We're Detecting a Great Hit
Ever wanted to try and solve your own steampunk murder mystery and expose the darkened, noir underbelly of an illustrious city? Here's your chance! Written and designed by Francisco Gonzalez, the Lamplight City offers an intriguing look into a steampunk version of 18th century New Orleans, here known as New Bretagne, the titular Lamplight City. And we see it all through the eyes of Miles Fordham, a disgraced ex-cop on a path to (hopefully) set his life back in order.
After my preview of the introduction and first case of the game, I was eager to jump back into the rest of it. The first case is arguably the weakest of the five, and the first four are each self-contained. The fifth one wraps up the overall storyline and also ties up loose ends from the previous cases, depending on how you play.
The writing and plot for each case are very well done, and the story logically progresses through Miles and Bill’s detective work. In fact, there was only one point in the fourth case where I found a solution required a leap of logic. The plots were all multilayered, filled with twists and turns that keep you guessing. There was never a point in the game where the cases were boring, and it's never too easy to guess whodunit. Instead, there were several plausible solutions to be found and more than once I found myself weighing the odds in favor of one solution over the other.
The only real character arc here comes from Miles. Bill stays the same from start to finish, mainly due to being dead. Miles’ two closest friends are his wife Adelaide and his old co-worker Constance Upton, both of whom steadfastly support him wherever possible. Depending on individual interactions, Miles can do several things to change the course of his life. He battles with addiction, using sleeping pills and alcohol to keep Bill out of his head. These problems escalate as his relationships with Adelaide and Constance deteriorate severely. Player choices can bring him back out of his downward spiral, depending on both individual choices and whether or not the player solves cases correctly.
One of the most fun things to do in Lamplight City is purposely destroying the game. There are a plethora of options for doing so, each one more fun than the last. While it’s satisfying to see a case to its rightful conclusion, it’s equally fun to go around screwing up everything possible. What makes this even more fun is Bill’s natural inclination to mischief, which results in him constantly either egging you on or reprimanding you. Of course, if you go around messing up too much, you'll lose access to the final case. There's a fine line between “mischief” and “blatant bad detective work.”
One particularly frustrating aspect of Lamplight City is each character's determination to never say flat out that someone is gay or racist. Presumably, this is done to fit in with the steampunk 18th-century setting, but what is said in colorful language dancing around the point could have been said much more quickly and plainly upfront. It seemed an odd juxtaposition to the rest of the game, which is willing to venture into brothels, talk about various gruesome types of murder, domestic abuse and mass tragedies.
The worldbuilding of Lamplight City is excellent. From the start, the player immerses themself into a steampunk world that stills bears striking resemblance to our own. They involve themselves in the intimate trials and tribulations of being a citizen. One part has Miles vote in an election for Prime Minister. Another has him discussing the news of the day with potential suspects. Certain big events that happen throughout the course of the cases carry through in the background. These range from the aftermath of the Ligeia disaster to the serial killer in New Bretagne. The ramifications of previous cases also factor in, all building toward the final one. Nothing stays self-contained except the actual detective work itself, which gives a feeling of life and realism to the city.
What adds to this feeling of realism is the gorgeous artwork. At this point, expecting any less from Francisco Gonzalez would be a crime unto itself. The settings and backgrounds are full of detail, but not distractingly so. Each and every character model animates smoothly. Special mention must go to the character dialogue portraits, which burst with more fantastic detail. It’s still a little unnerving when the portraits talk using only the lower half of their faces, but Miles’ deadpan eye-rolling makes up for it. The somber background music adds the perfect touch to complete the atmosphere.
The voice acting is well done as expected. The cast comes from a range of Grundislav Game veterans like Abe Goldfarb and Andy Chmelko as well as newcomers like Al Pagano and Ivy Dupler. My personal favorite performance comes from Ben Britton. He voiced Miles with an incredible range and depth over his various character arcs.
The point and click gameplay is remarkably simple, especially alongside Miles' casebook. It allows you to reference past clues, a list of suspects, objective, and a transcript of each and every document. The game has no hint button. However, with no traditional puzzles and the thoroughness of the casebook, it’s really not necessary.
Neither is having an inventory, which is something that seemed like it would be a bigger issue at first glance. Most objects you acquire throughout the game are clues that you take and potentially show to suspects. There are no inventory puzzles and you never need a key to open a door. Locked passageways either open or they don't. The only technical flaw I came across was the determination of the game to not reset my screen to its prior resolution after closing the window.
Overall, Lamplight City is a very satisfying detective experience. While it isn’t a “typical” point and click adventure game, it benefited from breaking some genre conventions. If you’re looking for a witty detective game or just tired of puzzles coming at you from every angle, try taking a walk down New Bretagne’s darkened alleyways. You may just find what you’re looking for.
Our Lamplight City review was conducted on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. Lamplight City is also available on Mac and Linux OS.
- Complex Mysteries
- Beautiful Pixel Art
- Multiple Story Paths
- Resolution Bugs