As a huge fan of point-and-click games, Lacuna is one strange addition to the adventure genre that promised a lot of questionable design-choices. While I was happy that it wanted to remove pixel hunting, counter-intuitive puzzles, and the need to exhaust dialog options by never having conversations or choices being repeated, the rest of its features were just confusing to brag about. Pointing and clicking was to be exchanged for platforming, inventory management would be replaced by immersive and story-driven mysteries, and the plot could always be progressed without it being stopped by a puzzle.
I am happy that your choices have consequences in this title, but I wonder what is bad about letting the player solve the puzzles and feel accomplishment from that. Being able to effortlessly go through a video game, can make it into a shallow experience. However, I would be lying if I said that every point-and-click had aged well, and taking risks in doing something different and trying to innovate, could be for the better. I just hope that I will be actually playing a game and not watching a movie at this point. At the very least, please let this be an interactive novel!
Digging in sand
After a long prologue that is unnecessarily included, we are introduced to Neil Conrad, a CDI agent who is struggling with his feelings for his ex and the relationship with his daughter. Though the world never gives Neil a break to fix what is now broken, with the foreign minister Banny having just been shot. As you can imagine, this turns into a grand case that could put the safety of not just the politicians, but also your hometown in danger. So, why is this all so dull?
Let us start with how everything is told, since this is a mix of cliche crime noir and tedious pacing. The cliche aspects could have provided a charm that builds upon such familiar notes, but none of the characters are memorable and are rather there to fill a role each. We have the daughter who loves his absent father, your coworker who playfully mocks you, and criminals you are suppose to feel bad for. This setup basically follows a recipe for creating a traditional crime story, but with no spices added in, it becomes a bland experience.
Unfortunately, the same can also be said about our protagonist. Neil has a ton of monologues that shows how broken, beat up, and sad he is. Despite that this makes him sympathetic, there are times where you just want him to snap out of it. It is one thing being down or depressed, another indulging in your own sadness. This might sound harsh, but again: this setup feels more forced due to the genre this title is being a part of, as it does nothing to evolve anything progressively. Which leads to some of the endings being uncomfortably jolly, as they are a big contrast to the rest of the game’s tone.
However, the plot is actually worse. Half of the entire playthrough is about tracking down one enemy through finding specific clues, and it is not until here that the story marginally evolves. You gather information from visual hints and witnesses, but rarely from questioning motives, which hurts the overall storyline. One could argue this offers more time to engage in the world around you, and while I do like the areas you are visiting, they suffer from lack of diverse or personal inhabitants. There is really nothing culturally interesting to speak of in this sci-fi universe, which is baffling to say.
A lot of these “choices” you will have to make come down to either following the law or helping someone out with their personal difficulties, and none have any long lasting effect. Yes, you do hear about their outcomes, but it is more like a notification of an achievement than anything else, making this an underwhelming addition. A deep storyline, this is not. I can at least say that I want to know more about this world that has old fashioned pubs and boats, but also silly cells with face-time being a common practice for CDI agents to do in public. And what prick brings a dog to a concert?
Although, the moment you want to gain more insight to the lore or even the plot of this game, you will realise there are a ton of expositions that could have been summarised in a couple of sentences, and it all feels tiresome. It is like being told about a long journey on how someone started tying their shoelaces; it really goes nowhere. Even the introduction trying to showcase an important event connected to the case, is long and does not tell anything more than what the news do in one paragraph. Which is probably the worst thing about this entire product: it does not know how to utilise a visual or interactive media to tell a story.
If there is anything I can praise Lacuna‘s story for, it is some of the dialogues. While many add nothing to the setting, there are some legit good jokes. I was caught off guard when Neil commented that a night with a dead body was just a regular Tuesday, before someone said that it was actually Friday. Sadly, when the answers to the dialogues do not offer much else than a slightly different direction, it is hard to be fully immersed when everything else is simply shallow and forgettable. Especially, when you can pause these timed events and think about your choices.
Story Score: 2/10
Turn in your homework
This 2D narrative adventure game tries to fix some of the common problems with point-and-clicks as stated. However, Lacuna has no real idea what it is doing and because of this, it turns into a clunky mess. For this title, a controller is supported and highly recommended, since you will be navigating Neil on a 2D plane and interacting with the environment is cumbersome otherwise. Despite that you can talk to people by simply moving up to them and pressing X, you have to put up the investigation circle and then toggle between objects you can interact with in order to do so. This is more tedious than simply pointing and clicking, and it does not help that you cannot run when this circle is up.
