While the rest of the world revels in the hyperrealistic wonders of the modern gaming world, there’s always one picky little heathen in the corner looking in the opposite direction. Me. I’m that picky little heathen. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the beauty of graphical prowess as much as the next person. But there’s something inherently captivating about a project that combines modern approaches and narratives with the visuals of days gone by — proof that graphics are far from the be-all-and-end-all of game quality.
May was a dynamite month for indie game releases, from well-known names and new developers alike. Games sporting pixel art styles have been especially prevalent, but one in particular shines the brightest: a debut title from a new developer that sets the bar high for the modern adventure game and portends great things to follow. My recommendation goes to Lacuna by DigiTales Interactive, released May 20th.
Lacuna is a sci-fi noir detective adventure game with a heavy focus on storytelling, investigation and player choice. In a world of technological advancement and uneasy planetary alliances, you step into the shoes of Neil Conrad, a CDI agent tasked with investigating the murder of a political ambassador for a neighbouring planet. But this case only scratches the surface of a deep and sinister conspiracy that could plunge the entire solar system into chaos.
The point-and-click adventure genre is one extremely close to my heart. But as much as I revere the classics, I’m equally appreciative of games that take new approaches. And detective shows — give me a CSI or Law and Order binge any day. In DigiTales’ own words, Lacuna “does away with the baggage of many adventure game tropes” and delivers what is quite possibly the most engrossing and authentic detective experience in a video game yet. No repeating conversations or convoluted item puzzles to be found here! As a CDI agent, you will have to examine crime scenes, collect evidence and question witnesses in order to solve cases. But it is then up to you to examine all the information you’ve gathered and identify the key details before submitting a report to your superiors. One single detail overlooked can mean the authorities are given the wrong information and a killer gets away scot-free!
“Choices Matter” is a tag commonly thrown around in modern gaming — I like and fear it in equal measure — but rarely do titles truly explore the weight of it. Every choice in Lacuna is far from clear cut and has far-reaching consequences. They are not always immediate either, meaning as you progress, you feel the weight of it like a stone in the pit of your stomach, waiting on the edge of your seat to see the effects of your decisions. And if you're thinking of practising your reload skills to dodge a less than stellar outcome, think again! Lacuna is all auto on that front and manual saves are not an option; time marches on and your choices have to be seen through, for better or worse. If you’re like me and have a tendency to reload a save if a character so much as looks at you funny, this is terrifying, but also strangely exhilarating.
As you would expect from a narrative and dialogue-driven adventure, the writing and world-building is nothing short of superb. I’m a complete sucker for writing that conveys complexity and heaps of lore in just a few sentences, and Lacuna has it in spades. Characters are compelling and complicated, and the essence of a technologically advanced universe influenced by corporations, rife with class conflict and conspiracies transcends the screen and envelops you. This is only enhanced by the game’s stunning pixel visuals and futuristic noir soundtrack — two other aspects I’m a complete sucker for! Gorgeously intricate and layered locales bustle with activity, giving the sense of a living, thriving world and accentuating just how far the consequences of your choices might reach. In a particular market area location, I couldn’t help but simply wander back and forth, taking in every detail and pondering how all these little sprites going about their programmed business would be affected. Yes, it’s that effective!
If a debut game from a new developer can have you emotionally invested in just a few short minutes and have you in awe of an assortment of pixels, that game is something special. From the minute I picked up Lacuna, I couldn’t put it down; I was gripped from beginning to end. Hopefully it will work its pixel magic on you too!