagues and the experiment.
The charm of this game is partly due to its crisp pixel art that’s easy on the eyes. Even with this blatantly retro style, each environment makes you feel like you’re actually there, as if you're walking down a silent corridor with flickering lights inside a busted vending machine or electrical sparks from chewed cords peeking out from the broken lift. Every little touch exists to make the place as eerie and battered as possible, the kind of detail intended to make players wonder, ‘What the hell happened here?’ Disturbing finger paintings on a wall, a severed head on a table, and a strange pile of pizza in the corner of a room are just some of the abnormalities you’ll find within the building. Outside, a picture of city chaos in winter and a bloody massacre in a convenience store, to name a few memorable scenes, reveal that the fallout of this horrible experiment has already spilled out of control beyond the facility itself.
For all the in-game horrors, it’s surprisingly hassle-free to walk around and perform actions with the help of some simple but effective visual cues. The frames of certain doors, for example, occasionally change color from yellow to red to indicate whether a killer on the other side is drawing closer, standing in front of the door, or far enough away to resume sleuthing. The same goes for any interactive objects, which are outlined in yellow when Stewart passes by them, so if you run too fast you might just miss one.
Looping music plays whenever our main character is in a danger zone, with menacing over-the-top piano slams that always froze me, urging me to look around to check if there was a killer running after me. It eventually got less and less frightening once my brain became familiar with the tunes, but the cautiousness lingered. Even when out of danger, sometimes these eerie haunting hums can be heard in empty hallways, the only thing competing with it the sound of your own footsteps. Elsewhere all kinds of noises can be heard when Stewart approaches the source, ranging from a buzzing TV to running tap water, loud generators and the breeze of air coming from vents, creating a solid atmosphere.Continued on the next page...