I think we all have genres of video-games that stay with us as fond memories for Years. Even after they’ve evolved to become something more refined, we still pine for that unadulterated experience that we first had. With this clearly in mind the clever people over at Wadjet Eye Studios created the retro style point and click adventure, Shardlight.
In a dystopian future, you’ve probably seen a million times by now, the bombs fell and the remnants of humanity struggles to regain some semblance of society. An aristocracy was formed by Tiberius, a guy who wears a gas mask that resembles the classic Bourgeoisie porcelain face make-up. He rules with an iron fist over a land that’s still suffering the after-effects of the apocalypse. Much of the world is now quarantined off due to a terminal disease called ‘green lung’ that is infecting the populace. There is a vaccine but it’s in short supply to those that live in the slums so a lottery has been set up. To get a ticket, people with nothing left to lose risk it all doing dangerous jobs for the Aristocracy that no one else will do. Of course, that means you. Having contracted this virulent plague Amy Weller is tasked to bring a reactor back online for the Ministry of Energy. This leads you on an adventure of intrigue and revelation of the cities darkest secrets.
The options in this game are bare minimum and for some reason there’s no way to change the resolution. This means you are stuck at 1280×800, it’s nothing game breaking it just means everything is very pixelated and might take you a moment to get used to. You have the option to have some great commentary from the developers as you play along. This is more for a second play-though of the game as it contains spoilers. I’m a huge fan of giving people an inside track on the thought process in a creative venture and would like to see this implemented in more games.
The overall narrative is nothing really new or inventive. Post apocalyptic world governed by a dictator who’s reminiscent of Darth Vader. You have to team up with a the resistance to uncover a fiendish plot that keeps the general populace subjugated. The rich stay rich occasionally looking down their noses to be disgusted at the poor who are little more than a disease ridden inconvenience. The main protagonist is a humourless woman striving to do what’s right in a world that’s given up to a point some even accept death willingly. The dark tone plays throughout with no levity in sight. Kids skip to morbid rhymes about the green lung plague and there’s a cult that worship the Grim Reaper. It’s a very sombre tale that never skips a beat to a point of being predictable.
There’s a realisation that modern point and click adventures may have spoiled us with mechanics like hotspots and choosing the appropriate item automatically. There’s none of that here as you go through trial and error with items. Many times you will be searching the entire screen for a pixel point on an object that shows you can interact with it. Moments of exhausting dialogue options only to have to talk to that person again for more. Plenty of back and forth between areas and moments of not having a clue what to do or where to go. This is often because you’ve completely missed an object because you didn’t pass over the pixel precise indicator. You can waste hours because you didn’t pick up an item and you think you’ve tried everything. Of course there are puzzles that range from really simplistic to the fiendishly difficult because there’s no context of exactly what you have to do. Some objects can be used in place of others which is a really nice touch. For example you can break into a phone booth using a plank of wood or a metal bucket, which felt really intuitive.
I know to some it will look like I’ve been really negative about this game. However, that really does depend on your personal gaming experience history. If anything I said above brought a smile to your face then, you were there man, you know! This is about as authentic an experience as you are going to get to the traditional point and click adventure. While playing I had this weird feeling of familiarity like I’d played it before and that’s stayed with me. I was teleported back to the early 90’s when games like this were extremely popular. Even the overly cliché story arcs are part of that classic genre. I can’t help but praise capturing the essence of those games so perfectly.
Sure, these iconic foibles with the mechanics might annoy those used to more contemporary games. To be fair, it frustrated us back then and it still does now but that’s faithful to that original experience. Even though there’s three endings you can just load a save point near the end to see them all. Outside of the directors commentary there’s little replay value. Though, for these games, there never really was other than to experience it all over again. That said, I have to admit not having everything explained to you or done for you makes a refreshing change. It actually respects your intelligence to figure it out for yourself with the occasional vague hint from the dialogue. For those aching for a true slice of traditional gaming from yesteryear, I suggest you at least try the demo available on Steam.
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