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Lacuna Review | All the Best Memories

Lacuna Review

Over the last few years, I have realized that I have great luck with games at the start of the year. I usually try to play a game that has been on my backlog and in the opening of 2020, I played through Modern Warfare for the first time, a game I loved despite its age. In 2021, I played Tales from the Borderlands and Marvel's Spider-Man, both of which were fair contenders for the best game I played last year as seen in The Respawn Station Awards. So needless to say, Lacuna, the sci-fi noir adventure game from Assemble Entertainment, and the debut title from German developer DigiTales Interactive, had a lot to live up to. Now, having completed it, I can confidently say that the trend is continuing.

Lacuna has you playing as Neil Conrad, an agent working for the Central Department of Investigation. What starts out as any other morning quickly turns into a manhunt for an assassin, and, as you get closer to your target, you realize that the rabbit hole goes deeper, or perhaps higher, than you could have ever foreseen. I'm being vague with my plot synopsis because Lacuna is a short game. It took me only about 5 hours for one playthrough, but its story is gripping and worth experiencing with fresh eyes. A big part of why the game's narrative is so strong is the game's excellent writing. The mystery the game presents is intriguing and solving one clue often makes the whole puzzle more complex. The great writing also extends to the characters who come to life beside Agent Conrad. While the game is designed with the player in mind, meaning Conrad has to do most of the detective work, his co-workers are helpful in getting to the bottom of it all. Another big part of Lacuna is its world-building. The political climate in Ghara, where the game takes place, is tense and that plays into the case you work. Like any good noir mystery, there are twists and turns and it's only thanks to the well-developed characters and the setting that they inhabit that makes you get invested.

The gameplay loop is pretty straightforward, you talk to persons of interest and investigate locations until you have enough evidence to back a claim. However, there is more information to consider than just what you see at a crime scene. You can download articles from display centers and read up on the latest news, analyze boards around the CDI office, catch up on emails, and more all in an effort to make the most educated guesses possible. Whenever it's time to draw a conclusion, you must fill out sheets on your cell. This freedom of investigation doesn't demand that you give it your full attention, but rewards you for it. I went full Sherlock Holmes in my first playthrough, analyzing documents and leaping to logical conclusions and the payoff was immensely satisfying. Whether it be conversations that finally confirm one of my hunches or making a successful arrest, I felt empowered as a player and immersed in the character.

Lacuna is a treat for the eyes and ears. The game's pixelated art style is used effectively to bring Ghara to life. As you walk in the foreground, cities scroll by in the distance and cars fly every which way. The city is alive with people walking to and fro, and if you want to take it all in, you can even stop and smoke a cigarette while you admire the views. As you move through the game, the character feels like a part of the city. Light from street posts bounces off his body and reflections flash by when you run past a window. Additionally, a solid sound mix pulls you into the game even further. Footsteps change based on location and the diegetic sound is used to flush out the busy city streets. My only drawback with the game is that, occasionally, certain parts of the game will have complete silence. This can be effective during a few intense sequences, but I think it's used a bit too often and when I noticed that there was no sound, it usually took me out of the overall experience. And since the only voice acting in the game is the main character's inner monologue, when the music drops, you're left reading strings of text in silence. That being said, the Lacuna score, which is composed by Julian Colbus, is fantastic and drips with the sci-fi noir atmosphere that the game's tagline advertises.

There's one more thing to state before I conclude this review and it may be, if you can believe it, one of the best things about it. It's common in a game with branching storylines and multiple endings to have some sort of morality meter that sways in one direction or another based on player choice. In Lacuna, however, there is a much more intuitive dialogue system that changes the story and the interactions with other characters in subtle ways throughout, and by the end it can shade the outcome in entirely different colors. To further drive this home, the game doesn't allow manual saves. If you make a decision, you live with it. This sort of dynamic storytelling can feel like you're going through a linear narrative, and it isn't until you step back and look at the bigger picture, or return for a second playthrough, that you realize just how cool it really is.

With all that said, you don't have to be a detective to know that I loved Lacuna. It's a marriage of strong writing, beautiful visuals, immersive sound design, and simple yet effective gameplay. All this also backed by a dynamic dialogue system that adapts to player choice and encourages multiple playthroughs. Lacuna tells a complex story full of interstellar espionage and corporate greed, but best of all, the game does all this without overstaying its welcome. For a price of $15.99 on PC and $19.99 on consoles, the game is well worth the price of admission. If you're a fan of mysteries, do not miss out on this game, and if you decide to pick up the Save the World Edition of the game, which costs $25.99 on Steam and comes with the soundtrack, Assemble Entertainment donates 10% of the revenue to Go Give One, a World Health Organization initiative. Lacuna is out now on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review.

Lacuna | 9 | Excellent

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