Light is the first published game from Brighton-based dev team justapixel, and they cannot be accused of not having done their homework. In bringing us this cyberpunk tale they’ve certainly got the look and feel right, as the cool glassy intro screen promises, but is a look enough?
Although set in an symbolistic world of dots, squares and scanlines sheathed in a hazy blue glow, Light’s story is one of real people set in an increasingly standardised cyberpunk dystopia. The story is the often-tread variant of an amnesiac everyman against a mysterious and secretive corporation out to use him for their own nefarious ends. It’s the future, and clearly someone over at Stock Evil Company R&D has been watching Johnny Mnemonic and taking notes. Their amazing plan is to use human brains to store their company data, and you are one of the unlucky test subjects. Waking up with no memory of your former existence, in the grandest of recent Hollywood traditions you have to try and piece your life back together again, one slightly hackneyed info dump at a time.
Levels begin with a brief preamble of text before your little square avatar finds himself in a series of sterile, line-drawn offices, faced with planting or swiping some evidence in service of the paint-by-numbers plot, avoiding guards and security cameras all the while. As any cyberpunk game should, the game centres itself around a hacking mechanic, but that would be grandly overstating matters. In practice it adds up to little more than finding the right computer and using it to turn off all the security measures on the map. There’s no timing or skill here, just holding in a key for a couple of seconds. The screen may zoom to the strain of flurried keystrokes, but it doesn’t change the fact there’s no skill being deployed here whatsoever. Even a bit of command prompt style pseudo-hacking as seen in the likes of Uplink or Hacker Evolution would have been welcome, but sadly merely staying hidden is the most this game asks of you.
Each mission plays out the same; find the computer to hack, grab a disguise if there’s one available, run round the map planting or extracting intel (which provides more exposition), then get to the exit. There’s no variation and it’s not very challenging. Disguises can be found and utilised, which attenuates the guards’ detection cones. If there are no uniforms conveniently lying around in suitcases, enemies and civilians can be killed and stuffed into lockers while you abscond with their clothing, but the scoring system actually deducts points for this. If detected, escapes can be problematic and frustrating; guards can shoot through walls in a way that might be considered a bug. Detection starts a two-minute timer before more guards arrive and start sweeping the building, but most times you’re better off just restarting the level. You could argue there’s a case to replay the levels to maximise your score, but once you’ve absorbed the pretty sparse and nondescript story, there’s little reason to revist.
The level maps are usually restricted to small building-sized layouts which can be traversed with a minimum of fuss, but the later airport-based missions are expansive enough that you can forget the placement of key items. A minimap is somewhat notable in its absence here. The tokenised graphics benefit the stealth that must be carried out, as your own line of sight and those of enemy guards and cameras are clearly visible. The movement of your character is smooth and the right mouse button’s look ahead function is useful for determining the best route to your goal. Civilians, desks and the like can block guards’ line of sight, enabling hide 'n' seek maneuvers to be pulled off when required. The atmosphere is ably enhanced by the soundtrack, its cool crystal synthy tones drawing parallels with Nervous Testpilot’s exemplary score for Frozen Synapse. It’s a shame there’s not more game here for it to soundtrack.
All in all, Light is an extremely short experience, easily beaten in just over an hour. If other levels were added, perhaps community-forged ones via the Steam Workshop, the value proposition might be better but as it is, there’s not much content here - a scant twelve levels. The first few are embarrassingly easy, functioning as little more than a tutorial with some initial exposition. The blueprint-esque visual style, while certainly not original, is competently presented, but slick visuals aren’t enough to capture a discerning indie games fan’s attention. The devs seemingly wanted to combine the top-down swift pace and tense atmosphere of Hotline Miami with the ice-cool electronic abstraction of Frozen Synapse and the stealth of Hitman, but merely managed to glean the surface-level attributes of what make these games great. The box is very pretty, but when you open it up there’s nothing inside.