In the ruins of a world ravaged by nuclear war, people afflicted with a disease called Green Lung take on menial, often dangerous jobs to earn a lottery ticket that may win them a dose of life-saving vaccine. Shardlight hero Amy Wellard has the disease, and we join her as she begins one of these lottery jobs.A generator has stopped working and Amy has to climb into a dark, filthy sewer and reactivate it. The de facto rulers of this post-apocalyptic world, the Aristocrats, hire people like her to do their dirty work in exchange for the vaccine that they, conveniently, control. While the downtrodden masses live in filthy squalor among the debris of civilisation, the Aristocrats—who dress like Civil War generals and wear creepy porcelain masks to protect them from the poison air—live pampered, comfortable lives in palatial homes.But while a lot of post-apocalypse fiction paints the underclass as struggling, destitute, and desperate, the people in Shardlight’s broken city seem to have made a life for themselves among all the devastation. Amy visits a shanty town market that’s bustling with shoppers and has friendly conversations with people. It’s a far cry from the bleak wasteland of Fallout, and you get the feeling that, in the wake of whichever war took place here, society is beginning to piece itself back together.
The latest adventure from top producers Wadjet Eye, Shardlight [official site], is out today. When I played the first half or so earlier this year I was pretty taken with what was on offer. Does the post-apocalyptic tale of oligarchies, underground rebellions and deadly plagues manage to maintain momentum? Here’s wot I thinkIt’s a rare and genuinely special thing when a post-millennial adventure game is unafraid to just tell you its story. I think that’s what makes Shardlight most special. But of course it would be of no use were it not within the structure of a well composed, well paced, smartly puzzled traditional point-n-click. Phew, it is.Set years after the bombs have dropped, when a new generation of adults barely remember the times of plenty before, Shardlight’s setting is interesting within the hoary trope of post-apocalyptictown mainly by how destitute it isn’t. Times are very hard, the regular citizen has no access to electricity, and fresh food is hard to come by. But there are markets, businesses, a functioning society. And indeed there’s a new authority, the Aristocracy, a pastiche of the Elizabethan era of powdered wigs and whited faces, who live in decadence while the masses are dying in the streets of a disease called Green Lung.You’re Amy Wellard, a mechanic who has contracted the disease. As such, she has taken on a “Lottery Job”, menial or dangerous tasks given out by the Aristocracy in order that citizens can earn lottery tickets for access to the limited stocks of vaccine. And as you attempt to fix a power supply in a dangerously crumbling sewer, you encounter a dying man who gives you a clue to a secret, underground rebellion.This is a problem with most old school-style adventure games, of course, but that doesn’t give them a free pass. A sense of humour is often what keeps you going in adventures when the puzzles get frustrating and you feel lost, but Shardlight plays it very straight. There are some lighter moments to be found, but mostly the story is as sombre and serious as your bleakly beautiful surroundings.One relatively early glyph-based puzzle had me scratching my head for a good 40 minutes, and by the time I solved it my desk was covered in scrawled notes. The feeling of beating it was satisfying, but it was a frustrating early stumbling block. The kind of thing you’d expect to find at the end of one of these games. Amusingly, I listened to the commentary track for this puzzle and the developers even seemed unconvinced that including it was a good idea.Shardlight isn’t one of Wadjet Eye’s best adventures, but it’s not one of its worst either. Their previous game, the superb Technobabylon, combined smart writing and well-rounded characters with a compelling murder mystery, which is a hard act to follow. Shardlight ultimately pales in comparison and is an average adventure game that’s just about kept afloat by its world and story. Amy is likeable lead, there are some moving scenes, and you meet some fascinating oddballs out there in the wastes, but I never found myself that invested after the first couple of hours.