Sure, you are able to highlight what is interactable, but also showcasing how indicates that you should ignore a lot of things throughout. Besides, being able to highlight objects is nothing new to point-and-clicks, and with the investigation mode making everything slower than simply pointing and clicking, I am not sure what the developers tried to accomplish at this point. Item management is gone and instead replaced with clues to find and write down. This is a neat idea for comparing notes, but with this and newspapers containing a lot of information, you are still managing a ton of materials and I find the promises made by the developers misleading.
Luckily, this is the part of the game that I actually loved, as you will have to compare what was said and what you discovered, minimising possibilities in order to find the correct answers to your cases. This was always a joy to partake in, since you will have to think logically and puzzle together all the information you found. With your handy cell storing all acquired clues, messages, news, and so on, you always have what you need in order to get to the bottom of a case. When you believe you are ready, you can choose the right solutions to a case and send it back to the headquarters to progress the story. There is still a big focus on text rather than visual clues, but this is an engaging part of Lacuna.
Unfortunately, the moment dialogues pop up, I end up exhausting every option and only click yes or no when I have to make a choice. Yes, despite what this title claims, you will have to ask multiple questions to the people. Speaking of, since the events where you are being kind or mean to someone will both reward you with important facts and acknowledgement of your actions, this game still contains what it is outright mocking! If nothing else, the autosave is a wonderful inclusion and with manual saves being absent entirely, you will have to stick by your choices. I just wish they amounted to more than skipping an area or a notification.
Lacuna is neither clever or structurally solid. For what it is, it is a slow and tiresome adventure game, with some neat ideas to it. It is just a shame it could not have made the mystery more interesting in its gameplay and instead makes the story take a huge focus, diminishing the entertaining detective work. With how little the dialogues matter, many moments feeling like cutscenes, and choices being meaningless in the grand scheme of things, the four hours it took to finish this crime noir felt like an eternity.
Gameplay Score: 3/10
Sci-fi should be cooler
The pixel art used in this title is quite nice, strongly representing technical limitations that are believable and intriguing. I especially admire the subtle details in the background, be it the unique newsstands, oxy bars or areas being blocked off due to people standing in the way and unable to move. I do question why we have normal cigarettes in this sci-fi universe, but there are some actual negatives I have about the overall style of this project.
While you will be exploring different areas like rundown apartments, busy streets in the city, and a calm harbour, many locations blend in together with the same colour schemes and drab buildings being used. This is a dark and dreary world with a clear hierarchy, but nothing is done to make each place memorable, except for a few set pieces. Because of this, repetition is gonna set in fast. At least, the characters come with different facial expressions for their portraits, which helps to give them clear emotions.
On a more positive note, the audio is great and I even enjoy the footsteps of you walking the streets or the strange noises when checking your cell, giving everything an ambient feeling of loneliness. There is only one voice actor in this game, playing as Neil during his monologues and this is a strange mix of styles. On one hand, it is fascinating that only these segments have gotten a voice to them, with the actor doing a wonderful job portraying the struggling protagonist. On the other, this does not represent the technological limitations the visuals want to bring forth and thus destroys this nostalgic trip. Because of this, it works as a way to tell a story, but not as a retro video game.
Thankfully, the music is beautiful. It combines the jazzy tones of piano and drums with ambient sounds of echo, and even has some tracks with technological and industrial sounds to them. This is a really neat concept that showcases the combination of different styles set in a depressive and futuristic world. It results into a diverse soundtrack that has each melody coming with varied notes and rhythms. All of the tracks are used perfectly for the events occurring and are even worth listening on their own due to their fantastic compositions.
Presentation Score: 6/10
Better luck next time
For some reason, you can buy packs of cigarettes and smoke in specific locations for an achievement. Although, the biggest reason to come back is for the multiple endings, but it is also here where Lacuna fails. Instead of offering different conclusions that are all interesting, it has clearly bad and good ones, making the overall journey lacklustre. While you might not get the best ending after one playthrough, the differences are so small and only showcased through text and minor changes in the cutscenes, that it is hard to justify another go.
Extra Score: 1.5/10
Even without the promises, Lacuna feels lost in what it wants to offer. It wishes to be a narrative detective game with a focus on choices and finding clues. Unfortunately, the dull story has nothing to offer on revisits and gathering information is a tedious process. This is still an interactive media where you tell a story, and this title has no idea on how to do it well. This is probably the worst case I have been on for a long time, and despite some nice aspects to it, it should be left unsolved.