Lamplight City – Review

It’s been interesting delving into the point and click genre recently. Whilst I have played quite a few, I’ve really been trying quite a few different ones. So first things first, this game follows a pretty standard classic point and click adventure style, in the vein of Monkey Island and such. There are tonnes of voice acted characters, and the visuals feel on point for that somewhat pixelly era. They definitely nailed that. But a point and click adventure is only as good as what makes it unique, so let’s delve into the story.

The City of Lights

Lamplight City is a place on the edge. New steam-based technologies are on the rise, helping bring about a revolution of sorts, for those who can afford them. But the city has its darkness. Poverty and crime run through the undercurrents of the city. Miles Fordham, like his city, is haunted by the past. During a stakeout, Bill Leger, his partner was killed, for which Fordham holds himself responsible. But with his partner remaining a constant presence despite being dead, Fordham must find the criminal that caused Bill’s death. If he can, he may just be able to help his partner move on, and he may just keep his sanity.
So right from the jumping off point, Lamplight City has some interesting stuff that it’s playing with. So there are elements of racism, sexism and homophobia to play with. The fact of the matter is simple: this is a great little story. The constant nagging of your now-deceased partner brings in banter and such. But the very nature of his character makes you question whether he is really a spirit or a psychological manifestation of the protagonist’s guilt. It’s such a tiny thing but by using the “thinking voice” common in many games of this genre, the game really adds its own little flavour to the genre.
The cases are also on point. Each has a different crime, and often have some kind of supernatural element to it. Which I suppose is to be expected when you’re carting around a ghost. Each little story is a separate affair but there are enough interlinks to keep things interesting. The characters here are diverse and interesting enough to keep things feeling fresh and real.

Choice and Consequence

What really drew me to this point-and-click were the little tweaks in gameplay. Lamplight City weaves choice into the traditionally linear genre. As Miles Fordham, you have choices about how you talk to witnesses, which will sculpt the investigation. Tell a witness you’re going to call the police, and they may freeze up and refuse to answer questions. This means you really must pay attention to what you say to your potential suspects, as a faux pas may drive them off. This also feeds into who you can accuse. You’ll need certain pieces of evidence and testimony to accuse a suspect. If you burn bridges though, you’ll be unable to pursue that information. Instead, you may be forced to follow other leads, accuse other suspects, if you don’t run into a dead end that is.
This leads to the very ambitious goal from this title: Unsolvable Cases. It’s fair to say even mentioning the term “Unsolvable Cases” is a bit of an odd gameplay. Generally, you don’t want to advertise that you’ve made a puzzle game unwinnable. But rest assured, this is different, or at least it ought to be. This harkens back to the previous choice system. If all leads have been messed up in some fashion, you’ll have to throw in the towel. The game still continues, but you’ll have the failure hung over your head. There will be consequences if you aren’t up to scratch. This is a pretty cool idea. Generally the only fail state these kinds of games run with is being unable to solve puzzles. So adding this “dead end” mechanic really means you have to consider your options carefully. A very cool idea.

Haunted by dead ends

There’s only one problem with the unsolved cases mechanic, the execution. See, you might have noticed I praised the “idea” and the “concept”. In reality, it was hit or miss. In fact, the “dead end” mechanic, seemed to, at times, cause actual, non-scripted dead ends.
While I can’t be certain the issue seemed to be related to how the suspect investigations interacted. One suspect required me to talk to a character I had yet to meet. Looking in the other leads, I found that in order to talk to that character, another would have to introduce me. However, that character refused to interact with me following a bad decision. So I was trapped in this space where I had one character line open, but no way to actually fulfil any criteria. I hadn’t explicitly failed yet though. So instead I had to start the game over. Suffice to say I was “not happy Jan” at this point.
It’s worth noting that the game is being patched. Updates are rolling out, and I have already seen some of these problems improving. But as a reviewer, it is not my job to speculate. Whilst it may be as solid gameplay-wise as it ought to be, I must suggest caution, as the game in it’s current state doesn’t feel entirely up to scratch.

Case Closed

In its entirety, Lamplight City is a fairly solid game. The world built here is fantastic, with a really good balance of period mystery, with some speculative fiction elements in there. From this world comes a great tale of grief, mental illness and justice. All this is wrapped in the lovely auditory and visual presentation. The gameplay, unfortunately, isn’t as quality. It falls on the all to common pile of “great idea, less than great execution”. Hopefully, in due time they’ll work the kinks out and it’ll be an all-around fantastic game.