Sunday, April 9, 2017

Shardlight - A Post-Apocalyptic French Revolution (My Review)

I've just finished my playthrough of Francisco Gonzalez (Grundislav Games) Shardlight, a post-apocalyptic steampunk adventure, and now I want to go hang-gliding with a top hat and a Victorian coat, curing uber-tuberculosis patients in a Fallout-like wasteland. By which I mean, I loved Shardlight. Here's a summary of the game (from
At its very core, Shardlight's story is vintage post-apocalyptic. A catastrophic event — good old-fashioned nuclear war in this case — has drastically changed life forever and surviving in the world is downright difficult. In Shardlight there are two classes of people, the Aristocrats who are in charge of the new world order, and common folk who are just trying to survive. You play as Amy Welland, a lowly mechanic, who stumbles upon an underground rebellion seeking to take down the Aristocrats. This turns out to be problematic for Amy, as she wants to enter a lottery to win a vaccine for the deadly disease known as "green lung." By performing dangerous jobs for the Aristocrats, common folk can earn a lottery ticket to try and win a vaccination, but now Amy has been tasked with spying on the rebellion!

The game itself is very well written, and to me strikes me as something like Fallout (the 90's-golden-age RPGs) if Brian Fargo and Tim Cain had been obsessed with the French Revolution and Dickensian period, rather than Leave It To Beaver 50's idealism. The world has ended, and you've got all the Mad Max trappings -- scrappy survivors using ammoless guns to light campfires started with 30-year old turpentine, rubble and dreary single-hue color schemes everywhere, rotting corpses. But instead of a Pip Boy and Star Trek jump suits, you have wig-headed aristocrats lording it up in the still-standing skyscrapers, done up inside to resemble Versailles. The corpses are not fed on by mutants or deranged clusters of cannibals, but rather, Edgar Allen Poe's ravens. The Grim Reaper plays a big role.

 My favorite part of Shardlight, apart the completely enjoyable characters (Tiberius the Alpha Aristocrat and pretentious / psychotic pontificating asshat is near the top of the list) was the play of subtext, the witticisms in the interweaving tapestry of tropes of Post-Apocalypse (tm) and Tale of Two Cities Europe. The dirt-faced urchin children, playing jump-rope to nursery rhymes like, 'The Reaper Comes For You' like the gang in Oliver Twist, against a backdrop of a 21st-century skyline annihilated by nuclear blast. Resistance movements somewhat akin to the Brotherhood of Steel, but wearing feathered caps and wielding swords and crossbows, rather than miniguns and power armor. Nuclear wasteland-ravaged Robbespierres, plotting in basements through code phrases and messages steganographed into artwork and signs, awaiting their moment to strike a coup and let the Palace Royalty know what they think about, "Let Them Eat Cake" (Let them eat lottery-jobs in this case.)

 As a purely post-apocalyptic story, or a purely historical story, Shardlight would've still been a good game. But where it elevates into a truly original, truly great experience, is in these moments of genius. A game after my own heart, having done a culture-mashup not dissimilar to Shardlight, albeit with a slightly different sub-genre of science fiction, and instead of the French Revolution, a more 'Feudal' era of history. ;)

I give Shardlight five radioactive fragments out of five.

P.S. Be sure to check out Grundislav Games' upcoming title, Lamplight City!

P.P.S. And then check out the rest of the publisher, Wadjet Eye Games' titles!  They are all awesome!

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