Game Review | Lacuna – every action has a reaction
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If I had to choose any life for myself, I would be living some time in the future so distant that it’s started to look like the past. I see somewhere dirty and grungy set in the ruins of what used to be a cyberpunk metropolis. In the middle of this dystopian future, I stand. I can see myself as a hard-hitting, takes-no-shit detective who is here to drink whiskey and solve crime, and I’m all out of whisky.
Lacuna delivers everything I could want out of my fantasy life at its core. It lets me experience what this type of future would be like while wrapped up as a pixel art sidescroller puzzler- arguably the best kind of sidescroller around. Lacuna is entirely based on consequences, both good and bad. You know how every second game promises that your choices matter? Well, in Lacuna, it does.
Every choice you make (or don’t) and every puzzle you manage to solve (or don’t) rockets the game forward in a direction your actions have paved. Having everything you do matter creates a game that will have your emotions jumping between a sense of accomplishment and utter defeat regularly. At the same time, you’ll find yourself being pulled further and further into Lacuna’s fascinating world, where complete failure is most definitely an option.
Without going too far into spoiler territory, the main story of Lacuna takes place on a planet called Ghara in a city called Louville. Ghara is what you’d get if you take our lives on Earth and stick them on another planet. It’s somehow comforting in how recognisable it is. In the world, Lacuna creates, there are multiple other habitable planets like Ghara. As you’d expect, governments, corporations and religious organisations are constantly locked in battles over control of these planets.
The game starts with a prologue I won’t speak about here before dropping you, the player, on Ghara in the present day. You will be playing Neil Conrad, a detective who focuses on major crimes and ticks every stereotypical box. Trench coat? Check. Ex-wife? Check. Smoker? Check. Total badass? Well, if you play your choices well enough, then check. Through your choices, you will shape who Neil is in a way that feels so natural it’s almost like you’re the writer moulding the character for the first time.
The story is filled with twists, turns, branching pathways and small details for you to discover. Provided you are willing to commit to quite a lot of reading. The story can be as straightforward or complex as you want it to be, depending on the amount of time and effort you put into playing the game. The game’s lack of a manual save also means there is a lot of replay value because, on your first playthrough, you quickly realise you will be forced to live with every single choice you make and that there is no undo. The game keeps moving forward regardless of any regret you might have.
There are many moving parts to Lacuna, and when you start to solve your first case, you’re bound to feel overwhelmed by it all. It’s a lot, from filling out case reports to reading files, managing conversations, and making hard calls about interpreting evidence. However, it’s this sheer amount of information that makes Lacuna work. Very seldom in detective-style games do I feel like a detective. Yet, in Lacuna, I never even doubted that I was one. I doubted if I SHOULD be one but never what my role and importance to the game was.
Not everything in the game is voiced, but the parts that are, feel wonderful. The music is everything you’d expect from a crime-noir story, warm feeling jazz all the way. Lacuna is at its best an involved, multilayered, investigative mystery and, at its worst, a beautifully detailed sidescrolling game with puzzles thrown in. The game never holds your hand, and it doesn’t even pretend to. There are very genuine repercussions for not paying attention and not doing the work.
Playing through Lacuna can take you anywhere from 4 to 7 hours for your first playthrough. However, suppose you’re anything like me. In that case, you’re going to be itching to jump straight back in the moment you’re done, trying to play the elusive “perfect” game where every puzzle you solve correctly and every choice you make is correct.