Review – Shardlight

Shardlight was developed by Wadjet Eye, a company that has focused on the modern adventure genre with games like the Blackwell Series, Gemini Rue, Technobabylon, and their newest Unavowed.  Their games take inspiration from the Sierra Entertainment and LucasArts titles of my childhood.  Having played Gemini Rue on iOS over one vacation, I was certainly intrigued by Shardlight when I heard about it on a GiantBomb podcast.  What I found is a well told and paced adventure game that is well worth a play.

Shardlight is a point and click adventure game that follows the story of mechanic Amy Wellard in a dystopian world some twenty years after “the bombs fell”.  The citizens have been contracting a plague called the green lung, which requires a monthly vaccine to keep at bay.  The aristocracy and wealthy of the city in which the game is set are able to maintain their health with easy access to the vaccine, while everyone else is either quarantined or works “lottery jobs” in hopes of receiving a month’s supply.  The story opens as Amy is embarking on one of the lottery jobs, which quickly leads her to discovery of a rebellion, abuse of power, and godlike figures.

The Shardlight story is touted as being mature story, and I would put it somewhere a notch above a teen novel, but without the teens as the main characters and quite a bit more death.  The tale that is weaved throughout is well above average for gaming and would likely be a good Netflix movie, but is rather straight forward with few twists.  The story is bolstered by good voice acting from a majority of the characters, the only dips coming from a couple of the side characters.

This straight forward story also lends itself to the gameplay in many ways.  Adventure game puzzles often vary greatly from game to game.  Sometimes the puzzles are very realistic and thus easy to figure out and solve.  Other times they can be hard for difficulty’s sake, solutions seemingly coming out of nowhere.  Shardlight leans more toward the former than the latter.  I did get stuck in a couple of spots, but these were resolved with the tried and true talk-to-everyone and show-everyone-everything methods.  The rest of the time I felt like I was using items and interacting with the environment just as I would in life.  This made for an enjoyable gaming experience.

The presentation of Shardlight certainly is from the classic adventure game style.  The scenes and characters are 2D sprite based, pixelated forms.  The game appears to be based in a low resolution of 320×200, but can upscale to your iPad, monitor, or TV with some settings (took me a few minutes to find the right scaling on PC).  The game is not going to win any awards for photorealistic presentation, but fans of this genre are not necessarily looking for that.  Instead, the pixelated approach often allows the player to refine the scene in their mind, like going just off of an author’s descriptions in a book.  Even in this form, characters, props, and backgrounds are well realized and understood.

I had a very good time with my seven hours of Shardlight (play time ranges from six to eight hours for a first playthrough).  I certainly recommend it to any adventure game fans or even those who appreciate story in a game.  At $3-$5 during Steam sales or $5 on iOS, it is hard to pass up.

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