Shardlight review

Shardlight

Shardlight is an old-school point-and-click adventure. I grew up at the height of the point-and-click adventure era, and I love them.

Point and click?

Point and click adventures are what the name says. You mostly point a mouse and click on things. Then again, that also applies to first-person shooters. Point and click adventures are not action games, though. You have to solve logical puzzles (involving pointing and clicking) to advance the plot. Often you control a character in a third-person view, who you can let walk from place to place by clicking. Some games, though, use first person.

The puzzles can vary as well, with games like Myst focusing more on complex puzzles that are really separate from the plot (solve this chess problem), where games like Gabriel Knight feature social interaction and environmental puzzles (move that, talk to her, etc.). Which is why Myst isn’t considered a point-and-click adventure, actually, even if it involves pointing and clicking.

But, in all these games, solving the puzzles advances the plot, meaning that reaction time and strategy have little to do with it, but logical thinking and persistence are required. This also means the story is far more important than in action and strategy games, because action loops trigger our brain’s reward center more directly.

Shardlight

Shardlight is set in a — hopefully — fictional future in a city that suffered a nuclear attack. It isn’t entirely clear what happened, but on top of the nuclear assault, there’s a pandemic of something called Green Lung. Society was reformed, now featuring an aristocracy, with the rest of the citizens working for them. The aristocracy is responsible for distributing shots that suppress, but don’t cure, Green Lung.

It’s ironic I played this game while suffering from a bout of Covid myself, but that’s neither here nor there. And, everybody calls it vaccine, but that’s technically the wrong term, since it doesn’t grant immunity, but only inhibits the disease.

In any case, you play Amy, a mechanic who tries to survive in the post-nuclear disease-riddled city. She recently found out she has Green Lung. At the start of the game, she has just embarked on a dangerous job for the aristocracy. On completion she’ll receive a lottery ticket, which gives her a chance at Green Lung medicine.

Then she runs into a dying man, who knew her father, and asks her to end his suffering by shooting him, and delivering a mysterious letter for him. That sets Amy on a path of adventure.

Oh, and the term shardlight comes from the glass shards infused with uranium found around the city — and in the image above this post. And should you wonder: yes, uranium glass is a real thing.

Characters

Amy is the heroine of the game. She really just wants to survive in a world that’s dealt her a shitty hand. Her father is dead, her friends are struggling, and she has Green lung. Unfortunately for her, events propel her into a battle between the resistance and the aristocracy. She soon learns things are not as they seem, and the aristocracy is anything but benevolent.

Tiberius is the de facto leader of the aristocracy. His real name isn’t Tiberius, but he has a fondness for Roman Emperors. And a fondness for wearing masks. To avoid Green Lung he wears a gas mask that looks like painted porcelain. With the wig and old-fashioned uniform… well, he makes for a well-spoken and scary villain.

The resistance leader is fighting to overthrow the aristocracy. I won’t name her to not spoil the game, but she is a delightfully grey counterpart to Tiberius. Neither she or Tiberius are truly evil or good, but each have their own good and bad ideas.

Then there is a host of other characters populating the city. Some you meet, some you’ve known for years. All in all, it makes for an interesting world. And I have to mention the Reaper Cult, a group of people worshiping the Grim Reaper, because they hate their lives, hope for death, but will not kill themselves. They worship the Reaper, hoping he will come for them soon. It is an interesting, if disturbing idea.

Gameplay and story

As you can gather from the description above, the story is quite unique. It’s also quite enthralling, and doesn’t botch the ending like a game such as Kathy Rain. It does have multiple endings, something I’m always ambivalent about. There’s always a ‘best ending’ for games with multiple endings, because we all instinctively feel that one ending fits the build-up in the story best. So why not make that the true and only ending? And yes, that also applies to this game.

The puzzles are not too hard (like the Whispered World are, for example), mostly because they make sense. I like that. This means the game doesn’t take a long time to complete, but I don’t mind that. I have too little time as it is, and I’d rather have 5 hours of a great game, than 100 hours of a repetitive open-world adventure.

The graphics of the game are not for everyone. I have a nostalgic fondness for low-res pixelated games — although I’m less a fan of the 16 color ‘console look’ and more a fan of the SVGA PC look of my teens. So for me, Shardlight is exactly what I like, pixelated, but with a ‘regular’ color scheme.

Summary

If you like point-and-click adventures, or want to give them a try, and you don’t mind pixelated art, Shardlight is the game for you. If post-apocalyptic adventures, or pointing and clicking without action don’t speak to you, then maybe skip it.

In any case, I enjoyed it, and was a good way to spend time when I was downed by Covid.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands

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