NEED TO KNOW
What is it? A post-apocalyptic point-and-click adventure.
Expect to pay £11/$15
Developer Wadjet Eye Games
Reviewed on GeForce GTX 970, Intel i7-950, 16GB RAM
Link Publisher website
In the ruins of a world ravaged by nuclear war, people afflicted with a disease called Green Lung take on menial, often dangerous jobs to earn a lottery ticket that may win them a dose of life-saving vaccine. Shardlight hero Amy Wellard has the disease, and we join her as she begins one of these lottery jobs.
A generator has stopped working and Amy has to climb into a dark, filthy sewer and reactivate it. The de facto rulers of this post-apocalyptic world, the Aristocrats, hire people like her to do their dirty work in exchange for the vaccine that they, conveniently, control. While the downtrodden masses live in filthy squalor among the debris of civilisation, the Aristocrats—who dress like Civil War generals and wear creepy porcelain masks to protect them from the poison air—live pampered, comfortable lives in palatial homes.
But while a lot of post-apocalypse fiction paints the underclass as struggling, destitute, and desperate, the people in Shardlight’s broken city seem to have made a life for themselves among all the devastation. Amy visits a shanty town market that’s bustling with shoppers and has friendly conversations with people. It’s a far cry from the bleak wasteland of Fallout, and you get the feeling that, in the wake of whichever war took place here, society is beginning to piece itself back together.
Amy locates the generator in the sewer, but also finds a man crushed beneath some fallen masonry. This is the moment that sets Shardlight’s story in motion. Dying and beyond help, the man asks Amy to deliver a letter to someone in town. If she does, he says, “everything will change.” It’s an intriguing setup and sets Amy on a path that sees her meeting an underground resistance group who oppose the Aristocrats.
If you’ve played a Wadjet Eye game before, you know the deal. Shardlight is a traditional point-and-click adventure with lots of dialogue, some exploration, and the occasional tough puzzle. The presentation, although low resolution, is typically fantastic, with rich, detailed backgrounds and character portraits, and the voice acting and music are superb. I particularly love the consistent use of colour throughout, with hues of orange and green giving the wasteland a distinctive visual personality.
But in terms of actual game design, it’s so steeped in the genre's past that it feels slow, meandering, and wilfully obtuse at times. You’ll find yourself in those situations where you don’t know what to do next, revisiting every location, clicking on everything, talking to everyone, hoping to find the next obscure puzzle item or plot thread.
This is a problem with most old school-style adventure games, of course, but that doesn’t give them a free pass. A sense of humour is often what keeps you going in adventures when the puzzles get frustrating and you feel lost, but Shardlight plays it very straight. There are some lighter moments to be found, but mostly the story is as sombre and serious as your bleakly beautiful surroundings.
One relatively early glyph-based puzzle had me scratching my head for a good 40 minutes, and by the time I solved it my desk was covered in scrawled notes. The feeling of beating it was satisfying, but it was a frustrating early stumbling block. The kind of thing you'd expect to find at the end of one of these games. Amusingly, I listened to the commentary track for this puzzle and the developers even seemed unconvinced that including it was a good idea.
Shardlight isn’t one of Wadjet Eye’s best adventures, but it’s not one of its worst either. Their previous game, the superb Technobabylon, combined smart writing and well-rounded characters with a compelling murder mystery, which is a hard act to follow. Shardlight ultimately pales in comparison and is an average adventure game that’s just about kept afloat by its world and story. Amy is likeable lead, there are some moving scenes, and you meet some fascinating oddballs out there in the wastes, but I never found myself that invested after the first couple of hours.