I wish I were rich so I could give Wadjet Eye Games eleventy-billion dollars to keep making games like Shardlight, which I recently finished and adored. Although that might cause Dave Gilbert and crew to instantly retire, which would be the opposite of what my fantasy philanthropy intends.
Shardlight is the product of the prolific Ben Chandler and Francisco Gonzalez, two game developers in the employ of Wadjet Eye, really the only adventure game studio worth a damn these days. Shardlight is set in a post-apocalyptic world destroyed by war, ravaged by a devastating plague, and crushed in the iron grip of a totalitarian state bent on controlling what few people are left. The game is dingy, dusty, brown-colored, and is marked by sickly green, glowing shards of uranium glass that serve as the world’s lightbulbs. It’s the perfect landscape for such a story.
Shardlight does a good job communicating the despair of this world, and despair certainly abounds. The game gets pretty dark and even, violent, which I call out as it’s not something you encounter in a lot of adventure games. There were definitely a few points that had me exclaim, “Oh s***”. It kills me to not be able to describe one scene in particular but ugh, spoilers. Treading lightly, it’s toward the end of the game when you enter the quarantine zone. Brutal.
Despite a setting and story that is built to discourage, my favorite thing about Shardlight is how hopeful it is. Its characters are wonderfully written, each optimistically trying to get by, helping each other, and keeping a sense of community in the face of inevitable death. The perfect voice acting (another Wadjet Eye trademark) certainly helps. Particularly that of the main character Amy, played by Shelly Shenoy, whose quiet, even voice is soooo different than what you usually get from a protagonist. She’s strong and steady but doesn’t need to bluster and shout to let you know that she’s the hero of the story.
While I’m calling out stellar performances, Abe Goldfarb continues to be a damned national treasure. His performance as Tiberius is fantastic.
For every Wadjet Eye game that I play I’m continually struck by the small but powerful touches subtly built into their structure. As a part of a puzzle near the beginning of Shardlight, for instance, you use a candle on a blank sheet of paper to make a rubbing over a metal plate so you can read the plate’s corroded text. You’re taken to a screen where you actually move your mouse cursor back and forth to rub the candle, slowly revealing the text below. This isn’t necessary, the game doesn’t need to do this, the game could have declared the deed done and revealed the text without that tactile experience. But that small experience makes you feel like you’re actually doing something, gently discovering the answer to a puzzle as a result of your cleverness. It’s an expertly enacted mechanic that shows a comprehensive understanding of the genre.
When I finished Shardlight I had intended to write a few tweets of exclamation shouting my praise and thoughts about the game, but it somehow ballooned into this post. Shardlight is a good game.