Lacuna Impressions

Lacuna is a title with a sense of style and place, with thoughtful design around a well tried formula. The problem was that I did not care about any of it.

Objectively I could point to the pixel art that creates a palpable cyber punk setting full of political intrigue. I could talk of what a good job the 2-D animators in this side-scrolling adventure game do of giving faceless characters recognisable personalities through body movements. The world is showered with the same touches of the personal – with the multi-planet world building feeling recognisable as parallels with modern events but alien enough to be something worth exploring.

Similarly, I could write about how Lacuna does a good job of having the story and game design walk hand in hand. The main character is a detective in a tech heavy environment and the interface the player uses for looking at items supports the feel of that.

The game makes an important, and tough, design decision too. Every choice made, every finger pointed at suspects is final. There is no reloading a save and deciding differently. The player takes on the role of an investigator and has to sift through emails, conversations, and other evidence because Lacuna doesn’t do a lot of handholding and, like I said, a decision made is final. Things can go badly, people can die.

This is all the objective assessments, but subjectively Lacuna left me bored. Did it arrive at the wrong time, the wrong place? Have I just played as one too many hard-boiled, and disillusioned cops? Was I just not in the mood to do a lot of reading? Did the detective work, remind me too much of actual work?

It is impossible to say. The only thing I can talk about is that for every moment where I appreciated the melancholy slow jazz background, or a tense scene during a stakeout relayed only through text. There were a whole series of other moments where I just wanted to press a button and “skip to the end”. There were key moments that should have been impactful, where I just turned the game off and put off playing more because I simply did not care. A credit to my editor, when others are forced to strict deadlines to hit an embargo, and forced to grind themselves down, I was allowed to drag this short game out over weeks. Hoping that I would find the internal spark that could give this game the love it clearly deserves.  

It is bad place to be when a game is objectively well crafted. This is a game that a team clearly cared about making and did so extremely well. It is a shame that it was then met by a reviewer like myself. I could, possibly talk about how this isn’t my type of game, but I’ve played detective games before, and got really into them. I don’t have a good reason why I didn’t enjoy this game, I just didn’t.

I think a lot of people would have a good time with Lacuna, if other reviews on the internet are anything to go by then I am a dissenting voice. It frustrates me that I don’t have the energy to appreciate what is here, I hope others do.

Lacuna plays well, and delivers a story that many will enjoy. Objectively well made, but it lacked a spark that got me excited about the procedures. A perfect candidate for why game scores don’t work.

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Written by
AJ Small is a games industry veteran, starting in QA back in 2004. He currently walks the earth in search of the tastiest/seediest drinking holes as part of his attempt to tell every single person on the planet that Speedball 2 and The Chaos Engine are the greatest games ever made. He can be found on twitter (@badgercommander), where he welcomes screenshots of Dreamcast games and talk about Mindjack, just don’t mention that one time he was in Canada.

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