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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.

But—and this is a sentiment that stretches back years now—it’s hard not to wish Wadjet Eye would upgrade its tech.

I actually have nothing against Shardlight’s art in theory. The studio is extraordinarily talented at reproducing a grungy sort of pixelism, an early-to-mid-90s Gabriel Knight-esque style with a lot of retro appeal. Shardlight makes the most of it, breaking up its browned world with splashes of toxic greens and reds. It’s weirdly beautiful.

Wadjet Eye built its reputation on the back of Adventure Game Studio (AGS), though—an engine suited for...well, basically the types of games Wadjet Eye makes. Small-to-medium-sized adventure games with a lo-fi aesthetic. So far, so good.

The problem: Wadjet Eye is bumping up against the limitations of AGS, and this becomes clearer with each new release. The art gets better, the voicework gets better, but the games are still stuck with clumsy interfaces and awkward “action sequences” (thankfully few of them in Shardlight) and a dialogue system that seems not entirely up to the task of handling the complexity of Wadjet Eye’s stories.

And this is before we even get into the problems with AGS as a platform. There's no resolution options, meaning the game runs at a baffling 1280x800 with some sweet black bars on the side. There's also no way to show all hotspots on a screen and avoid the need for pixel-scouring.

This last item is particularly galling because it’s the source of most frustrations in Shardlight. The art and puzzles are both superb at walking you through puzzles intuitively, for the most part. Occasionally you’re going to miss an object, however, and you’ll have no recourse but to walk through each available screen and mouse over anything that looks even remotely important.

Maybe Wadjet Eye considers this part of the genre’s retro appeal, but personally I’m not a fan—and I’ve only become more spoiled in the past few years, given that Wadjet Eye’s closest competitors in this space (Nordic and Daedalic) always give you the option of revealing hot spots. The puzzles are the game. Not the pixel-hunting.

Again, I have a love/hate relationship with Wadjet Eye. Their games are great, but also difficult to broadly recommend given how many modern genre conveniences they (willingly or unwillingly) eschew.

Bottom line

Shardlight is pretty damned decent though. The story’s a bit more straightforward than some other Wadjet Eye games, it ends a bit too abruptly, and a few of the secondary characters needed fleshing out, but all-in-all it makes for an engaging six or seven hours in a world with some great ideas—a bit like Dead Synchronicity, except with an ending. Very grim. Very adult.

I just wish Wadjet Eye’s tech matched its talents.

 

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