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August 2020

Lamplight City

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Grundislav Games
Developer: Application Systems Heidelberg
Release Date: Sept. 13, 2018

About Lauren "Feffy" Hall

I am a freelance writer based in Canada, where it's too cold to go outside; therefore, we play a lot of video games. I'm an expert zombie slayer (the virtual kind), amateur archer (for actual zombie slaying and general apocalypse purposes - it could happen), and a work-in-progress wife and mother (IRL). My claim to fame: I completed the original MYST without looking up cheats. It took several years. What other accomplishments does one need in life?


PC Review - 'Lamplight City'

by Lauren "Feffy" Hall on Dec. 13, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Lamplight City is a detective adventure set in an alternate steampunk-ish Victorian past.

There are few things in life that bring me the level of joy that old cop TV shows bring. The cheesy one-liners, the shady mystery and intrigue, the shootouts, and that genuine camaraderie at the station house: It's all so delightfully "vintage." That's why Grundislav Games' Lamplight City, a point-and-click detective adventure game, delighted me immediately as I sunk my teeth into the first case and encountered a tale that was a hybrid of the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens. No spoilers here but, let's just say that things go south right off the bat.

From there, the steampunk-ish adventure begins. You play Miles, scruffy and somewhat disturbed, and in your head, you hear the disembodied near-constant chatter of Bill, your recently deceased partner. (Suffice it to say that Miles is a little out of sorts after that first case.) Together, you and poor ol' disembodied Bill take to the streets of Cholmondeley — or the "Chum" — to try and solve crimes, even if you occasionally (accidentally) punch some random people in the face. Whoops.

I have what you might call a love-hate relationship with adventure games. On the one hand, they have a (hopefully) compelling story that unfolds in a delightfully interactive way because you are part of the epic tale, you make decisions, and you're the hero. Who doesn't love that? They also score pretty high on the nostalgia scale for a 30-something gamer; I have played and adored adventure games since the '90s, and this game even strums the nostalgia chord again with the '90s-esque pixel art.

In many adventure games, there's often zero logic about where a particular clue or puzzle piece is hidden, so I'm no stranger to the eventual random searching of every nook and cranny in frustration for clues. This brings me to the "hate" side of my rollercoaster romance with adventure games. Add point-and-click mechanics to the equation, and the random mindless searching and prodding becomes even easier but also simultaneously more tedious.

I always start off so well, too. I read the clues, listen to the full dialogue (no spacebar/mouse-click spamming allowed!), and I think about the logical locations or persons of interest for whatever I'm searching for. Sooner or later, though, my impatience gets the better of me as each logical location, person, or item loses all prior shreds of that imagined logic, one click at a time. That's when it happens: random pointing and clicking. Random searching. Random rage-quitting. Sure, I might win the game in the end, but by then, I've lost the story.

If it weren't for Bill's little quips and jabs, I would have fallen into the same trap in Lamplight City, but Bill brings you back to the story and the purpose of the game with every little sarcastic comment. You are going crazy and having conversations with your dead partner, and you have to stop it. Bill wants you to find his killer, and Miles figures the best way to do that would be to hit the streets and solve some cold cases. Maybe you'll stumble across something valuable in Bill's case. It seems logical!

You — and, much to your chagrin, Bill — head out to solve these mysteries together. The kicker is, if you find yourself falling into the random point-and-click trap, you will probably muck everything up and fail to crack a single case due to — and maybe you're sensing a theme here — logic.

There are five mysteries to solve in Lamplight City, but you can and probably will fail on a couple of them. Fun fact about this game: Your choices affect the gameplay. No really, they mean it this time! You can be a great detective or the worst sleuth ever, depending on what you do. Ask the wrong questions during your interrogations, and the answers you need to solve the case will simply not be available. Your key witness or suspect will refuse talk to you anymore. Random searches and clicks and probes won't help you in this game, either. Many devs tout their game's uniqueness by claiming that the character's choices matter, and usually they do, to an extent. Perhaps you make enemies of some people, or you get a reputation for being mouthy, but in most adventure games, you come to the same pre-planned conclusion or, in some cases, possibly more than one. Not so in Lamplight City. Suck at sleuthing? Don't expect this game to cushion that blow, you big failure.

As any veteran gamer knows, adventure games usually lead you along a fairly linear path, and you generally won't be able to progress beyond "checkpoints" until you solve a pertinent mystery or puzzle. Of course, you won't know they're checkpoints until you stumble across one. It's not like you'll see a big flashing sign that says, "Checkpoint: thou shalt not pass until you solve this vague puzzle we've concocted!" An adventure game I played recently literally stopped me in my tracks from exiting a hospital wing, even though the doorway was directly in front of me and, as a matter of fact, ajar (damn you, invisible walls) until I'd completed a puzzle. I won't explicitly say here that I had to look up a walkthrough to blunder my way through that particular debacle, but I won't deny it, either. By the way, there's nothing like an alt-tabbed internet search to snatch you right out of the immersion pool.

That's the thing about most adventure games: Sometimes, the puzzles are logical and sensical and just tough enough to make you feel a little smug when you solve them without those shameful internet searches. Other times, however, after hours of frustration and the eventual, shameful, and dare I say inevitable, aforementioned walkthrough cheat, you will die a little inside when you discover that the stupid screwdriver in your even stupider inventory was to be used as a doorstop, and not, oddly enough, as an actual screwdriver. I mean, where is the logic in that?

Lamplight City promises no such nonsense, thankfully. Another great thing about this game: no inventory. Huzzah! I mean, there is one technically, but it's not one that you have the displeasure of managing. Your character handles whatever he has on his person, but he uses it at — get this — logical moments all by himself! Why, it's almost as though it made sense to try that key he just found on the lock of the door he's presently nose-to-nose with! As someone who genuinely despises inventories in games, this is oh-so-appreciated. They're too small, too cluttered and hard to sift through, and in general, too stupid. I mean, who legitimately walks around with, say, a ball of yarn, a brick, shards of glass, a handful of loose keys, and scraps of notes at the same time (except for McGyver)? No one I care to know. 

Perhaps the best thing about Lamplight City is the sense (hello logic!) and simplicity of it. So many games are cluttered with real or figurative "stuff," such as complex inventory management, invisible walls, or what the devs considered to be "cleverly" hidden clues. Reason and logic should lead to results, and many adventure games somehow miss the mark on this point.

In Lamplight City, you aren't led around from room to room, clickity-clicking your way to success. For the most part, logic and reason are at play. Brush up on those skills, and you will find your way. Take your time, enjoy the well-themed music and ambiance, enjoy the story, solve the crimes, and for goodness' sake, listen to Bill.

Score: 7.0/10

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