Review: Shardlight

Last month when revealing Shardlight’s release date, I noted how Wadjet Eye Games tends to often stick to the familiar territory of graphic adventure games with the look and feel of mid-’90s PC titles. And as mentioned, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just take Wadjet Eye’s offering from last year, Technobabylon. It may have been overflowing with cyberpunk tropes, but it still managed to use those tropes as a foundation for a well-constructed game draped with its own unique flair. Of course, Wadjet Eye was the publisher behind that game, with Technocrat being the developer. Now Wadjet Eye has taken on the role of the developer again for their latest title, Shardlight, and have swapped out the cyberpunk tropes for post-apocalyptic dystopia tropes. Again, they use them as the blueprints for a well-crafted game…but this time, even though the end result is still enjoyable, they left out some of the unique flair in the process and had a few chips in the structure.

Shardlight is the story of Amy Wellard, a woman who has grown up in a country rocked by a bombing twenty years ago and finds several of its inhabitants suffering and potentially dying from a deadly disease called Green Lung. Finding herself with some of the disease’s symptoms, Amy takes on a dangerous government job in order to win a lottery ticket to hopefully save her from the deadlier stages of the illness. Of course, this eventually leads to her stumbling onto a group of revolutionaries determined to expose The Aristocrats for who they are (and yes, the villains are actually called “The Aristrocrats,” even dressing up in powdered wigs and turn-of-the-century clothing like they were BioShock Infinite characters) and uncover their conspiracy, because of course there’s a conspiracy in a story like this.

Yes, Shardlight doesn’t miss a beat here when checking off the cliches, from the ramshackle marketplace to the doomsday cult to the propaganda posters. Mind you, it’s definitely not a bad story, a very good one, even (save for some iffy parts we’ll get to), it’s just that the game never really flings any curve balls at you. There is a notable thread involving a mysterious figure known only as the Reaper, who definitely provides the more interesting bits of this tale, and the titular light itself, caused by uranium glass used as a light source by UV rays striking shards hung up all over town…except you wouldn’t learn that unless you examined a shard on the very first screen, and there’s not much in the way of creative world-building after that.

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What definitely helps sell Shardlight, though, is that it definitely does look frigging gorgeous. As with all Wadjet Eye games, pixel art is used to its finest effect here, having crafted every little bit of scenery with incredible details and little animations throughout. Even if it’s not the most creative world, it still manages to come across as a living, breathing piece of beauty (you know, ignoring the wrecked machinery, corpses and whatnot). The portraits of the characters are also equally amazing, helped by the voice actors doing some stellar work.

As you may have expected from a point-and-click adventure game, the gameplay is nice and simple. The walking speed is perfect, and while the puzzles could stand to be a tad more challenging, with the linear fashion ensuring that the items you need at the moment are always close by, they do get the job done. There are even some particularly unique highlights, with a calligraphy decoder and a hidden chalkboard message being personal standouts.

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The characters you come across are also a likable lot (it says a lot that there are a good amount of achievements for interacting with various people in different ways), ranging from teenage rebels to matriarchal farmers. They aren’t particularly subtle about who gets depicted as the good guys and bad guys, though, and yes, as well-told as the story still is, it does slip up during some vital parts. The villain’s motivation for doing what they do is flimsy, the reasoning for why Amy is the one special snowflake who can make everything better again is even flimsier, but the point of particular contention for me is the ending. Without giving anything away, during the final ten minutes, the game suddenly decides to present one of the supporting characters as being morally questionable, despite never having encountered any evidence prior suggesting that. Such development seems to exist solely so the developers could tack on a moral choice-fueled multiple ending scenario in place of a climax.

Finally, I should mention that Shardlight clocks in at just under five hours, only about half the length or so of a game like Technobabylon. This doesn’t really harm it much, but for those expecting something deeper with more to explore, you may be slightly disappointed. As mentioned, it’s a solid linear tale, but still pretty linear nonetheless.

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Closing Comments:

While Shardlight isn’t as much of a potential classic as some of the other games that Wadjet Eye has released, it is still quite enjoyable and worth checking out for a quick spell. A lack of originality and some storytelling flaws hurt it a little, but the end result still has enough visual flair and enjoyable bits of narrative to easily earn a recommendation. Next time, though, it would be recommended to fill out your tattered world with a bit more substance. That way, the uranium glass has some more interesting stuff to shine on.

Summary
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Reviewed Item
Shardlight
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