Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Long Gone Days Review — An all-too-relevant war story

In just the first 20 minutes of playing This I Dreamt’s Long Gone Days, I discovered rather quickly that this game isn’t here to mess around.

War stories can feel jarring, particularly when the way they are framed often looks to further strengthen xenophobic thoughts and feelings. Even more so in video games, where one of the most prominent arguments I see about war story games is how they feed into a fantasy where power over (often marginalized) individuals is beneficial and, ultimately, feels good.

Long Gone Days, while sometimes clashing in tone at times, is nothing like that. It isn’t afraid to hold the player’s feet to the fire to convey just how bleak war — and the mindset behind it — truly is.

Players take on the role of Rourke, a 20-something sniper who, alongside fellow teammate and medic Adair, is part of an elite and private army called The Core. Having been bred for combat since they were born, the two have lived underground for the majority of their lives and, as such, know nothing about the outside world.

Rourke Long Gone Days

All up until the point Rourke is sent to replace a member of The Raven Squad, The Core’s top task force, on a mission that has them posing as Polish soldiers. However, after it all goes wrong, both Rourke and Adair are branded as traitors and are left with little other options but to flee, with The Core nipping at their heels along the way.

Being a modern-day RPG, it’s hard not to see the relevance and poignancy of Long Gone Days‘ focus on a war that’s fuelled by an inane lust for profit. Especially one that shows an astonishing lack of respect for human life, and a desire to stamp it out. It makes the events of the game, and the player character’s role in it, hit that much harder. Long Gone Days isn’t afraid to show the horrors of war, nor how Rourke’s part in it will ultimately shape the worldview of characters he and Adair encounter on their journey.

With the two of them on the run, and now all too aware of the real reason why The Core is so adamant about destroying the reputation of Poland, Rourke and Adair must come to grips with being seen as deserters, while also recruiting people along the way to help their cause. Instead of you doing the ‘right thing’ by your army, Long Gone Days is quick to push you from the pro-military focus of its intro into a tale that is abundantly anti-war.

Long Gone Days combat

But certainly not anti-violence. When you’re oppressed by people who believe they can control you by force or through manipulation, the only thing you’re able to do is fight back. For Rourke and his squad, including up-and-coming reporter Atiye, capable but mysterious Lynn, the kind Ivan, as well as the troubled enigma Pascal, that means resorting to guns. Or at least, some of them do. Ivan, who is one of the first people you encounter after running away from The Core, is very much against using a gun and only does so as a last resort. This is reflected in his role during combat, where he takes on an almost ‘bard-like’ class, granting buffs and debuffs to allies and enemies.

Combat is turn-based, with each character taking on a certain role based on their job. For example, Rourke is the DPS of the group thanks to his job as a sniper, whereas Adair acts as the group’s healer. You’re unable to change the class of these characters, and while it makes sense to have their expertise reflected in such a way, I found myself getting bored during each and every combat segment because it all played out the same exact way. Rourke would shoot people in the head. Lynn or Pascal would use their skill or an item to lower the enemy’s agility or defense to stop them from evading or increasing damage, and Adair would stand there and heal my team.

This level of predictability only worsened in the latter half. By the time I’d hit the final stage, I was doing my utmost to avoid every single combat encounter I could. I’m sure turn-based combat for guns can be fun, but Long Gone Days just isn’t able to pull it off. In fact, the best part of combat for me was the battle system where you’re in control of Rourke and using his rifle to spot and take down enemies. You have a limited amount of bullets, the camera shakes to imitate your grip trembling, and the music is low and heavy. It’s an intense combat situation that perfectly captures the mood, and it’s a shame the turn-based battle system simply fails to live up to that feeling.

Long Gone Days

While Long Gone Days combat does lack a lot, its story, settings, and the characters you meet along the way more than make up for. Each character and the effect the war has on them is portrayed with the utmost respect even in their lowest moments and while the game’s events take place over a few short days, the bonds that they form are forged in the fires of war, pulling them together — despite their differences — into a unit that feels poignant

These differences also leads to one of my favourite features in Long Gone Days. The several language barriers Rourke and Adair encounter along the way, and how, only through their companions who can speak the language, are they able to communicate with others. It’s a nice bit of realism and highlights the different cultures and attitudes that each location and companion has without making it feel like a gimmick.

What does feel like a gimmick is the excruciating amount of bloat that takes up the latter half of Long Gone Days. If its beginning hours were an explosion of action and heartfelt exploration of what it means to be a civilian in a warzone, its end is a soft, simpering whimper. The level of boring ‘fetch’ that has our protagonists running from one place to the other, and the sudden overabundance of puzzles that take up the ending hours of an otherwise excellently told story, is disappointing at worst, and boring at best. Overall, it makes the fight toward that final boss lose its luster completely.

Even so, I can’t help but be impressed by the vision of This I Dreamt. It may be far from a perfect game, but it’s undeniable that Long Gone Days is an experience that’ll stick with you all the same due to its unflinching portrayal of war and the aftermath of those left in its wake.

Even now it feels rare to see video games address war and its impact in every day society with the amount of seriousness that it deserves, all while stripping away the ‘power fantasy’ that is so often found in games like Call of Duty. Considering This I Dreamt have worked on this modern-day RPG for so long, my only question is: what will it do next?

Score: 3/5

A copy of Long Gone Days for Nintendo Switch was provided to Gayming Magazine by PR.

Aimee Hart

[She/They] Aimee Hart specializes in queer fandom, video games and tabletop, having started her career writing for numerous websites like The Verge, Polygon, Input Magazine and more. Her goal now is to boost LGBTQ+ voices in the video games industry.