By: Brian Gunn
Shardlight is the latest game from the adventure game studio Wadjet Eye games, a studio that’s a bit of a workhouse and consistently pushing out good titles. Here, players assume the role of Amy, a post-apocalypse scavenger just trying to live to the next day.
Controls in Shardlight are fairly standard adventure game stuff. Point and click to move and collect trinkets, drag from the inventory to try using things on other objects. There are a couple of puzzles that are a little frustrating thanks to being needlessly vague where you’ll know how to solve them but the execution is off. The game offers a “hurried” walking speed for those that might get tired of the default pace, which is a nice quality of life improvement.
Created in the Adventure Game Studio engine, Wadjet Eye’s games have always been a bit low resolution and pixel heavy, which create a unique but not always pleasant look. The low resolution, when played on high-resolution monitors in full screen, can get a little stretched and ruin the art. That being said, it does allow them to create some detailed and varied environments, and the character portraits are great.
There’s not too much going on audio wise in Shardlight. There’s a general lack of music, something that enhances the mood of the desolate world. Sound effects are solid but nothing noteworthy. The game is fully voiced and is fairly strong. I particularly liked Abe Goldfarb as the pompous Tiberius.
The world of Shardlight is one in which the bombs fell roughly 20 years ago, and society has been upended. While the general destruction of the world is enough of a bummer, there’s a fatal disease called Green Lung going around as well. Our lead character, Amy, has just caught it sadly, which leads to her taking “lottery jobs”‘ in which the payout is a chance at a once-a-month vaccination.
While the world is in disarray, it’s not quite in the Mad Max vein of roving bandits. It is more comparable to something like The Hunger Games, where there’s still centralized government power, though not an ideal one.
Those in power have the nerve to call themselves the Aristocracy and name themselves after Roman emperors, and so a clear class divide has caused tension. This is where the bulk of the game’s story comes into play, as Amy finds herself caught between the Aristocracy and a growing rebellion.
There’s a surprising amount of empathy for the varied cast of characters. Even those that seem incredibly villainous get their moment in the sun to either show that they aren’t so bad or that the world has just broken them. There’s a quiet sense of family between Amy and her friends that’s kind of refreshing in this type of story that often has a nasty streak.
Adventure games have a bit of a bad rap when it comes to puzzles, though it is often somewhat deserved. A lot of them don’t make a lot of sense and ask for odd leaps logic. Shardlight, refreshingly, manages to sidestep this cliché, save for one ill-advised puzzle near the beginning.
A lot of puzzles are simply based upon basic ideas, like using the long metal object you acquired to jimmy something open, or based on a barter lifestyle encouraged by the world. That being said, the puzzles might feel a bit easy for veterans of the genre due to this — though to be clear it’s not a game that’s really meant to be played for the puzzles.
For those looking for extras, Shardlight does have a few different endings, though they are determined largely by the final few moments of the game. Dialogue choices allow a bit of role playing, where you can make Amy seem straight laced or in everything for herself. There’s a bonus commentary mode as well as some behind the scenes stuff like voice acting bloopers.
Shardlight offers a well-realized world with lived-in characters that might surprise you. It’s worth a look just for the story, even if the usually complicated puzzles of the genre normally put you off.