Oddly enough, futuristic dystopias and 50s inspired noir detective stories usually pair together exceedingly well. Where better to find the grit and grime of back alley America than the bleak future, and who better to tackle its dark and seedy underbelly than Humphrey Bogart types with souped-up cellphones? In Lacuna, that’s exactly what you find yourself doing.
You know a video game is going to be a wild ride when you can potentially kill your first protagonist within five minutes of the game starting. Fortunately, the second one doesn’t go down so easily! Lacuna is the story of Neil Conrad, a CDI agent who begins the game investigating an interplanetary political assassination, and it only gets wilder from there. Like all good film noir detectives, he’s got a bad smoking habit, an ex-wife, few friends, and a grumbly personality, as well as the luck and observational skills to figure out the solution to the crime just in the nick of time. Or not, because this game has multiple endings, and you can badly screw it up.
The plot of Lacuna is vast and complex, involving interplanetary conspiracies, kidnapping, murder, cover-ups, and more. It is woven together excellently, though the social metaphors in the background of the world – dealing with things like wealth gaps, religious intolerance, freedom – do tend to hit you on the head exceedingly hard at times. Still, the writing is top-notch, and the game’s multiple endings dealing with multiple storylines all make sense logically, thematically, and character-wise, which is a rarity I’ve found. If you’re looking for a happy story though, none of these are it.
Characters include Neil Conrad, a CDI agent whose life is obligatorily falling apart, like all noir detectives, his daughter and aspiring author, Laura, and his pet lizard Horace. At the CDI there’s also Conrad’s partner Gary, a straight-laced and by-the-book cop, tech genius Saito, and the not-so-squeaky-clean Chief. Besides the regulars, the cast is comprised of terrorists, semi-prostitutes, corrupt CEOs, and ordinary people just trying to live their lives, who can be convinced to help a police force they hate. It’s colorful, and while the characters aren’t the most well-rounded, the cast diversity is wonderful and Conrad himself works well as a lens to interact with them all.
Puzzles in the game are in the form of Conrad’s investigations, where you look around a crime scene or do research on your phone and then fill out a short worksheet. Worksheets are multiple choice, and the investigations aren’t too hard, but it is possible to give the wrong answers and affect the story. So long as you’re paying attention to the events of the game and look over the entire area, the puzzles are straightforward. Being kind or cruel to various characters can also affect the information you obtain for worksheets that aren’t tied to one specific crime scene, such as gathering information on a potential suspect’s appearance.
Lacuna’s art style is reminiscent of games like The Darkside Detective, with detailed pixel art in the background and less focus on characters and their faces, except in character portraits. It works to draw attention to the backgrounds and locations that you explore, really breathing life into the city and the world, rather than the individuals inhabiting it. Different locations visited include the CDI headquarters, a ritzy upper-class hotel, and the seedy wharfs in a bad area of town. Of particular note is the astonishing views that you are able to access if you contribute to Conrad’s smoking habit, which gives you the chance to stand in picturesque locations and take in the views. While the game makes it clear that the health complications from smoking are wiped out in this future, to lock any part of a game behind a mechanic that could be actively harmful to those in recovery, or even just those who are disgusted by it, left a sour taste in my mouth.
Overall, Lacuna is a thrilling detective story with many well-written twists and turns. The pixel art is gorgeous, the puzzles are well-designed and the characters, while a bit shallow, help to fill out the world nicely. The biggest drawbacks are the tendency to hit you on the head with real-life metaphors a little too sharply, and the smoking mechanic. Still, if you’re looking to settle down with a good game that keeps you guessing and you’re looking for that film noir detective vibe in a futuristic setting, Lacuna is an excellent choice.
TechRaptor reviewed Lacuna on Xbox Series S with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.
- Intricately Written Conspiracy Plot
- Solidly Built, Logical Puzzles
- Rich, Interesting World and Characters
- Distasteful Smoking Mechanism
- Heavy-Handed Social Metaphors