Years ago, the bombs came and destroyed the world. Disease and hopelessness grip the people, while the Aristocracy rules from their gilded homes. People don’t use lightbulbs anymore, but uranium shards, leaving the world in a strange green Shardlight glow.
Genre(s): Point & Click Adventure (3rd Person)
Developer: Wadjet Eye Games
Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Release Date: March 2016
Played: Full story
Purchase At: Steam
Shardlight’s world is a terrible place. A disease called Green Lung is killing off the population. The Aristocracy controls the supply of the only medicine that can manage the symptoms and while they and the rich get free access to it—as long as they remain useful—the poor have to do dangerous “Lottery Jobs,” where they receive tickets for the upcoming vaccine lottery. Things are so bleak that jobs don’t have a direct reward anymore, but a chance of one.
In comes our main character, Amy Wellard, a mechanic on a Lottery Job, repairing an old reactor. In there she finds the worker they sent before her, crushed under debris, slowly dying from his wounds. After he helps Amy complete her task, she asks him if she can help him in any way. He’s suspicious at first, until Amy mentions her name and her father, at which point the man hands over a letter to deliver to the mysterious Danton. Accepting this request puts Amy right in the middle of government conspiracies, rebellion, the secrets of the Green Lung disease and the fatalist Reaper Cults of her city.
The plot of Shardlight is just phenomenal. It’s a post-apocalyptic spy thriller, where you begin knowing next to nothing and slowly you piece together the truth, some from what you’re told and the rest from your own actions. The Green Lung disease and its effects, not only on the character but also on the people around her, are heartbreaking and you can feel their desperation for salvation, how much they need a cure, or at least stave off the terminal stages of the disease and avoid the quarantine zone. People scavenge and risk their lives against the oppression of the Aristocracy and some don’t trust anyone, but there are also communities, and friendships and loyal allies. People laugh as much as they cry and that, for me, is Shardlight’s greatest strength. It does post-apocalypse, dystopia and run-down world perfectly, balancing the misery with joy masterfully, so when bad things happen to good people, you feel the emotional impact, you feel the loss, the rage and the shock.
The atmosphere is a big part of why Shardlight’s story is so engaging. As I said before, you can feel the despair, the need for salvation. This is how the game opens, with a powerful tension, of people trying to survive and make their lives matter despite the horrible conditions and the abuse. Then as you go into the plot and Amy takes on more challenges, and alliances, you begin to feel the thriller vibe, the tension of doing something illicit, the thrill of the danger and the fear of discovery. But Shardlight doesn’t just switch atmospheres, but instead it stacks the new feelings, these new moments and types of tension on top of the others, so by the end you have a complex and compelling atmosphere that will simply take you for an unforgettable ride, keeping you at the edge of your seat until it’s over.
Characters are fantastic, all so well defined and with their individual motivations. Gordon does everything he can for his daughter and straddles the line between the rebellion and the Aristocrats because of it, as sometimes helping the regime is the best choice he can make as a parent. Gus is a gentle lug that worries deeply for Amy, acting like a big brother looking out for his younger sister. Denby risks everything for a good laugh, or the best loot, to help his family and his friends. He’s the most loyal character in Shardlight and a very nice guy. Lord Tiberius has an air of superiority and his Elizabethan era attire and porcelain mask make him seem untouchable, out of reach for the common mortals, just as he wants it. Danton is the personification of strength and determination and while untrusting and paranoid, if she knows you’re with her, she’ll throw everything she has to support you.
There are many more characters, but you get what I meant with those examples. The characters are deep, layered and complex. They feel like real people, which is not only superb but also key in making you feel for them and about their world.
Gameplay is similar to other Wadjet Eye Games: you right click to observe and left click to interact and you can use your inventory items to solve puzzles or with each other for some rather inventive solutions. The puzzles in Shardlight are a ton of fun, with enough challenge to give you many “Eureka!” moments but never illogical or using moon logic. I had a ton of fun with Amy’s Crossbow, a central item in many puzzles, using it for anything from hitting switches to killing guards. The coolest puzzles though are those where the answer isn’t just using item A with object B, but figuring out a code first, a pattern you need so the items make sense. I loved them, so designer Francisco Gonzalez has a new fan!
I loved the visuals. True, they look like many other titles released by Wadjet Eye Games—all developed in the Adventure Game Studio—but I think Ben Chandler outdid himself this time around. The sprites are wonderfully expressive and have their own mannerisms that add another layer to the already humanlike characters. For example, if idle, or during a conversation, Amy will pat her thighs, a nervous tic that makes me think she maybe can’t sit still. The visuals are also wonderfully detailed, particularly the environment, item close-ups and the character portraits. They are so good they almost seem like photos and that is truly impressive.
The world is bleak, but still hides a lot of beauty and humanity, and Chandler’s art reflects that.
As much as I may sound like I’m repeating myself, the sound design is also superb. The music is very moody, matching not really the location but the situation, so tense moments will have more intense music. The meetings with Tiberius are more sombre, and the melodies seem ‘darker’, speaking of the danger behind that porcelain mask. The Reaper cultists and the Reaper itself have a creepier and chilling music, even if they aren’t bad or dangerous, but they worship death and are all looking forward to the moment of their demise, and so their music reflects it. At least at first, since from Amy’s perspective they’re scary and unknown. Once you meet them on the other hand and you learn what they’re really like, their home has a more cheerful melody, the change brilliantly handled by having two cultists play instruments for the congregation. The voice acting is also top of the line, and I give Shelly Shenoy major props for her portrayal of Amy, she helped me connect with her and gave the characters tremendous gravitas.
The only issue I had with the game—and it may be due to my system—was constant crashes at start-up, when I launch the game, and only when starting on Full Screen. If I played windowed, there was no issue.
I think we can all agree that I can sum up Shardlight with one word: Superb. It’s a glorious adventure game on all fronts: story, atmosphere, pacing, characterisation and even the handling of this seemingly hopeless world. I only regret that it had to end.
6/5 – Highlander!