Review: Shardlight

The 2D point-and-click adven­ture game is not so much an anachro­nism as it is a high­ly crys­tallised art form. The sec­ond half of the gen­re’s 25+ year exis­tence has most­ly brought refine­ment rather than inno­va­tion. While recent titles such as Broken Age take some advan­tage of the greater graph­i­cal capa­bil­i­ties of mod­ern sys­tems, oth­ers have instead kept close to the gen­re’s visu­al roots: get­ting the most out of lim­it­ed res­o­lu­tion pixel art.


For sev­er­al years now, Wadjet Eye have been the most pro­lif­ic pub­lish­er still spe­cial­is­ing in point-and-click adven­tures, bring­ing us works like The Shivah, the Blackwell series, and Gemini Rue. Shardlight, then, is the lat­est in what is an impres­sive lin­eage.

The game’s pro­tag­o­nist, Amy Wellard, is a car mechan­ic in a post-nuclear waste­land soci­ety where no one dri­ves cars any­more. She works off and on, doing ‘lot­tery jobs’ for the new Aristocracy, and fix­ing up her late father’s car repair project in her spare time. The Lottery is a key con­cept in the game’s plot: a way for the gov­ern­ment to dis­trib­ute vac­cines against Green Lung, a dead­ly plague that has struck the pop­u­la­tion, the sick­est of whom are seg­re­gat­ed into the hell­ish Quarantine Zone.


Lotteries are fas­ci­nat­ing things, espe­cial­ly since they are so inti­mate­ly tied up with issues of pover­ty and exploita­tion of mar­gin­alised groups, and in this case direct­ly with pub­lic health. Luck can be a cruel mis­tress, but per­haps less so than who­ev­er else is rul­ing over you at a given moment. The fact that peo­ple in Shardlight need to work for the gov­ern­ment to even get access to the lot­tery is heavy with mean­ing, and either implies the scarci­ty of the vac­cine, or some­thing more sin­is­ter…

Regardless, as a result of her lat­est lot­tery job, Amy becomes embroiled in a strug­gle for power between the aris­to­crat gov­ern­ment and an under­ground resis­tance group. The detec­tive work Amy has to do to untan­gle the plot brings her into con­tact with the locals, many of whom are friends of hers.

Given my fas­ci­na­tion with the con­cept, it’s too bad that the lot­tery theme is not explored in great depth over the course of the game — though there are plen­ty of func­tion­al ref­er­ences to it that flesh out the set­ting, and that’s how the game choos­es to oper­ate. In many respects, Shardlight plays to the strengths of the genre: it excels at vivid­ly paint­ing a world and its peo­ple with broad strokes. Gorgeous pixel art, a few dia­logues here and there (with great voice act­ing), and a moody sound­track are all you need. The game never gets bogged down by expo­si­tion and lore, and ulti­mate­ly I think that’s for the best, even though that means that the game in this par­tic­u­lar case does­n’t cater to one of my crav­ings.


This admirably bal­anced approach is main­tained with­out any mis­steps until the final third of the game, where two char­ac­ter devel­op­ments left me rather cold. Without want­i­ng to spoil too much: one involves a mun­dane expla­na­tion for some­thing poten­tial­ly tran­scen­dent, while the other has to do with a con­ve­nient fanati­cism on the part of one char­ac­ter to cre­ate a sense of false equiv­a­lence in one of the major plot choic­es. I’m sure there are artis­tic rea­sons for wrap­ping up the story in these ways, but they did­n’t quite res­onate with me.

That said, it detracts only lit­tle from the enjoy­ment I got out of the game. Following in the tracks of qual­i­ty works like Resonance, Primordia, and Technobabylon, Shardlight proves that Wadjet Eye know exact­ly what they’re doing and where they’re going. The game is, on one level, light­weight in the exe­cu­tion of its themes, but it makes the most of that with eco­nom­i­cal sto­ry­telling and puz­zles that are at the sweet spot of challenging-but-not-unfairly-so dif­fi­cul­ty.

Odile Strik

About Odile Strik

Odile A. O. Strik is editor-in-chief of The Ontological Geek. She is also a linguist from the Netherlands. She occasionally writes in other places, such as her own blog Sub Specie. You can read her innermost secrets on Twitter @oaostrik.