Lamplight City

Game review by
Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media
Lamplight City Game Poster Image
Deeply flawed mystery full of adult themes, frustration.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

A good (though alcohol- and drug-addicted) detective works to help people by solving a series of terrible crimes. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character is a good man and dedicated husband, but he deals with his guilt by abusing drugs and alcohol. 

Ease of Play

Illogical restrictions and tons of red herrings cause lots of frustration during play on a regular basis. 

Violence

Cases involve murder, kidnapping, domestic abuse, poisoning, spontaneous combustion. Retro pixel art keeps it from being too graphic or disturbing. 

Sex

Main character visits a gay bar and a brothel during investigations; he interviews a madame and a prostitute. One scene contains a nude (from the back) male artist's model. 

Language

Swearing includes "s--t," "damn," and "ass." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main character and his partner talk constantly about drinking, and the hero drowns his troubles in drink and takes drugs to sleep. Taverns are shown. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lamplight City is a downloadable point-and-click adventure game for Windows PCs set in a vague Victorian setting. The hero of the story suffers from alcohol and drug addiction and is frequently shown drinking in bars and taking drugs in order to sleep. His investigations take him to a gay bar, an opium den, and a brothel. Dialogue mentions prostitution, the occult, and domestic abuse; cases also involve murder, kidnapping, and spontaneous human combustion. All that being said, the retro pixel-styled art keeps any visuals from being too graphic. Finally, there's some swearing in dialogue, such as "damn," "s--t," and "ass."

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What's it about?

LAMPLIGHT CITY is an adventure game set in a vague 19th-century/Steampunk setting. The hero of the story is a cop-turned-private-investigator tortured by the untimely (and unrevenged) death of his partner. To stay afloat while searching for his partner's killer, he takes on a string of bizarre side cases that expose him to the arcane and the supernatural. As the detective, players explore crime scenes, find clues, solve puzzles, and interview suspects. Cases can be solved or unsolved; avenues of investigation can possibly be cut off depending on the order that players visit locations and talk to witnesses.

Is it any good?

This adventure starts promisingly, but its design choices and sloppily executed game elements frustrate you the longer you explore your detective's cases. Over the first 10 minutes, Lamplight City seems like you're going to be set up for a twist-filled story full of oddball characters and fun locations to explore. Unfortunately, things go downhill shortly after that. The most glaring issue is the game's vague setting that mixes Victorian England, Southern American culture, fantasy Steampunk, and present-day anachronisms. This makes for a weird blend of French and English names, New Orleans-ish geography, American accents, steam power references, and modern dialogue that implies that the game can't decide when, or where, it is. The parade of poisonings, shootings, kidnappings, and burnings is also a lot to absorb, even for adults.

Another issue is the frustrating lack of useful feedback and the wealth of red herrings. Too often, locations become unavailable or people stop talking to you. Logically, you could still pursue leads in these areas, but the game (for some reason) won't let you. On the flip side, Lamplight City draws your attention to locked chests and drawers that have nothing to do with the case and that you're never meant to open. Plus, the lack of item inventory and clunky casebook conspire to increase the number of dead ends. You'll probably wrap up a case not because it's solved, but because the game won't let you do anything else. And don't expect any kind of case validation; once it's over, you never hear if your solution was right. On the positive side, Lamplight City has some nice location art, decent humor, and a strong anti-racism message. But overall, the game feels like a lesson in design ideas that probably looked good on paper but don't work in reality. So unless your older in-house detectives enjoy flawed semi-Victorian mysteries full of confusion and illogical conclusions, they should give this one a pass.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about historic settings. What makes the 19th century different from the 21st? Were things better then, or are they better now? Why?

  • Do you think that cops are the same as their counterparts in movies and games, or are they different? How?

Game details

Themes & Topics

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