Adventure Gamers Awards
In recent years we’ve seen an ever-growing shift from adventures with straightforward, linear stories to ones that try more and more to incorporate a degree of player choice. Pitched as “a detective game where it’s okay to fail,” the 2D point-and-click Lamplight City by Grundislav Games sounds like another step in this direction. Set against an atmospheric, stylishly drawn, and narratively interesting backdrop, I was keen to see how the mysteries and decision-making would play out in a game with such high production values. The result fell a bit shy of what I was expecting, since most of the time there is no choice other than to passively click through the many extended dialogs.
Lamplight City is set in the 1800s of New Bretagne, a pseudo-New Orleans of an alternate Earth history where the use of steampunk technology is on the rise. You play Miles Fordham, a disciplined and capable detective for the city’s police department during the game’s playable prologue. Your partner is Bill Leger, who is rather less disciplined and injects comments that range from small smile-inducers to downright groaners.
The two detectives have been summoned to a flower shop. Someone has been breaking in after hours and stealing flowers but leaving money behind to cover the cost. Miles and Bill are there to search the store and track down the culprit. Minor spoiler alert: the investigation does not go to plan and Bill ends up dead. Fast forward three months to the story proper: Miles is no longer on the police force and takes a nightly soporific that dulls his wits but is needed to drown out the voice of the spirit of the deceased Bill, who is haunting Miles and demanding that he track down his killer.
With Bill speaking constantly in his head, Miles is a bit worse for wear at this point. Even so, he still has some friends in the police department who want to help get him back on his feet. Chief among these is Constance Upton, the office secretary who is responsible for dispatching bulletins to the field officers. Recently a high society lady was pronounced dead, only to awaken and start banging on her coffin in the middle of her funeral. While the police have a suspect in custody, Upton believes it’s the wrong person. She meets Miles at the local coffee shop to convince him to look into the case, the first of five that Miles and Bill experience throughout the game.
Between cases, Miles usually goes home to have a chat with Bill – or it’s more appropriate to say Bill has a chat with Miles, as Miles just wants Bill to be quiet. During these interludes, Bill is rather one-track-minded, demanding that former partner stop sedating himself and get on with finding the killer. Bill’s intrusions into the protagonist’s thoughts help you sympathize more with what Miles has been going through, although the conflict between the two men never really comes to a head at any point. Things get even more complicated for Miles because he’s been keeping Bill’s otherworldly existence secret from his wife Addie, putting even more strain on their relationship. It’s an interesting thread although not the main focus of the story, which is squarely on the different mysteries presented.
During each case you’ll travel to a wide variety of locations, with more being added in later investigations. Each place of interest typically consists of one or two scenes, with other areas accessible via a map of the city. There is quite an impressive array of locales, from the opulent houses of society’s upper crust to the oppressive streets of Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumley), one of the lower class neighbourhoods, so you’ll get to see the city’s many socio-economic strata. It’s not all homes and offices, however, as you’ll also stop by manufacturing plants, the cemetery, a bridge construction site, and a church, among other assorted destinations.
Every location is impressively detailed in retro-styled pixel art. Homes have intricate carpets and fancy wallpapering, while exterior locations give glimpses of the cityscape in the background. These scenes aren’t just pleasing to look at; they’re well designed and laid out in such a way as to draw the eye to the important hotspots in each one. Just to be sure, the mouse pointer changes when over an area that Miles can comment on or interact with.
Characters are also nicely rendered, ranging in attire from shabby to splendid as befits each person’s social station. Their movements are fluid and it’s nice to see that attention was paid even to having Miles open doors to walk through them rather than the common technique of cheaply fading to black. Of course, it’s not all about doors, as Miles will fish around in storm drains for evidence, climb through windows, and even get into a brief bout of fisticuffs (don’t worry, it’s just a cutscene, no action sequences here).
Music also adds to the atmosphere of Lamplight City, sounding suitably olde-worlde classical with hints of steampunk influences thrown in. The instrumental score never dominates nor distracts, but it does help to heighten the mood in any given scene. The sense of place is completed with appropriate sound effects, whether it’s the soft tread of Miles’s footsteps, the murmur of distant crowds outside, or the hiss of various steam tech devices.
While there are a lot of places to visit, the focus is on meeting with all the different people that inhabit them. There are quite a few characters encountered here and they’re all voiced to quite a high standard, although the same actors have been reused a number of times, which is most noticeable for a handful of female roles. Even so, the actors deliver solid performances – which is good, because they’ve got so much to say.Continued on the next page...
What our readers think of Lamplight City
Posted by MoonBird on Sep 27, 2018
Acceptable in most areas, but not great
Lamplight City is quite a charming little game, that is pleasure to look at and listen to. Unfortunatly, there are some drawbacks, that prevent it to never really realizing its great potential. The main problem is, that there is actually nothing to really...