(1 customer review)


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Complete Review & Description

“The world ended on the day the bombs fell. Since then, it’s always been like this: disease, hunger, death.” With a synopsis that starts thusly, you could be forgiven for assuming Wadjet Eye’s latest point-and-click adventure game, Shardlight, would be yet another attempt at the well-worn area of dystopian fiction and moving right along. But in doing so, you’d be missing out on a captivating, moving tale; yes, it’s one you’ve heard a million times before, but it’s not often that it’s told as well as this.
Amy Wellard lives a life typical of those not counted among the ruling class: she lives a desperate life, scavenging what she can, often going days without food, and contending the deadly, incurable illness, Green Lung. Though there’s no cure, there is a vaccine, but while the rich have seemingly limitless access to it, the only option for the poor is to work dangerous government jobs in exchange for a ticket for the vaccine lottery. It is a bleak situation, to say the least.

And yet, Shardlight is not a bleak game. Yes, it has its grim moments; yes, it goes to some unpleasant places – but it avoids overselling the misery, and focuses instead on crafting a world that is believable and characters that feel real.
As you explore the city in which the game is set, you’ll meet children happily playing jump-rope to rhymes about plague, death, and the Reaper – an obvious nod to Ring Around the Rosie and the (disputed) suggestion that it made reference to the Great Plague of London. You’ll meet a happy-go-lucky homeless youth who, having risked his life to steal a single piece of chalk, sets about drawing caricatures of the people around him. Elsewhere, an elderly man who lived through the cataclysm keeps a library of old books that he lends out freely, because he feels it is important for people to know what life was like before the bombs.
Even the ruling aristocrats are generally amiable in your dealings with them, despite being framed as “the enemy”. Contrary to the almost Orwellian public service announcements that regularly blast from speakers all over the city, when it comes to actually talking to guards patrolling the city or minding the entrances to government facilities, they’re just people – which makes those moments in which you’re forced to kill them that much more impactful.

Where so many post-apocalyptic stories hinge on the idea that, barring a rare exceptions, people are fundamentally self-interested and will turn to monsters when push comes to shove, Shardlight presents a view of a world in which people are fundamentally decent, and will band together in times of strife. Beyond just being a breath of fresh air, this is, I think, more reflective of reality. We’ve seen this kind of response in everything from people dealing with The Division’s launch-week congestion by queueing at quest givers to the resilience shown by those affected by every major disaster in history.
The quality of writing and voice acting in delivering this tale can’t be overstated. Being an adventure game, Shardlight’s storytelling relies heavily on dialogue, which is expertly written and fantastically performed. It’s a rare case that I’ll go out of my way to listen to every little sound bite in such a game, but in Shardlight, I found myself inspecting everything I could, just to hear what Amy had to say about it.
Particularly deserving of praise is Shelly Shenoy, who not only plays Amy Wellard to perfection, but was responsible for the casting of the game as a whole. The voice credits are quite extensive, especially for a game from a small studio like Wadjet Eye, and there isn’t one actor among them who doesn’t do an excellent job.

Though spoken word is the main narrative channel, presentation plays a significant role. Shardlight has a pixelated, low-resolution 2D look, but it’s not the kind of minimalistic style that’s often seen in retro-inspired games. Rather, there’s an impressive amount of detail crammed into the sprites and backgrounds that makes the world feel lived-in and authentic in spite of any technical limitations. Background music is low-key and sombre, further selling the image of a blighted world, and underscoring, by contrast, the resilience of people in the face of that.
Rather than following the style of the likes of Telltale’s games and The Walking Dead, Shardlight is more reminiscent of older adventure games in its use of exploration- and item-based puzzles. For some, this will be welcome, but I found it a bit frustrating because of frequent dips into “moon logic” – puzzles with obscure, roundabout solutions that make sense in hindsight, but don’t follow a flow that feels logical in the moment. If such puzzles are your thing, Shardlight will scratch that itch, but if you’re here for the story, I’d recommend using a guide, like I did.
With or without a guide in hand, Shardlight weaves a tale that is well worth hearing. It’s a familiar premise, and it hits all the familiar beats of a dystopian class conflict plot, but it does it with a degree of care and nuance that sets it above the rest. It’s haunting, and at times shocking, but the reason these aspects work so well is because of the sense of humanity, hope and optimism that permeates this world.


1 review for Shardlight

  1. vanka1kot

    Stress killer game

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