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Shardlight review: A pixelated post-apocalypse point-and-click pleasure

Hayden Dingman | March 9, 2016
It's not easy having Green Lung.

I’ve come to love/hate Wadjet Eye’s games over the years. Whether produced in-house or developed by others, the titles put out under the Wadjet Eye banner (Primordia, Blackwell, Gemini Rue, Technobabylon) are unerringly some of the best-written adventure games of the modern era...

...And also the most frustrating.

Shardlight is no different. Set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged first by bombs, then by a mysterious disease known as “Green Lung,” Shardlight is as grim as point-and-clicks come. Within the first ten minutes a man asked me to kill him. Things got darker from there.

Soylent Green Lung is people

You play as Amy Wellard, recently infected with Green Lung. As a mechanic, she’s skilled enough to qualify for the government’s “Lottery Jobs” a.k.a. work so dangerous that only people with nothing to lose would want to volunteer. Doing these jobs earns workers a ticket for the titular lottery though, and the prize for winning? A Green Lung vaccine, which temporarily rids a person of symptoms for a period of about a month.

These vaccines are dutifully metered out by the ruling class, the Aristocrats, all of which have taken the names of Roman Emperors—though they dress like Revolutionary War-era soldiers. True to their name, they also live quite a bit better than the poor people in the muddy slums—or should I say the rebels in the muddy slums?

And then there’s the Reaper Cult, a sect based out of the ruins of an old church. You’re not allowed to enter the church until you’re ready to die, at which point the cult will let you commune with the Reaper—a top-hat wearing fellow with a fondness for ravens.

Look. Look at all that backstory. If there’s one thing I admire about Wadjet Eye, it’s their propensity for building interesting worlds atop well-worn foundations. Last year’s Technobabylon took a smattering of old cyberpunk ideas and turned them into a strong whodunnit. Shardlight takes the post-apocalypse—about as generic a video game setting as they come—and still manages to spin an interesting story.

It’s all in the small details. It’s in the way Amy’s obsessed with classic cars, or the way a massive statue of a woman towers over the dingy marketplace where she spends most of her time. It’s the jump-roping kids singing a nursery rhyme about the Reaper, or a train stuck out in the salt flats.

It’s a game that feels much larger than its actual confines and more inventive than its setting and straightforward plot would indicate. It helps that the dialogue is solid—not so much “The way people actually speak” as “The way people speak in books.” It’s snappy. Credit also goes to the voice actor (I think it’s Wadjet Eye mainstay Abe Goldfarb) for his wheezy and menacing portrayal of your lottery job employer Tiberius, aloof under his Classical-era wig and powdered gas mask.

 

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