The Long Kill

by James Blair

Interactive Novel - Thriller

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1-7 of 7

Aimlessness in the Crosshairs, December 24, 2023
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

Adapted from an IFCOMP23 Review

Reading the title, I immediately assumed I was in for a black and white hard-boiled mystery joint. I was mildly chuffed when I realized it was not that. Surely the implications of a title with a punch like that were invoked on purpose? Suffice to say that though noir-less, the title is firmly justified by the end of the work.

This is a lightly interactive novel. Or maybe more than lightly, it is hard to tell, which is mostly a compliment. It took me a while to synch with the rhythm of this prose. The first scene wrong-footed me a little, when the protagonist seemed to respond to banter that was not as amusing as it purported to be. They were obviously in a different place than I was, and the disconnect was distancing. I think though that the key choice that reversed this was the choice to abstract the protagonistís dialogue. Rather than hear the protagonistís Ďvoice,í we are only ever informed what was said via narration. We Ďhearí every other voice, but only absorb the content of the main characterís dialogue. It is a powerful way not only to remove barriers between us and the protagonist, where phrasing may jar or push, but to subtly encourage our own voice to creep in behind the text.

I am not sure if the writing shifted gears after that first scene, or if I just adjusted, but either way notwithstanding infrequent burrs I mostly got on board with the narrative after that.

The setup is a time jumping narrative of an army sniperís life, showcasing their lifeís arc before, during and after a harrowing service in Afghanistan. It is overwhelmingly linear. I counted three choices that felt consequential in the moment over its runtime, with maybe four times that overall. After the final scene though, I have to wonder. Certainly the preamble and blurb to the story suggest many different ending possibilities and I am at a loss to figure out what choices would have led to different outcomes. If true, this is really subtle writing! Every choice I made felt almost inevitable, and organically reflected in subsequent events. If it was truly a branching narrative, getting it THAT right on my specific path was pretty admirable.

I particularly appreciated moments of LACK of choice, in Afghanistan in particular. Offering true choice in some situations would likely betray the setup and reality of the piece in destructive ways. Further, I felt the time jumps were ably managed - it was typically quite clear when I was within a sentence or two even before the date/location headers were established in my head. The narrative overall built steam, brought me into its rhythms and was compelling to read.

All of these were Sparks of Joy to be sure, some developed slowly over time which is kind of at war with the Sparks metaphor Iím using but whatever. I would say two things held me at remove, ultimately. The first was the ending I got. It was a beach scene where (Spoiler - click to show)the protagonist threw his phone in the ocean. Despite the previous 50 minutes, I had no idea why we were doing that. Only to find that that was the Big Finish! It left me perplexed, though somehow didnít render the story pointless. Just unclosed. Did the text somehow misfire on my choice path? Maybe that was the intended effect? Ok, but that final action was not needed for that effect! Why was it there???

The second was that of the three time periods portrayed, the early years percolated with promise and dramatic tension. The wartime scenes positively crackled. The post-war scenes fell flat to me. Their purpose and resonance eluded me. Again, maybe lack of resonance WAS the point, butÖ that feels like it kind of denied the impact of the war? The protagonist felt aimless to start with, submitting to their fatherís priorities irrespective of their own. The war was horrific and impactful, and afterwards the protagonist kind of Ö stayed aimless just without the push? Made more so? I canít tell how much of that was my choices vs authorial dictate. Again, this is to the authorís credit. But with a story this long, with so few actual choices to make, maybe a heavier authorial hand is warranted? It is long enough and linear enough a narrative (which is kind of a wild thing to say about a time jump structured story) that I donít think I want to retry, which in some sense speaks to not breaching into full Engaging for me. Really Seamless integration of choices though.

Played: 10/16/23
Playtime: 50min, finished
Artistic/Technical ratings: Sparks of Joy, Seamless
Would Play After Comp?: No, my experience is complete, and bar to creating another feels high

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The war comes home, November 28, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).

