Shardlight PC Review
Clever approach to feeding players information about its puzzles
A unique rendition of the post-apocalyptic, oppressive government setting
Authentic voice acting reminiscent of older DOS-titles
Detailed, enjoyable creator commentary
Fantastic art and designs
A few frustrating, needlessly abstruse puzzles
Some weak sound production
Unessential multiple endings that focus on a single decision
The bombs fell and the world is in ruin. And yet the world needs saving. Wadjet Eye Game’s new point-and-click adventure Shardlight, released March 8, tells an enthralling story about repairing what’s left of an already broken planet. Delivered through strong voice acting, pretty DOS-like visuals, and fantastic character development that feels particularly natural, the task of healing the world has never felt more personal. Despite some frustratingly obtuse puzzles and a linear albeit good story, Shardlight consistently hits the right notes, managing to be much more than just a genre throwback.
Shardlight is set in post-WW3 America wherein the outbreak of a plague prompted the rise of a tyrannical government and division of classes. You play as Amy Wellard, a mechanic and overall do-gooder that’s recently succumb to the Green Lung plague. She’s a strong, well-written character with a good sense of humor but whose benevolence sometimes makes her personality a seem tad sterile. Amy’s voice doesn’t really help matters either; while her dialogue is delivered quite well, the quality of her voice often comes off too saccharine and clean. It’s really noticeable early on when she sings a few rhyme songs to a game of jump rope: her rendition of “Miss Mary Mack” is pitch-perfect and telling of a well-rounded actor but completely inharmonious with her role as a working-class mechanic living in post-apocalyptic filth. While her character nicely unfolded the challenges and choices over the course of the game, I felt it took a while for Amy to show her humanity. Yes, I loved her by the time I finished the story but it took me some time to see her as anything but level-headed and somewhat grey.Please enter the url to a YouTube video.
Amy’s convoluted journey to acquire a vaccine to Green Lung takes her through a drama of espionage, rebellion, self-discovery, and running errands. While readily available to aristocrats, working-class citizens can only acquire the vaccine via a work-to-enter lottery. As fate would have it, a chance encounter during a “lottery job” leads Amy to become a nexus to the masked, posh leader of the aristocracy Tiberius and the revolutionary Danton. Both promise her great things beyond the temporary vaccine in exchange for her allegiance. Players are left to live out Amy’s predetermined journey, making small decisions that only affect dialogue. In fact, it isn’t until the final few minutes of the game that players are given a meaningful decision at all. This single pivotal moment determines which of three endings ties off the long story, completely brushing aside everything Amy worked for. Luckily until then, the illusion of choice was sold so well that I didn’t once miss the lack of input.
The meat of gameplay is spent in conversation and completing riddle-like tasks. While most puzzles do follow some sort of implied logic, a mighty, unintuitive few bring the story to a halt and reduce gameplay to a matter of guesswork which isn’t fun at all. One early mission requires Amy to shoot a bell that nearly blends into the background with her crossbow in order to scare a local kid. It’s such a niche solution, I don’t think I would’ve ever stumbled upon it had I not spent an hour spastically clicking away at everything on-screen. Similarly, there were a handful of moments wherein I couldn’t spot items in the environment because they either blended into the background or didn’t look interactive, and so I inevitably ended up wandering around the map looking up and down the wrong path. Many point-and-clicks have this similar issue, this matter of elongating playtime through, perhaps unintentionally, “what am I thinking” type puzzles. Had I not referred to a walkthrough in some instances, I’m not sure I would’ve completed the four to five-hour campaign in under ten.
The payoff from solving the more obtuse puzzles also isn’t satisfying. I never felt clever or fulfilled after finding a solution, just relieved that I could, in a way, have my game back. As I feel about many other point-and-clicks, Shardlight is also best played with a walkthrough on hand for when you hit those pointless moments of frustration that halt the story and do nothing to add to the experience.
Conversely, a few fantastic puzzle moments feed players applicable knowledge or hint at their logic. An early trading mission, for example, requires Amy to create an air filter for a gas mask. As most players wouldn’t know where to begin making an air purification device, there’s readable book that explains the simple science and components necessary to create a carbon air filter. From there, it’s just a matter of understanding the nature of the items in your inventory and putting two and two together. And so, the game exercises this great knack of teaching players without robbing them of the problem-solving.
