What do I say about Lamplight City for the Switch? That it’s my point and click Moriarty? Intellectual kryptonite? Or perhaps it’s just an excellent game that takes nothing for granted and makes you earn your detective badge?
As this was a game from Application Systems Heidelberg, I needn’t do a background check. With certain publishers/developers, you bite their hand off the moment they cast it your way as they have an eye for the type of game I want to play. Imagine my surprise then that this wasn’t by Wadjet Eye Games.
The artwork, sound production and UI were all fantastic and to their high standard, but more importantly, there was an excellent story there. Lamplight City is the work of Grundislav Games, currently working on Rosewater – an adventure loitering on my wishlist.
You play Miles Fordham – a private investigator who will take on five different cases for the story’s duration, making sure that you find the perpetrator of each case using your deductive skills. In the prologue, you’re accompanied by your partner, but after an untimely death (not a spoiler – it’s in the blurb), you’re left to your own devices and… internal monologue to solve these crimes. I was glad his partner died as I couldn’t tell them apart.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of pointing and clicking, backtracking and unlocking new dialogue trees. However, unlike its counterparts, Lamplight City defines ‘choices matter’. Find yourself steamrolling through a conversation or clicking on every dialogue option for completion’s sake? There’ll be consequences. In many scenes, you will be warned of your actions, and if you commit, you could jeopardise the case.
I found this out the hard way and spent an age backtracking, attempting to unlock new evidence to open up conversations, but each time I went to conclude the case, there were no options for the person I thought ‘dunnit’. Not that I could prove it, and perhaps that’s the evidence in itself, but for the first case, I could only accuse one person whom I thought was innocent or reluctantly declare it was unsolvable. Determined not to give up, I retraced my steps but could see that the locations previously shown on the map were no longer available.
This naturally ticked me off as I didn’t want to give up, but my bad cop/bad cop approach did me no favours. The blurb says there will be cases where you won’t get stuck and can always move on, but what if you don’t want to move on? My top tip? Save your game often in Lamplight City before risking the whole case. You might be picking up a whiff of regret and distaste for the game, but far from it – it’s brilliant.
Now that I knew my actions meant something, I was more meticulous with other cases. In fact, I got so into it, that I sought the game separately on the PC. That’s no slur on the Switch, but I tend to spend more time on the PC, thus could dedicate more time. The sheer volume of options in this narrative is brilliant, and as a result, I’d happily have cut myself off from the world to indulge in this fantasy world.
Perhaps that escapism element comes from the writing and vocal performances as it’s a fascinating cat and mouse display throughout. The score is also impressive. Miles will get plenty of feedback from peers that don’t necessarily benefit him. Red herrings, derailing the investigations, sketchy NPCs… there are no game overs, but there’s this feeling you get in your gut when you realise that the end result of the case wasn’t how you’d hoped it would be.
That Wadjet Eye Games comparison comes back once more as Lamplight City offers commentary from the developer, one of the script editors and the composer. Much like my GOTY for 2021 Strangeland, this added massive depth to the experience, and I couldn’t help but lap it all up. In truth, this made me appreciate the game even more.
Lamplight City is a challenging game in places. Knowing when to cut your losses in a conversation is crucial, but ignoring interactions, some of the puzzles are bloody hard. A bit like Chronicles of Innsmouth to some degree. However, that’s all emotional stuff – objectively speaking, Lamplight City on the Switch is an essential purchase, in my opinion. One of the best.