(Spoilers in this one)

What I like most about The Long Kill is its harshness. Oh, as always, I brought it on myself Ė thereís a trio of difficulty options at the beginning of this nicely-presented Twine game about a British sniper deployed in the Afghan War (the just-concluded one, that is), including story mode and a conventional ďpick whatever choice you wantĒ one. But no, I opted for ďSniper ModeĒ, where you have to do math and dice are rolled behind the scenes, so you can miss your shots even if you do everything right. And itís not just the violence: the game has flashbacks and flashforwards to civilian life, and I fucked up my one chance to have a girlfriend because after winning her an elephant at a carnival shooting game, I thought she wanted me to show off and go double or nothing, but actually she was cold and wanted me to go home. Some of this may feel unfair, but who says a game about sudden, explosive death coming before you even have a chance to blink should embrace fairness as an ethos?

(OK, thereís an undo button, and I did use it once or twice, but I felt bad about it).

What I like second-best about The Long Kill is its obsessive focus on shooting. Again, this goes beyond the scenes set during the war. The protagonist Ė heís given the uninspiring nom de guerre ďMisterĒ Ė bonds with his father only through shooting targets and rabbits; as mentioned above, he tries to impress his not-girlfriend by shooting; when he interviews for a job, he talks about how shooting gave him great math skills; even when he takes on a home improvement project, the scene ends with him leveling a power saw and pulling the trigger. Mister is very, very good at shooting; itís not so much that heís bad at everything else as that there isnít anything else.

What I like third-best about The Long Kill is the prose. There are some typos, but it manages to be evocative while sticking to a terse, militaristic style. This sentence is about 2/3 of what the game shares about Misterís relationship with his father, but it communicates just about everything the player needs to know:

"Even without looking though you can picture the little non-smile, that happy frown he does when you do or say something he likes."

What I like least about The Long Kill is its fantasy of victimization. After an opening sequence where you support a house-raid that bags an important Taliban leader, Misterís convoy gets hit by an IED and heís captured alongside his unit. Theyíre subject to torture, and heís given an ultimatum of teaching the enemy soldiers to be better shots, or his companions will be executed. Itís a queasily compelling sequence, even if it ends rather abruptly, and by making Mister weak and frightened, it finally renders him something close to human. But this was still a bad authorial choice. We know that in the flashforward, Mister has PTSD and a discharge, but thereís no need for a period of abjection to connect the precise, effective wartime operator with the haunted shell of a man; thatís just what war does. More damningly, this sequence creates an underdog narrative that inverts the far more common reality of the war Ė the number of Western POWs and casualties was miniscule compared to the Afghans captured, maimed, and slain (many, of course, were innocent, and many, of course, were not). To elide this reality, and instead opt for a shell game that seems to swap the positions of the players: thatís kid glove stuff. Not at all harsh.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Intense and depressing but polished game about sniping and horrors of war, November 22, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I think I can summarize this game for me by saying that it very effectively told a story that I didnít like.

It is a long twine game about a sniper fighting in Afghanistan, told in non-linear style through different points in his life. It uses a lot of interesting styling, has music, and uses images generated by OpenAI, according to the end credits. The images look almost like hallucinations, fitting for this grim and unpleasant story.

As the author has stated, this story includes scenes of torture and violence. The author writing this has talent, and has used that talent to effectively show the horror of torture. This is not something I enjoyed or wanted.

With multiple wars going on and massive disinformation campaigns causing me trouble in real life it was interesting to spend some time thinking about the game. It does show (and this is something I believe) that most people at the Ďbottomí on both sides arenít there out of hatred or desire to kill but because their government or other leaders have pushed them into it. Itís a terrible job where the better you are at it the more lives you ruin.

On the other hand, it depicts the Afghanistan enemies as being particularly despicable in terms of torture and murder. Iíve always thought that in the past, having grown up during the 20 yr-long war in Afghanistan, so I looked up Ďtorture in Afghanistaní. The first thing that came up was the long-term torture and death of two Afghani citizens carried out by the US. The second was the torture of a British officer by the Taliban.

I donít know, this isnít the kind of stuff I want to read about or really even think about. I would like to help end war, for sure, and I think there are ways I can do that privately and publicly. But I donít think even people who were captured and tortured want other people to learn to vicariously suffer for them. And I donít need more convincing that war atrocities are a very bad thing.

So, the writing on the story was very effective, the use of media and nonlinear narrative was expert, and the math calculations were interesting. But I did not enjoy the game and certainly donít want to play it again.

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