Lacuna – Interrogating Conspiracy
Several times throughout Lacuna, I had to put the controller down and go for a walk. The positions this 2D pixel art detective-em-up was putting protagonist Neil Conrad in had me questioning the right path forward in all the best ways.
Lacuna bills itself as a point and click adventure game that “does away with the baggage of many adventure game tropes”. This, I adore.
While some have a fondness for the esoteric puzzles of the Lucasarts era, modern design sensibilities have moved past the need for puzzles that make little sense in context outside their own world. Getting bogged down and unable to progress only causes friction when telling an immersive narrative – a problem Lacuna never suffers from.
Instead of deciphering puzzle solutions, you’ll spend your time interviewing witnesses, interrogating suspects and picking up on environmental clues. Lacuna gives you a few simple options to tweak how difficult this process is: a toggle highlighting things in the world you can/should interact with, along with the ability to turn on or off a timer for conversations. Keeping the timer on and leaving the highlights off plays to a more tense and immersive detective experience – the opposite allows you to take in the world, churn over the information in your mind and have a more relaxing ride through the tale that plagues our grizzled detective.
And what kind of tale would that be, you ask? Well, what kind would you expect from one with a grizzled noir detective at its centre? None other than an epic yarn filled with twists and turns, political machinations and deep conspiracy, of course!
While the tropes of the genre are well-trodden, Lacuna does a fantastic job at setting up a wholly original futuristic universe, yet one that still reflects the problems faced by humanity today. It takes some effort to wrap your head around the places, people and political factions important to this universe and its inhabitants, but not only is it worth doing so for the fantastic world-building, but it’s also necessary to make the right calls on your detective work.
The twists the story can turn on are determined by “Sheets” that you submit to your superiors periodically, with clues picked up on from your detective work, news reports, emails and more. Did the suspect have red hair, or was he bald? Which mega-corp is the one funding the attack?
The best part is that getting answers “wrong” doesn’t stop you in your tracks – the game takes more of a “fail forward” approach. If you get things completely wrong, it means the scenes moving forward will just play out differently, with whole new outcomes as a result.
There are eight different endings based on your choices, and no matter what path you take, there’s always going to be that doubt in your mind if things could’ve worked out better if you’d made different choices. The game also autosaves, so no going back for do-overs.
It feels like there are only so many ways pixel art can look new and impressive, but then another game will come along and throw something awe-inspiring at you. You can run everywhere without penalty in Lacuna, but Conrad walks by default – and every time the camera zoomed out to reveal a bustling cityscape metropolis full of life, I couldn’t help but drink it all in with a slow walk across the promenade.
It’s all buoyed by excellent sound cues, animation, music and voice work. Drenched in a mood so key to the genre, Lacuna really steps it up in every aspect.
There are some reviews that are hard to write because the game is just fine, and then there are some that just pour out of you because you can’t help but think of all the things it does well. Lacuna is well and truly the latter, with every small piece pulling together to create a really great detective game ripe for the picking.
Lacuna is one of those underrated and overlooked gems of 2021, of that I have no doubt. Now, let’s go and unravel an interplanetary conspiracy, shall we?
Lacuna was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by the publisher.
When not playing games, Chris enjoys chilling with his Fiancé, cats and dog. He will probably never stop banging on about how amazing Outer Wilds is. Forever in search of the best Margherita pizza.
Chris writes on Latji Latji and Barkindji land.