By Marty Mulrooney
Lamplight City is a brand new point-and-click adventure game created by Francisco Gonzalez (Grundislav Games) in partnership with Application Systems Heidelberg. Alternative Magazine Online reviewed Gonzalez’s previous adventure Shardlight in 2016, describing it as “a beautiful game that presents a fresh take on the tried-and-tested post-apocalypse formula.” Yet, while that adventure was set far in the future, Lamplight City is set in an alternative steampunk(ish) Victorian past. As private investigator Miles Fordham, the player must solve a series of increasingly complicated cases while seeking justice for a terrible crime.
It would be impossible to review Lamplight City without giving away some small spoilers. Therefore, if you’d rather play this adventure with no prior knowledge, please stop reading now. Still here? Good! When Lamplight City begins, the main character – Miles Fordham – is a police officer in the thriving port city of New Bretagne.
Along with his partner and friend Bill Leger, Miles is sent to a flower shop in the slum area of Cholmondeley where a burglar has been breaking in, robbing flowers, and leaving payment on the counter. It’s a strong mystery to open the game that does a great job of showcasing the enjoyable rapport between Miles and Bill.
Miles is strait-laced and analytical, while Bill loves to wisecrack and fool around. They make a great team and are both extremely likeable for wildly different reasons. It’s easy to imagine many players smiling at the thought of these two characters bickering back and forth throughout the game. Which is why it comes as such a shock when Bill is killed on the rooftop of the flower shop – either by the thief himself, or a stray bullet from Miles.
Three months later, Miles has left the police force and is now a private detective. Haunted by the death of his former partner, he hears Bill’s voice inside his head at all times – the only way he can sleep is by taking a nightly soporific that dulls his senses but at least gives him some momentary respite. It’s a fun set-up despite the tragic plot development; any interaction with hotspots in the environment results in observations coming from Bill instead of Miles.
Although presented as a traditional point-and-click adventure game, Lamplight City has a few modern concessions. There is no inventory; instead, Fordham will pick up any items he needs and use them automatically where appropriate. Furthermore, the game will allow the player to incorrectly solve a case without the story reaching a dead end. This latter mechanic is certainly interesting, but isn’t telegraphed well enough.
Many seasoned adventurers will be used to clicking on every dialogue choice and hotspot. However, Lamplight City will sometimes lock off certain paths if certain actions are taken. Sadly, at one point this resulted in this reviewer needing to end a case by knowingly accusing the wrong person of committing a crime, as one location was no longer able to be visited due to a previous dialogue choice. It’s a shame the decision-making moments aren’t made clearer – it’s also hard to see how solving a case correctly or incorrectly has much of an impact on the world.
But oh, what a world; New Bretagne is undeniably a glorious city to explore. An ex-colleague doles out cases to Fordham and they’re all highly interesting to investigate, involving a variety of colourful locations and characters. The voice acting is also excellent across the board – Miles and Bill are the standouts, of course – which helps to sell this curious alternative version of the past.
Unfortunately, it’s sometimes noticeable that a voice actor has been reused between cases, but this small niggle can surely be forgiven when taking the indie nature of the game into account. The music is mostly intended to play in the background, but when it does come to the fore it’s quite pleasant. The graphics are accomplished too, evoking strong comparison with the classic Sierra adventure game Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (especially the stylistic choice of having character portraits displayed on a black background during conversations).
In the end, it’s the relationship between Miles and Bill that makes Lamplight City worth playing; you’ll want to find Bill’s killer and bring him to justice so Miles can finally find peace. The streamlined puzzles and at times muddled progression may put some players off, but for the most part this is still a worthwhile adventure. Lamplight City tells a compelling story set in a fascinating world just one step to the side of our own; for this project’s impressive worldbuilding alone, Francisco Gonzalez should be noted as a developer to watch.
8 OUT OF 10