Shardlight’s wasted city actually stands apart from other post-WW3 settings. There’s no fighting in the streets, no black market, nor much of any unruly behavior other than a group of rebels that does its best to stay underground. Nelson, the local librarian and wise man, offers the brief explanation that the “fall of technology” is what “brought people together.” Even when in need, aristocrats, i.e. the bad guys, “request” supplies from local merchants and offer generous exchange. It’s noticeably atypical behavior for a purportedly tyrannical bunch. If guards had gone and stolen the supplies at gunpoint in plain-sight, then I would’ve clearly seen how bad the bad guys were. As a result, I didn’t get a feel for how venomous the aristocracy’s talons were until they’d already sunk deep. But this is precisely what made Shardlight different.
It doesn’t paint in broad strokes or lean its weight on tropes and caricatures; one glance or conversation is never enough to pin down a character. The aristocracy, for example, don’t want to seem like cruel monsters so they maintain a public image of generosity and fairness. Their act even fooled me for the first half of the game, despite the feeling in my guts. I had guesses about each character based on previous RPG experiences and they all proved wrong.
Through a subtle palette, Shardlight humanizes its characters with inconsistencies, insecurities, and quirks. For instance, early on it’s established that Amy’s been trying to finish her father’s car project for years but still can’t find the last two parts she needs. No, the game doesn’t use this to set up a car escape or a moment wherein another character and Amy must consolidate parts. It’s just a dream of hers there to help you understand her values. Then there’s the vase merchant located down an alley: while his shop turns out to be located there for a reason, his craft of finishing and restoring old vases doesn’t turn out to serve a higher purpose. He just likes vases. Details like this demonstrate the creators’ ability to make the mundane personal – how to infuse it with life without brimming it with purpose – and make everything about Shardlight’s universe feel relatable.
The voice acting, while sometimes a little too sweet in intonation for my taste, is enjoyable and really sells the DOS-inspired aesthetic. Some characters’ voices had too much room sound in them and did manage to pull my head out of the game from time to time. It’s a nitpick but worth noting given the emphasis on dialogue in the the title. Also, the Pearl-Jam-meets-Nick-Cave alt-ballad featured over the ending credits should’ve received much more care. It’s a cool song but whose recording features thin instrument sounds, a questionable mix, and an overall poor performance. It’s supposed to serve as the “hard-fought victory song,” the grand finale but underdelivers. I’d hope developers consider re-recording the tune which some better production and patching it in down the line.
Character models are surprisingly expressive and animated. Where developers could’ve easily gotten away with using fades and static screens to represent motion or transition scenes, Amy’s model features all sorts of movements, including climbing ladders, jumping, and firing her crossbow. They’re a superficial addition that I’m happy developers went the extra mile to include. Although primarily stuck in drab brown and greys, designers artfully snuck in small but meaningful bites of color here and there into environments. As a result of their discerning use, the red splash of blood or the soft purple of a flower become much more impactful storytelling tool that does loads to enhance the universe’s tone. Furthermore, every environment is memorable – every single one – and, despite the extent to which some interactable elements blend into background, well-designed.
Game options are nearly nonexistent, only offering up a few resolution choices, but appropriate for the retro visual style. A few nonessential, QOL game features were missed, including a tasteful hint system for those averse to unnecessary frustration – some moments absolutely needed an optional glint to help point out interactable items – and a codex or journal to help keep tabs on characters. Players have access to a creator commentary from the very beginning of the game, though it does contain a few spoilers. Different commentary tracks are accessible in each part of the map and offer insights from the game’s director, producer, writer, composer, and designer. I adored playing through a second time just to check out the commentary. Hearing how the small indie team of Wadjet Eye Games came together to create such a refined and unique adventure really bolstered my appreciation for the the title.
I had my ups and downs with Shardlight’s halting puzzles and somewhat unfamiliar setting but was easily won over by its engaging story, beautiful artwork, and three-dimensional characters. While familiar on the surface, Shardlight is ultimately challenging in nature, defying the arguably easy, post-apocalyptic tropes every chance it gets. A strong structure, full of crescendos and twists, essentially invites players expand their scope and put aside their preconceptions. The story will take you. Shardlight not only lives up to its $14.99 price-tag but proves that Wadjet Eye games is an impassioned developer worth supporting.