Not only is private investigator Miles Fordham working tricky cases in Lamplight City’s steampunky town of New Bretagne, he’s also trying to get rid of the voice in his head.
When he was a policeman, Miles accidentally shot his partner, and now his dead friend is constantly talking to him like a restless spirit. Of course, this puts a strain on Miles’ sanity, and he’s using a soporific to get some sleep each night. This is certainly not a good state to be solving crimes in, but Miles is still trying to find the masked robber who’s responsible for his partner’s death.
Lamplight City presents you with a number of cases that need solving. What sets the game apart from other detective adventures is that you can mess up, come to the wrong conclusions, and “fail” a case. This will affect the game’s ending, but it’s keeps the game from stalling if you cannot find the right solution – which is a rather frustrating issue in many adventure games.
The cases are laced with red herrings, misdirection, and, of course, the temptation to solve them the easy way. But guess what: it’s never an Occam’s Razor-type situation with these things. The ever-present threat of failure looming in the background gives the cases a kind of narrative weight that’s really quite pleasant and helps you keep digging and following every lead. Turns out that possible failure is a very strong motivation to get things right.
There is also no inventory. Items that you need will automatically be picked up and will be used whenever you need them. At first, it feels like an important adventure game staple is missing from Lamplight City, but let’s not kid ourselves: using an item on every possible hotspot until something happens has never been that much fun. Instead, dialogues are more important – as they should be in a game about solving crimes.
The setting is somewhat Victorian with hints of Steampunk. Airships traverse the skies, workers are slowly being replaced by steam machines, and odd contraptions perform simple tasks. Meanwhile, the dark streets are illuminated by old failing gaslight lanterns in the poorer parts of town and the people could have been taken out of any old Victorian novel (I think I liked the decaying dystopia of Gonzalez’s previous game Shardlight just a tiny little bit more, but that’s just me).
Overall, Lamplight City is a delight. Meaningful changes to somewhat stale adventure conventions ensure that the game’s criminal cases are engaging to solve, and the underlying story presents a nice murder mystery as well. It feels like there is lots of experimentation with the form of point & click adventure games these days. It is a good time to be a fan of the genre, and Lamplight City is a treat.