Lacuna: A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure (Xbox Series S) Review

Exactly what it says it is
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Lacuna: A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure – henceforth Lacuna for my sanity – is a stylish, investigation-driven adventure game from developers DigiTales Interactive and publisher Assemble Entertainment. The title says it all – it’s similar in structure to many 2D pixel-art point-and-click games, but ditches quirky or illogical puzzles for systematic investigations, evidence-based deductions, and plenty of player choice under pressure.

Lacuna is set in an alternate universe where humanity has spread out from their home planet of Ghara, eventually colonising several moons and two other planets in the solar system. Over time, the Drovia colony has sought greater independence, especially after the discovery of a new mineral that allows for revolutionary battery technology. An incident on the fledgling colony – which the player experiences in the prologue – functions as a gameplay tutorial and doles out some background lore. The incident results in a shifting power balance and escalating tensions that persist 40-years later when Lacuna kicks off in earnest.

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The short prologue introduces you to the world, the basic gameplay loop, and kickstarts a mystery that’ll only be solved 40 years later.

Lacuna puts you in the dark trenchcoat of Central Department of Investigation (CDI) Agent Neil Conrad – your stereotypically gruff detective who has let the profession consume their lives and leave behind a trail of regret. A long day spent preparing security details for a Drovian diplomat turns into an even longer night, involving assassination, rushed investigations, potential links to ethical dubious corporates, and even Gharian government officials. Of course, events escalate further and eventually become personal for Conrad.

The setting and background lore is sci-fi-meets-noir, but the themes are easily relatable in the modern context: the struggle to maintain colonial control vs. the fight for independence; corporate espionage; the dangers a potent mix of classism, poverty, and bigotry brings. So many mechanically-similar indie games only have their setting to differentiate themselves. In this regard, Lacuna succeeds with a believable, atmospheric setting and engaging story that moves at a brisk pace from scene to scene, across three acts.

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There’s no traditional voice acting in-game, but frequent monologues from Conrad flesh out secondary characters, the environments you explore, his state of mind, and current progress in the overarching investigation.

Through a combination of player choice and case outcomes, the story feels both personal and replayable. There are major events across the three acts that play out regardless, but your personal choices and deduction skills have a major impact on future encounters, dialogue options, and case outcomes – especially as you move into the third act. There are also enough pivotal moments, which lead you to one of eight ending variations, that you don’t have to roleplay the “bad cop” (unless you’re after achievements).

Some choices add flavour text to news reports; bad deductions can lead to evidence loss or secondary targets escaping; while a lack of evidence limits your options in later dialogue or interrogations. In true noir-style, doing what’s best is never clear-cut, and being lawful or honourable is not always rewarded. Lacuna does its best to make sure playing it straight is as difficult as possible. Events ultimately culminate in a slideshow-style ending that highlights the impact of your actions on Ghara, the solar system, Conrad’s family, and a few secondary characters (some are conspicuously absent).

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The CDI team is on hand to assist during Conrad’s investigations, so it’s a shame so few are featured in the ending sequence given the dramatic events of the third act.

The gameplay, befitting Lacuna’s limited 2D world and aesthetics, is simple. You roam small areas with little filler, interact with NPCs, and investigate clues. Dialogue – with a timer for added pressure – allows you to pursue different conversation topics and make important decisions, while an AR-scanner can reveal hidden clues or interface with technology. Compiling data, which ranges from simple observations to lengthy dialogue logs, is vital to completing “sheets” – multi-part, multiple-choice based questions for the current case.

Early cases provide abundant clues within the environment, rewarding those who systematically search. However, you’ll soon need to parse through dialogue logs, computer terminals, emails, and news articles (all sent to your futuristic PDA called a “CELL”) to complete sheets as accurately as possible – often through elimination. If you’ve got it right, the dialogue does a good job of spelling out Conrad’s – and therefore the player’s – reasoning. Incorrect answers and guesswork are sometimes challenged and quickly revealed as incorrect, but your submission is final and the game goes on.

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Completing case sheets is a core gameplay mechanic, relying on multiple lines of investigations, many of which are affected by your earlier decisions.

In fact, all decisions in Lacuna are “final”, with a single save file and frequent autosave preventing you from save-scumming through dialogue choices or investigation sheets. This forces you to frequently navigate your CELL interface, ponder on the evidence at your disposal, identify potential links, question timing, and alibis, before making your final choices. It’s engaging, tense, and satisfying when your deductions result in the best possible outcome.

Unlike so many point-and-click style adventures, Lacuna’s devs have made sure the player will never hit roadblocks that drag their progress to a halt. Each location is small, with only pertinent evidence and NPCs accessible. Conrad’s frequent monologues add plenty of flavour to each scene, so you don’t waste time with inconsequential interactions. For those not fond of pixel-hunting, you can even toggle a highlight function at any time to reliably find all the evidence, while the smartly laid-out CELL interface tracks all acquired data and can highlight important text when scanning through dialogue. The game will never make deductions for you but these assists smooth over the process.

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Multiple layers in every scene do a great job of creating a world that feels vast and alive, despite the simple pixel-art visuals.

When it comes to the presentation, yes, Lacuna is another pixel-art game but there’s a strong focus on moody lighting and environmental details (usually without overwhelming the scene). The multilevel and multilayered environments, coupled with background and foreground traffic, ensure each location feels expansive and alive. The most impressive element of the presentation, however, is the noir soundtrack that provides a mix of soothing piano jazz melodies and electronic beats that ramp up the tension. Voice work is limited to Conrad’s gruff, melancholic monologues, but they serve well to bookend important scenes and convey his deteriorating mental state.

Overall, Lacuna is a brisk, compact, stylish, and smart deduction-based adventure with strong sci-fi/noir themes. The story is engaging from the get-go, and events progress so swiftly you’ve got no time to catch your breath or mull over any plot holes. At around 5-hours, a single playthrough feels cohesive and satisfying, but there are new scenes and additional endings to discover if you want more. The gameplay is streamlined but this ensures you gather the data you need quickly, and rather invest yourself in piecing through it to solve the current case. Several characters felt like they deserved a mention in the ending montage, and backtracking to train stations felt like padding at times, but you’ll find Lacuna does little wrong if you’re a fan of the genre.

Lacuna: A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure (Xbox Series S) Review

Lacuna: A Sci-Fi Noir Adventure (Xbox Series S) Review
8 10 0 1
8/10
Total Score
  • Story
    9/10 Amazing
    Sure, there are probably a few plot holes but it's hard to notice when the story grips you from the start and hurtles towards the conclusion. The branching story and multiple endings are the cherries on top.
  • Gameplay
    7/10 Good
    Relatively simple and streamlined for the genre but the real treat is parsing through all your evidence and completing case sheets.
  • Visuals
    7/10 Good
    It's more pixel-art, sure, but Lacuna has a great setting and the visuals do each location justice.
  • Audio
    8/10 Very Good
    Conrad's gruff monologues carry the story, while the soundtrack perfectly captures the mood in every scene.

The Good

  • A brisk and engaging story that'll keep you hooked
  • Logical, evidence-based puzzles
  • A strong cast of allies and antagonists
  • Atmospheric visuals and a fantastic soundtrack

The Bad

  • Several choices and secondary characters don’t feature in the endings
  • Backtracking to train stations
Total
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