My cigarette had been drained to its death, I reached over for another but the pack is empty… damn. The gloom of the night engulfed the room as I sat there at my laptop trying to come up with a clever and witty opening to an article. Over the clickity-clack of my keyboard, all I could hear in my head was the gravelly voice of a detective who was seemingly narrating what I was doing, while sounding like he’s fallen out of some kind of noir-esque film or TV show.
Developed by DigiTales Interactive and published by Assemble Entertainment comes the very noir-esque Lacuna – A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure. I mean, the word noir is right there in the title!
Another cigarette tumbles into the abyss. The sun is slowly coming up, glistening in the sea of buildings below.
I look up at the stars one last time before they disappear. They don’t provide any guidance. They don’t give a fuck.
I have to make this decision on my own, and very soon. Problem is, I don’t know how. I’ve never been able to figure out why I do what I do. Not really.
No more time to think. I have to go.
So you play as Neil Conrad, an agent for the Central Department of Investigation or CDI. Not the crappy Philips CD-based flop of a console from 1990 but an actual investigative department that… well, investigates crimes. The first thing I want to cover in this review is the visuals.
As you can see from the trailer and screenshots, there is a very 16-bit, pixel art aesthetic going on here. Each locale you visit is unique in its own way and oozes atmosphere. Highly detailed environments that keep your eyes busy, tiny little nuances that really work well in this pixel style. Moody subways and busy streets are packed with details. Lacuna looks ‘effing gorgeous and the simplicity of the art only helps to make the world you are in even more enticing. The more time I spent with this game, the less I wanted it to end.
Still, end the game eventually does do, yet as I sat there watching the credits roll, I felt the urge to play through again. The replay value here is great if you’re a big adventure game fan (as I am) because there are eight different endings to see. Not only that, the route to those ending is sublime. See, the game opens with the following warning…
There are dozens of choices you make in Lacuna – A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure that actually make a huge difference. I’m not talking about the bullshit decisions that you find in adventure games from Telltale (as an example) where a choice just leads to a very slightly different bit of dialogue, while the story and resolve never really change. Events here are massively affected by the things you do or do not choose to do. See that warning screen up there? It’s not lying. You fuck up, the game continues and you have to live with that mistake. There is no going back, no checkpoints, no retries.
Lacuna opens with a flashback/tutorial that gets you up to speed with the simple controls and rather in-depth investigation mechanics. You have to find clues within the environment, read news articles, check emails and more. You then cross-reference your evidence and come up with a conclusion to whatever the problem was. As mentioned above, you can get this wrong and the game continues with you having to live with the mistakes you (possibly) made. After that introduction, the game begins proper with you playing as the aforementioned CDI agent, Neil Conrad.
Conrad is a trench coat-wearing, chain-smoking (though you can help him quit… if you want), gravelly-voiced, self-narrating, ex-wife baggage, a strained relationship with his daughter kind of guy. He feels very stereotypical within the sub-genre that is noir storytelling. Yet, how you play as him is really up to you. Be a hard-nosed, stickler for the rules agent or play as a more relaxed, bending (or even breaking) the rules kind of guy. It really is up to you and your decisions really do impact just how the story pans out. You can try to rebuild your relationship with your ex-wife and daughter, you can drive the separating wedge in even further… or you can just ignore them completely.
The plot of the game is one I really don’t want to spoil here but I will say that things begin to go sideways following the assassination of a foreign minister. This is where the game’s plot really begins and where your investigation kicks into gear. This is also where the decisions that you make start to affect what is going on. The story here has so much packed into it that you really need to pay attention. Thankfully, every conversation you have, every clue, every news article that you do find is kept in your Cell (mobile/cell phone). This can be rather overwhelming at first as there is a lot of information here that needs to be unpacked but you’ll soon get the hang of it all. The whole thing is designed with such simplicity that things just work. Aside from the main story, there are side-quests that can reveal more about the case you are on, if you pay attention. Perhaps you should stop off for breakfast with a colleague instead of getting to a crime scene ASAP? But both choices will have repercussions on the plot both big and small.
It’ll only take you around three to four hours to see the end credits and the locations you visit in Lacuna – A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure are fairly small. But don’t that the seemingly shortness of the game put you off, as there’s plenty of replay value here. I got a pretty bad ending on my first playthrough as I didn’t play detective very well and actually failed to solve a few of the cases. But as soon as the credits ended, I found myself getting right back into Lacuna for another playthrough and because there is such a wonderful branching system used here, another playthrough can result in a very different gameplay experience.
There’s a lot of reading and re-reading here. Lot’s of dialogue between characters that you need to pay attention to. A lot of piecing clues together to try and get to the bottom of the cases you are thrown into. So if you are looking for a fast-paced game, you won’t find it here. This is slow, methodical and highly detailed. Still, you can get things wrong and the game continues and the mistakes you made stay in the game as the consequences of your actions are revealed. For instance, I got the description of a suspect wrong which led to a fellow CDI agent being shot. That was something that Neil Conrad, and I controlling him, had to live with.
See, most, if not all, adventure games that promise a level of choice in the narrative never seem to really deliver on that promise. You just get a slightly different bit of dialogue or a slightly different cutscene with the plot stays the same. Shit can really change for both good and bad here with Lacuna. If I had one criticism, then that would be that there is only the one case to solve. That case is split into multiple parts over several in-game days and there is a lot to unravel. Still, I would’ve liked to have seen another case or two for Conrad to have had to deal with. Then again, the ending I got would’ve made that pretty tricky.
Priced around £13 to £17, depending on the format. Lacuna – A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure is well worth a purchase. I’m only a few days into 2022 and this is already my favourite game I’ve reviewed so far. Yeah okay, so I’ve only covered three games but this is top of those three and that’s got to count for something. This is also the debut game from DigiTales Interactive and for a first effort, Lacuna is simply amazing. A huge recommendation from me if you are into your adventure games. Buy it, it is wonderful.