This review has taken me some time. I don’t want to get into the whole complaining about writing about games whining that I’m sure you as the reader just can not be arsed to read about, but sometimes, man, this job is tough.
Lamplight City is the latest release from Grundislav Games and specifically from Francisco Gonzalez and immediately it’s difficult to talk about without discussing that absolutely magnificent recent release of Unavowed. It’s relevant specifically because Gonzalez used to be a part of Wadjet Eye Games, the developers of that gem. But it would be unfair to discuss that, after all, this is Gonzalez’s own game, and should be judged on its own merits.
It’s also difficult not to bring up the similarities in premise to that company’s famous Blackwell series of games. In the Blackwell games, you are living in present-day new york when you are suddenly stuck with a ghost buddy with whom you must go and solve crimes. In Lamplight city, you are a cop whose partner gets shot at the start of the game and becomes your ghost buddy with whom you must go and solve crimes. But again, there’s nothing wrong with using that theme, the Blackwell games have no claim on that specific concept.
So having put those points aside, let’s sit down and actually talk about Lamplight City itself. This, of course, is when I truly hit the wall with this review, because Lamplight City is simply not very good in 2018. The game is visually stunning and perfectly built. There seems to be a distinct lack of awkward puzzles that so often stalk this genre, seeming to be mostly built around conversation. But the fact is simply this, these kind of games have been around for long enough that you don’t get credit for just making an adventure game that would have been good in 1997. If you’re going to release it this year, you need to include something to make it stand out.
Lamplight does try this, of course. But it makes such a spectacular misstep with this that it goes from being something I would have still probably said was fine into something that actively pissed me off. So the big gimmick of Lamplight City is that there is no failure state. If you don’t acquire the correct information, you will report that the wrong person committed the crime. If you piss off a necessary witness, you will not be able to speak to them again.
It’s a cute gimmick, but it relies on one thing. Currently, in Lamplight city, I know exactly who committed a certain murder. I know why. But I can not accuse them, because I have not stumbled over the correct flag to let my character make that accusation. Instead, I have no choice by to accuse the obvious fall guy, despite the correct answer being incredibly obvious.
The fall guy, by the way, is a young person of colour whose only evidence against him is an accusation of voodoo by a drug-addled idiot.
If you’re going to let me fail an investigation, you have to let ME fail the investigation.
I really tried, guys. I tried to leave all the stuff I said at the door. I tried to not compare it to Wadjet Eye, I tried not to be aware of the weird inside baseball backstory, I tried to judge the game on its own merits. But even on it’s own merits, I can’t recommend Lamplight City.