Lamplight City by Grundislav Games is a time capsule.
With the gameplay of Sierra point and click adventures and retro style pixel graphics, the game goes for your nostalgia from the get-go. The narrative drops the player right into the action of the 1800s style setting while easing them into dialogue exchanges, which is the main gameplay element of the title. These sequences may remind some of the modern titles such as the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series or the interrogation sequences from L.A. Noir. Along with interrogations, finding collectibles and solving puzzles reminiscent of the classics such as Maniac Mansion or Myst round out the gameplay elements of the title.
With many throwbacks to the classic PC narrative-heavy game, Lamplight City promises to please at least those with a hunger for the retro PC charm.
When a police stakeout goes awry in the steampunk retro-future city of New Bretagne, the two detectives Miles Fordham and Bill Leger are confronted with a shadowy figure on a rooftop after investigating a crime. After a decision that changes their lives, Miles sets off on his own with Bill’s intuition to guide him on his independent investigations across the city. Juggling a faltering marriage, substance abuse, supernatural interference and sneaking around former colleagues in the Police force, Miles Fordham is a well-made character who is fleshed out well during the game. The dynamic between himself, Bill and his Wife are especially of note in the story due to world-building elements within it that add to the overall immersion of the game.
The controls are solid with ways to speed up sections you have played through before which serves as a nice modern touch. The voice acting is also top-notch, as it never feels like a chore to listen to any of the dialogue of Lamplight City. The talent is immersive and while at times camp it never breaks the air of the atmosphere and overall aesthetic of the game. The graphics and presentation also offer a great retro feel to the experience which will make players of old-school 90’s PC titles grin with the moments that feel authentic.
Unfortunately, Lamplight City suffers from a number of flaws that keep it from truly shining.
Great voice acting and aesthetic is undermined by poor writing, egregious snarky commentary, and gameplay that feels very disengaged and dated. While a good character in his own right, the situations that surround Miles never seem of any gravity greater than his own which prevents any true immersion into the world around him. The game may lend itself to multiple playthroughs due to being able to “fail” cases, but one would never know unless they were to read promotional material for the game because it is never touched on in any way in-game.
The Good: The overall presentation is great. The characters feel lively, with their own unique quirks and personalities. The voice acting brings life to every denizen of the steampunk world and pushes the conversations front and center, making puzzle-solving and finding new dialogue options fun. The retro pixel graphics with Fallout 2 style “talking heads” offers a great feeling of being in the same room as the two people talking in the game.
The Bad: Shoehorned story elements, boring mysteries, and gameplay that feels dated all serve to weigh down the game. The overall experience is quickly sullied by the feeling of poor design choices, slow pacing and interesting story hooks that are never truly resolved. This makes the good parts of the game feel cheapened, as only fans of this genre will be enticed to play for long periods of time.
With a great premise, aesthetic, and fun characters, Lamplight City is a game clearly made for the retro PC gamer. Fantastic voice acting, puzzles and a solid lead character, unfortunately, do little to remove the effect of lackluster case stories, boring gameplay, and a half-baked narrative. Many ideas feel as though they were not completely fleshed out and the attempts to make the city of New Bretagne seem alive and cohesive fall flat when the cases Miles Fordham takes on seem so much more important than anything or anyone else in the game. While it makes a fantastic first impression, Grundislav Games may want to take a bit more time when looking back at the problems with Lamplight City.