STAFF REVIEW of Long Gone Days (Xbox One)

Friday, June 28, 2024.
by Peggy Doyle

Long Gone Days Box art The media has a long history of trying to show every aspect of war. War can not be fictionalized easily. Too often media romanticizes the heroics of it or uses strange analogies to highlight the horrors. As someone with strong ties to the military, I am often skeptical of media coverage, specifically entertainment media like movies and video games. I never truly expect realism from games, as we are too often exposed to games like Call of Duty or Battlefield. Still, recently, I was given the opportunity to cover a smaller indie game called Long Gone Days by developer This I Dreamt. I’ll be honest, this has been sitting in my queue for an extraordinarily long time as I didn’t really know if I wanted to dive into a war-themed game, but I’ve finally finished it and I’m ready to share my thoughts. Surprisingly, Long Gone Days is less about the combat and war, and more about how humans are resilient when they come together in the face of adversity. This results in a heartwarming tale that should be experienced, even if the gameplay is a bit of a chore.

You play as Rourke, an aspiring sniper living in the underground world simply called “The Core”. This world is completely separate from the surface world with the majority of the inhabitants having been born into The Core and not knowing any other life. Because of this isolation, the people have been almost brainwashed into one way of thinking because they haven’t been exposed to any other people. Eugene Weisner leads the Core, and he is known as the Father General and leader of the people there. Life in The Core is very minimalistic and luxury food items come in the form of protein shakes. Training is the primary way that people pass the time. The strongest are recruited to liberate the surface world, and Rourke wants to be chosen. The surface is a fictionalized version of modern society with real country names used. There are also multiple languages in the game, I believe three others than English, and this is a narrative choice to show how language barriers can affect how people interact and how miscommunication can create barriers and conflict.

When Sergeant Coyle gets injured, Rourke is called up to Raven Squad to take his place. While his squad mates are skeptical of him, he is tasked with an important first mission of sniping some troublemakers on the surface to make the area safer for the civilians. This is until Rourke discovers this is a false flag mission; The Core are the real invaders, and the so-called troublemakers are just locals trying to live their lives. When his squad commander shoots a child in front of him, Rourke makes a life-changing decision to leave The Core and embarks on a journey to atone for his actions. What follows next is a journey through the psyche of a soldier who was forced to fight for a cause he ultimately doesn’t believe in and how he will now atone for his past.

The morale system is present but underutilized in my opinion. Characters gain morale by helping NPCs and completing side quests. Other than a red negative or a green plus there is no tangible way to know how much morale changes. I’m not entirely sure if it changes the story either, as if it does, it’s not overtly evident. There is a lot of importance placed on your morality in the game, I wish it were clearer how and why it affected decisions and outcomes.

Combat is infrequent and scripted. This was an unusual choice in a game primarily about war. You can avoid conflict at certain times, but it doesn’t really affect the story's outcome either. While there is no XP to grind for combat, you can acquire new skills and equipment as progress the plot. Personally, I would have thought avoiding combat would have resulted in better rewards, given the theme of the game, but at times rewards were only given if you cleared combat missions. Some rewards were also exclusive to particular battles, so if you choose to avoid combat, you will miss out on those rewards.

Turn-based combat lets characters choose between attack, skill, and item options. Items consist primarily of healing but there are a few other items like grenades as well. Not only will the skills each character has affect the combat, but so will their personalities. If you have a character that is new to using firearms, their aim isn’t particularly good, and they are unlikely to be successful in hitting their intended shots. Shoutout to the character who seemed the most like me and didn’t want to fight at all. Their attack options were all items to use for healing etc. instead.

Long Gone Days was made by a team of only three people. I found that hard to believe because it looks and sounds great. The simple pixel art style was enjoyable and was the right choice for this title. Because of this style, they took a game that could have been much heavier in tone if they had chosen a different art style.

The soundtrack is on the quieter side though and sometimes gets lost in the dark topics and combat. But at moments when you are isolated and able to think, it shines in, bringing a sort of tranquillity to the scenes. The combat and visuals show a tremendous amount of detail and care that has gone into the game. The story is ambitious and thought-provoking. However, it takes on too many serious moments without following through on many of them. It’s a case of trying to take on too much at one time. It did give me a lot to think about, but I found myself hoping they would have done more with what they had.

While the main story is about the battles Rourke and his new friends encounter while on the run, there are also some side quests. They are mostly mundane tasks like acquiring medicine and rescuing animals, but they give you some morale and some heartwarming moments.

While Long Gone Days may not be the most engaging RPG I’ve played recently, you would be hard-pressed to find one with as much passion for the subject matter presented. How you feel about the story will likely vary between person to person, but as someone with strong ties to the military, but also being a person who strongly dislikes the thought of war, it spoke to me on a deeper level than I anticipated. I would have liked the combat to be more engaging and some of the topics to be covered in more depth, but overall it was a surprising and ambitious game that I am glad I got to experience.

**Long Gone Days was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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