Lacuna review: “An Exhilarating Noir Cyberpunk Thriller”

Lacuna review: "An Exhilarating Noir Cyberpunk Thriller"

As far as I can remember, my very first entry point to pixel point-and-click adventures was Last Train Home – a bite-sized paranormal horror story taking place in a subway to home and I loved it to death. Now, substitute the horror element with a high-tension thriller, spray everything with a dystopian cyberpunk paint job and add in a well-composed jazz-punk soundtrack score. Folks, that combination will be Lacuna, brought to you by DigiTales Interactive, now available on the iOS App Store and recently Google Play Store. It’s a narrative-driven point-and-click that satiates your taste buds with stimulation of the life of a high-profile investigator in an FBI-equivalent organization cracking a case with high stakes.

Welcome to a world rife with conspiracy, vices and legerdemain

Different rooms in a world of Lacuna

Booting up a new profile, you will be greeted by Mira – an elite-tier interplanetary settler thanks to her parents’ occupational privilege. Despite the fact a jaded-looking man casually enjoying a smoke can be seen on the loading screen that might lead you to feel bamboozled. However, Mira is, in fact, a posthumous key player in the overarching plot point that brewed this conflict lasting into Neil’s era.

With that short introduction to familiarize yourself with the user interface and workings of the game, fast forward with a time skip and you will find yourself taking the reins of Neil Conrad, your typical FBI agent – CDI in this iteration – who wears a jaded facial expression and dabble in nihilistic musings about how the world is in the gutter.

With the mere gesture of a simple joystick and several buttons, you will traverse through a side-scrolling landscape of flying cars and neon advertisements. All of this is enveloped in glorious 8-bit retro graphics. For the inquisitive souls, an avalanche of lore and details of worldbuilding can be discovered either through NPC interactions or scaling the news articles downloaded from those fancy-looking signboards.

Story and the setting

It is told through the lens of Neil, a CDI (Central Department of Investigator) agent roped into a massive conspiracy that can put the entire solar system in peril and plunge them into an interplanetary war. All the while, he must manage his familial relationship with his ex and child when off-duty.

In between the plot points, the developers are subtly snubbed in a cocktail of contemporary societal and political issues so prevalent even in today’s society, even though Lacuna takes place on an entirely fictional super-advanced planet. I guess these issues plague every part of society no matter their origins. One instance is the wealth gap divide that worsens as society takes another leap. One minute you’ll find yourself wowed by the immaculate structures and cozy interior. The next, you will find yourself in a pretty despairing place, like the slums or the bustling flea market.

Another thing that is well done is the flow of dialogue. Characters interact naturally and each conversation has a sense of dignity and professionalism to it. Coasting through the story, it is a melody for the ears to be treated by the occasional English voice-over when one of Conrad’s monologues starts playing. They are delivered in a deep and mature tone baked to perfection. Strings will inevitably be attached as you progress further to learn about the individual’s backstory and personal life.

All stones must be left unturned

Character card in a world of Lacuna

As a point-and-click, the core gameplay revolves around completing quests by using an information-gathering methodology – scouring through visual cues and interacting with important NPCs, piecing the puzzles together to uncover the ultimate truth. To say the least, some of the quests, especially ones during the climax, can give the brain a much-deserved workout.

Two sides of the coin

Throughout the story, you will face many dilemmas that can throw a wrench into your moral compass. Each can bring you down the path of a good cop in service of people’s needs, or a bad cop abiding strictly by the law. These decisions alter the story and faith between Neil and the various parties, with the turning point at the climax between CDI and the insurgency where you can pick a side. Regarding marital status, you will also be presented with a choice to reconcile with your ex or move on. You will be in a pickle as the narrative requires you to constantly pick between sides. That’s not all, either. Even minor aspects in Neil’s life such as whether he smokes or not are in your hands.

Mission: Rewind impossible, but two steps backwards

Personal monologue of a detective in Lacuna

A good adventure needs to have high stakes to deliver an adrenaline rush. Perhaps, this noble intention feels somewhat like a cardinal sin in the form of autosave. When the developers mention there is no turning back, they truly mean it. Mandating you to set aside time to play through the story segment. Though, on the other hand, one might argue it contributes to a more immersive experience.

Gone are also the possibilities to perform a soft reset in case things go south. It’s a capital “GG” if you filled in the wrong answers as the only way to reset your choice is to quit before autosave kicks in or start anew while scrolling through the story again as you are locked into that ending. To make matters worse, some sections of the game will be inaccessible, essentially barring you from gathering important cues for sheets and that’s a pretty big penalty.

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