"The realistic feel of these characters helps create a fantastic story which brings home the reality of the apocalypse, making it all the more uncomfortable because it feels like a situation we could all wind up in one day."
Wadjet Eye Games never fail to release consistently good point-and-click adventures that keep you on the edge of your seat, while maintaining solid puzzles and excellent storylines. Each new title brings with it a new world to explore and indulge in for a good few hours. In Shardlight, Wadjet Eye return to the apocalypse, something previously explored in Primordia, only this time they're looking at it from the perspective of humans rather than robots. With their last release, Technobabylon, ranking among their best games, Shardlight has a tough act to follow.
You control Amy Wellard, a car mechanic who suffers from a plague which is sweeping the nation called Green Lung. She embarks on a lottery job for the Aristocracy, the oligarchy of Amy's nameless home city, in order to have a chance of winning a vaccine for the illness. Her lottery job takes her far beyond getting a vaccine, however, and soon she's caught up with a rebel faction who are looking to change the face of society. The world of Shardlight is very simplistic, but this is in its favour — so often post-apocalyptic worlds are overwhelmed by exposition and backstory, and not enough attention is focused on the hows and whys of what's going on at the present moment.
Shardlight manages to hone in on the daily struggles of the characters and creates a believable world in the process. The game deals with the apocalypse so nonchalantly because these characters have either lived through the bombs or have only ever known life like this. The characters are the lifeblood of Shardlight, enhancing its plausibility while also adding to and enriching the story. Amy is a great lead because she's likeable and relatable — she just wants to fix cars and work as a mechanic rather than worry about her illness, and she always makes time for her friends in the market, cracking jokes that can bring a smile to anyone's face. She's strong and determined, and an asset to the story. The supporting cast are also engaging and fantastic to talk to, each with their own worries and struggles. A few examples include Denby, the lovable delinquent who just wants to draw and have some freedom; and Gordon, who strives to make a life for his daughter. The realistic feel of these characters helps create a fantastic story which brings home the reality of the apocalypse, making it all the more uncomfortable because it feels like a situation we could all wind up in one day.
Additionally, Shardlight is crafted beautifully with pixel art reminiscent of the point-and-clicks of yesteryear. The titular green shards of light dotted around the city contrast with grey and brown shades to effectively create sickly and ruined environments. Nathanial Chamber's atmospheric soundtrack perfectly compliments this style by conveying the bustle and repetitiveness of life, while also reflecting the death of the world. These aspects help to further enhance the realistic feel of the world Wadjet Eye has presented.
Rather than overload players on exposition and story, Shardlight allows them to actively seek out information — the game is perfectly paced, never detailing too much at one time. You can find out the history of the bombs and World War 3 by sitting down and reading a book, or you can get a snapshot of what happened on Blast Day by looking at the posters in the Ministry of Energy. New areas become available gradually, and as you explore them you'll slowly begin to unravel the mystery behind the Aristocracy and their secrets. The story centres on Amy and her plight rather than the typical save the world plot, and even though she gets caught up in an attempt to change society, she still grounds the narrative and keeps the tale from feeling outdated.
The second half of the game slips up in this regard by narrowing down your ability to explore and discover. The narrative might be lacking in originality, but up until the first major twist, it deals with the world and characters so well by letting you indulge in it at your own pace. From the midpoint onwards, you're directed down a linear path that feels very by-the-numbers — the tone of the journey shifts uncomfortably too, with a superstitious segment which feels both unusual and out of place amongst the rest of the story. The quality cast of characters are still consistently likeable and entertaining, and the story still unfolds at a good pace; it's just a shame you're suddenly limited as to where you can go. Even more of a disappointment is the rushed ending, which comes in very suddenly and wraps up events too quickly and conveniently. It's not the pay off that you'd like, but the journey towards the end has its twists and turns that will keep you entertained for a time.
As with all point-and-click adventures, you'll have to uncover the story for yourself by solving puzzles and interacting with the world around you. Shardlight controls just like classic point-and-clicks and gameplay is hitch-free, which makes guiding Amy from place to place as you progress through the story a smooth experience. There are some really smart puzzles that involve taking hints from other characters and implementing them in the world in various ways — one in particular that sticks in my mind is getting some chalk from Denby so you can get inside the rebel's hideout. None of the puzzles are too difficult and most are easily solved with a pen and paper or a diary to keep track of things. As with the story, the second half of Shardlight struggles to maintain the quality of puzzles; where they decrease in numbers they also decrease in difficulty, and many can be solved with just a simple point-and-click to fire a crossbow. The inconsistency began to frustrate me quite quickly because I didn't feel like I was earning my way through the game, but luckily the story and the world managed to keep me engaged to the very end.
Shardlight is definitely worth your time if you're a fan of point-and-click adventures or have enjoyed Wadjet Eye's back catalogue. It's got a certain charm about it that's different than other post-apocalyptic games, and feels distinct by not centring on the disaster itself but by paying attention to the characters and the situations they get into. While the second half lacks all the bonuses in terms of pacing and puzzles, the whole experience is definitely worth checking out. Wadjet Eye Games have proven their consistency with the genre once again and might just be one of the best developers of this kind around today.