The bleak, post-apocalyptic point-and-click adventure game Shardlight shows that old-school concepts and graphics can still make for a very good modern computer game.
Shardlight takes place 20 years after the bombs fell, turning civilization at large into piles of rubble. While most of the world is struggling to survive, the Aristocrats that rule the in-place oligarchy are living high on the hog by comparison. The player, taking the role of Amy Wellard, is very much not a part of this faceless upper class. Rather, Amy is one of the huddled masses taking dangerous vaccine-giving "lottery jobs" and doing her best to survive not only day-to-day life but also a condition known as Green Lung that has taken oh so many lives.
The story comes off as much deeper than it likely is thanks in part to contemporary political climates and attitudes. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders would likely point to this game as a model of the issues with oligarchy governments much like George Orwell's 1984 is used as a model warning for "Big Brother" politics. As much commentary is it is fiction, Shardlight does well to draw players in with an experience that is enjoyable for most while being interesting and stimulating for better-educated and higher-brow audiences.
True to the point-and-click adventure genre, there is a lot of exploring and many trial-and-error moments to be had from the get-go. Right off the bat Shardlight throws players into a puzzle with the end goal of getting a generator back up and running that involves a bit of detective work along with a bit of ingenuity and attention to detail. Players will find themselves working on puzzles throughout the game -- some overlapping others almost as if they were side quests -- as they slowly unravel the truth about the Aristocrats, Green Lung and it's vaccine, and many other things about the world they live in along the way.
A credit to developer Wadjet Eye Games, Shardlight rarely falls into some of the mind-numbing go-through-the-motions types of puzzles that many modern point-and-click games (amongst others) tend to. There really isn't anything much in the way of "fetch" or "escort" missions or puzzles and typically if a puzzle seems un-solvable it tends to be because the player missed something along the way. While figuring that out can be just as frustrating as taking a few steps back to see what you missed, the end result is almost always quite rewarding in one sense or another.
Featuring pixel-based graphics, Shardlight is very much an homage to the point-and-click adventure games found on mid-1990's computers such as The Secret of Monkey Island and the King's Quest series. Of course, this time around there is voice acting to go along with the text-on-screen dialogue. Surprisingly enough, this presentation style not only works for a modern audience, it actually adds to the overall experience of the game. Had the developers opted for a circa-2016 visual presentation that take into consideration polygon counts or cel-shading, much of the visual impact of Shardlight would likely be lost.
One part of the game that does seem a bit lost is something that's been a chronic problem with the games that come out of Wadjet Eye is in its user interface. While better than in games past, Shardlight's UI is still a bit clunky when it comes down to it. In a way that's almost another homage in itself to the style of game they're replicating with this title, but still. And for as in-depth and interesting a story Shardlight provides, the game's dialogue system just doesn't seem up to the task of adequately presenting it. Thankfully, the underwhelmingly awkward action sequences that have appeared in some of Wadjet Eye Games' previous titles is an uncommon occurrence in Shardlight.
When it comes down to it, Wadjet Eye Games put together a pretty darn good game. Shardlight is a grim game that handles some fairly mature topics, but it's accessible enough for a wide range of gamers to play. It's challenging, but intriguing. Anyone who wants to put in the time to solve the game's many puzzles (some of which will leave you stumped for quite some time) will find that the game's eight-to-nine hour playtime is worth it. Don't expect too much out of a second playthrough, however, as the story is pretty much as linear as you can get. Then again, the puzzles alone might make a second go rather appealing.
Final score: 8 out of 10