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Shardlight / 10th of March 2016

Post-apocalyptic games have become somewhat of a staple offering in the gaming scene in recent years, we’ve had our Fallouts and our Fallen Earths and other such examples, but one thing that they all have in common is that they are shooters. Shardlight attempts to break this all-too regular trend of having post-apocalyptic games be all about shooting mutants and bandits, and instead focuses more on storytelling and character development, viewing the old doomsday scenario from a point and click adventure game standpoint. Does it succeed on this front? Well let’s find out…

The story of Shardlight is a long one filled with personal struggles and moral questions. It’s been twenty years since the end of the world and now society has been split into two sections, the lower class general public and the upper class holders of power, the ‘Aristocrats’. The population is currently facing the threat of a disease known as ‘Green Lung’ which can be treated by the Aristocrats, but at a cost. The public must perform ‘Lottery Jobs’ for them in order to take part in a draw which hands out the vaccine for the disease to its lucky winners. You play as Amy, a local mechanic who, after taking part in an aforementioned lottery job, finds herself involved in a political dispute which seeks to change the face of the world itself by addressing the balance of power. The story is certainly compelling, and giving us the role of someone who struggles in the middle of all this political strife helps to keep us grounded and feel more human. The characters you interact with too are very interesting, with each having their own personal relationship with Amy rather than providing just another outlook into this bleak and depressing world. I found myself wanting to find out more about the expanse in which I was placed; from finding out the motives behind the incredibly creepy looking Aristocrats, to discovering if the ‘Reaper’ is real. Personally, I think that it’s quite evident that a lot of effort went into crafting an engrossing setting and story, though some may find it to be a tad short once they know how to get through the puzzles.

The presentation of this game is incredibly similar to that of Secret of Monkey Island, with a pixelated look to the characters and environments from which you are placed in, hell, even the character’s mouths move in the same way. It certainly helps to give the game a rustic, retro aesthetic, but the decision to place Shardlight in a post-apocalyptic setting only serves to heighten the importance of its environment design. The care and attention, and perhaps most importantly of all, the quality of the artwork, that has been poured into every scene and location in this game is just downright gorgeous, making it abundantly obvious that this is a real labour of love, with a great deal of time and effort having gone into making this game look beautiful, even if it is pixelated.

The music itself is fair, having a large amount of tunes that remind me most of old westerns for some reason. While it may not win any awards I find it to be appropriate to the setting and it helps to really bring tension to scenes which need it. I have to highlight the voice acting as I find it incredibly good for being developed by such a small team. Amy has plenty to say about the world around her, meaning that you can simply ask her for information on just about anything that she is either looking at or interacting with. Each of the other myriad characters too is superbly acted, and this manages to highlight the great chemistry in their interactions with Amy. Honestly, this is some of the best voice acting and editing that I have ever seen in an indie game, it’s that good.

The gameplay consists of standard adventure game fare in which you walk around environments, talk to characters and interact with objects in order to progress the story. A lot of the puzzles are very unique and are fairly straightforward enough to complete once you know what you are doing (except for one incredibly frustrating puzzle relatively early on which I will come to in a bit). A lot of the objects or people you need to interact with require going to certain other locations around the map, meaning that you don’t feel as though you go to a location once or twice then never go back again. This helps to make each area feel unique and also serves to showcase the gorgeous backdrops that have been put into each of them, these are hustling and bustling with life when needed, especially in the urban environs.

While some puzzles may be cryptic there is always a solution that can be found as long as you look hard enough and even though I am not too great at adventure games in general, I found myself solving many of the puzzles without any help. Most of the time, however, I found myself just playing through the game to get to the next story segment in order to find out what happens next which speaks volumes about how this game treats storytelling. Some may find the general click and solve puzzle formula boring, especially with it being in a setting in which combat would probably not be out of the question, but if you’re playing an adventure game you know what you are getting into.

Now, while I am showering this game with praise, it does have something which brings it down a bit. Firstly, as I mentioned earlier, there was a particularly nasty puzzle relatively early on which I found almost completely impossible to complete without a guide, and even with a guide I still had some problems completing it. This was because of a particular problem that this game suffers from; bugs. That puzzle in particular had a section that required pinpoint mouse movements which were difficult for the game to register and led to many frustrating moments as I struggled to get the game to co-operate with me. I also had an incredibly nasty bug which prevented me from opening my save file after I’d gotten around halfway through the game, meaning I had to start from the very beginning again. This was incredibly aggravating and led to me losing a lot of respect for Shardlight, though I realise that I was playing a build before it was officially released, so I certainly hope that this nasty issue can be fixed before its general release.

All in all then, this game is a fantastic piece of storytelling, artwork and acting that provides a unique spin on the post-apocalyptic setting whilst providing a wonderful insight into the moral subjectivity of humanity itself. As long as the bugs and game-save deleting issues are solved then I would wholeheartedly recommend Shardlight to any person who enjoys adventure games and a strong narrative.

Jack McKay
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