Lamplight City – A detective I was meant to be – Review

Gare – Thursday, September 13, 2018 6:02 AM
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Lamplight City from Grundislav Games is, as its trailer advertises, a different kind of adventure gamefocusing on piecing together clues and interrogating suspects instead of traditional inventory-based puzzles, it aims to make you feel like you’re doing some genuine detective work. And for the most part, it does succeed at just that, even if it can’t quite maintain the same level of intrigue and inventiveness all the way through its five-episode adventure. Set in an alternate 1844 with steam-based technology on the rise, Lamplight City puts you in the shoes of Miles Fordham, a private investigator going through some tough times following the unfortunate death of his partner, Bill – someone whose voice he still continues to hear in his head, strangely enough. Determined to get some closure and potentially a good night’s sleep, Miles sets out to investigate the titular city’s every nook and cranny, solving cases left and right with the hope that one of them might lead him to the true culprit responsible for Bill’s untimely demise.

My name is Miles Fordham and I want to be an investigator

As noted earlier, solving cases in Lamplight City is primarily not a matter of finding, combining and using the right items at the right place, albeit occasionally that does come into the picture, but it’s hardly the defining aspect of the experience. You have no inventory to speak of, nor do you have to pick up and carry around dozens of strange, unlikely or oversized items the way you do in various other classics of the genre – in that sense, Lamplight City very much stays grounded in reality, which was a welcome approach in my eyes. Instead, it’s all about detective work – visiting places, examining them with a careful eye and questioning the game’s many NPCs to gather clues; naturally, looking at more things and gathering fresh pieces of information will unlock additional dialogue options with NPCs, allowing you to question them further and thus progress your investigation – hopefully in the right direction.

At its core, Lamplight City is all about finding the right people and asking them the right questions, although there are a few brain-tingling puzzles to solve as well along the way. The interesting thing about all this is that the game doesn’t simply lead you down a linear path to solving a case – in fact, you’ll generally discover multiple potential suspects and clues that serve no other purpose than to mislead you. What’s more, a given chapter doesn’t end when you’ve found the true culprit – it simply ends when you, as the player, decide to wrap up the case and pick a suspect to arrest. It goes without saying that if you haven’t done enough investigation, it won’t necessarily be the right culprit. For instance, the evidence might be pointing in the direction of a certain person, but it may very well end up being a red herring – if you find yourself being uncertain or if there’s anything in the back of your mind still bothering you, it’s generally a good idea to keep investigating a bit more to see what you can find. Being led to believe that the true culprit has been found, only to come across a clue that completely turns everything on its head is quite a refreshing experience to have in a point & click game, and I did have a few of those moments myself. Lamplight City rarely holds your hand and will readily plunge you into dead-end scenarios due to past mistakes – you can’t permanently get stuck, mind you, as the option to move on to the next case is always present, but I did at least once find myself in a situation where a mistake I’d made in a previous chapter rendered a later case unsolvable, forcing the perfectionist in me to go back and replay a good chunk of the game all over again to make things right.

The thrill of the unknown

While the game does feature an overarching storyline focusing on Bill’s death and the mysterious “flower shop burglar” responsible for it, Lamplight City’s five cases are largely their own separate entities, each with a self-contained conundrum to untangle. This, in retrospect, ended up being a bit of a double-edged sword. While a number of the individual cases are mostly intriguing enough on their own, the main mystery of the flower shop burglar is only occasionally touched upon, and then abruptly pulled back into the limelight in the final case, which felt almost like the game going “oh, yeah, we do actually need to address this to finish up Miles’ story”. And sadly enough, it simply doesn’t really work as a good enough adhesive to hold the narrative together.

Additionally, I felt that the game noticeably lost steam in its latter half: while the first three cases presented enjoyable mysteries with a few interesting puzzles and some unexpected twist and turns along the way (Case 1’s shocking revelations were a personal favorite), the fourth and final chapters lacked that same level of polish and intrigue, both in terms of subject matter and execution. As a result, I found myself feeling notably less invested towards the end of the campaign, a state of affairs only made worse by the plot’s abrupt and anti-climactic conclusion, as well as the fairly shallow and underdeveloped nature of the main antagonist and his motivations. There’s actually one character early in the game who even remarks that the “thrill of the unknown is always more exciting than the truth” and at the time, I remember genuinely hoping it would not turn out to be a prophetic utterance with regards to the plot as a whole – but alas, it did. And speaking of side characters, Lamplight City struggles to fill its roster with NPCs worthy of note – thankfully, the dynamic between Miles and Bill is amusing enough and the latter’s relentlessly snarky comments add a decent bit of extra spice to your investigations, but the actual witnesses and suspects you question rarely bring anything particularly interesting or memorable to the table.

Final thoughts

All in all, Lamplight City is still a decently enjoyable adventure despite its flaws – it does have its moments here and there, the basic premise of a mysterious man responsible for your partner’s death is intriguing, and the unconventional investigation system feels refreshing and different. Unfortunately, while the game had the makings of a modern classic, it sadly lost its way in the narrative department: despite a strong first three chapters that genuinely make you feel like a detective, the plot and its assorted mysteries sort of lose their appeal in the last two episodes, leading up to a finale that leaves quite a bit to be desired. In the end, Lamplight City is an okay game that fails to fully capitalize on its own potential, but still delivers enough detective goodness to be worth a playthrough for fans of the genre.

Lamplight City is available on Steam.

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