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Video Game / Lacuna (2021)

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Lacuna is a Sci-Fi Noir Adventure Game developed by the Germany-based DigiTales Interactive and published by Assemble Entertainment. It was released in May 2021 for the PC, and for the Nintendo Switch in December 2021.

For several decades, the human race has slowly, but steady been colonizing the Solar system, expanding outwards from their planet of origin, known as Ghara. This process has been far from painless, having been marked by strife and unrest, especially between the Federation, lead by Ghara, and New Jordan, the only planet that has so far been successful in declaring its independence from the Federation, and has even been able to set itself up as as the only other superpower in the solar system. Recently, the discovery of tyllanium, a rare mineral that has proved crucial in the development new innovative technology, has lead to increased competition between the Federation and New Jordan, as they struggle to out-manoeuvre each other in taking control of the few tyllanium deposits. Matters have not been made less complicated by the fact that Drovia, a colony controlled by the Federation, and the home of the largest known quantity of tyllanium, has started to agitate for its independence, demanding the right to determine its own fate on the solar stage. Ghara not being ready to grant Drovia independence and thereby letting go of its precious tyllanium, have caused tensions to inflame. With neither side willing to budge, and with rumors about a possible Drovian revolt in the near future and that New Jordan is poised to come to their aid if it were to happen, many fear that an interplanetary war is forthcoming.

Caught in the middle of all this is agent Neil Conrad of the Central Department of Investigation (CDI), the main federal authority in charge of investigating major crimes on Ghara. When Joseph Banny, Drovia's foreign minister, is suddenly assassinated mere hours before he was supposed to meet with the Federation's president to discuss a diplomatic solution to their disagreements, Conrad and his partner, Gary Long, is put in charge of the investigation, and must race against the clock to solve the crime before tensions boil over; something which could easily start a devastating war. Along the way, Conrad begins to uncovers a conspiracy that forces him to come up close with the darker and more rotten parts of the Federation's government, and seriously challenges his convictions.

Lacuna contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Advert-Overloaded Future: There are a lot of holographic billboards in the future presented in this game.
  • Amicable Exes: Neil and Cat are still on pretty good terms even a decade after breaking up. Played correctly, they can even get back together in the game's ending.
  • Badass Longcoat: Overcoats seem to be standard issue for CDI agents in typical sci-fi noir style. Neil, in particular, seems to be channeling Rick Deckard.
  • Da Chief: Liam Campbell, the Chief of the CDI, is a fairly straight play on this trope (down to the pencilbrush moustache) as the eternally put-on police chief trying to balance politics with the pursuit of law. You do get to see some of his Hidden Depths depending how you play though, such as his tendency for extra-marital affairs and clashes with the Attorney that end up getting him fired.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Most of the time, it is up to the player whether Neil smokes a cigarette or not. Neil will, however, on a couple of occasions where he is under especially hard moral stress, light up a smoke unprompted by the player.
  • City Noir: The urban hellscape of the planet of Ghara is a overbearing, late-stage-capitalism wasteland of crime, corporations and cynicism that your character has to travel through.
  • Corporate Conspiracy: It soon becomes clear that the murder of Joseph Banny involves some of the Federation's big-money players. It's your job to figure out to what extent.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: It would be easier to list the executives in the narrative who aren't implicitly or explicitly shady. Shorter, too, given that number is 0.
  • Crapsack World: Between the rampant social inequality, urban segregation, drug use, corporate crime and space colonization, the setting of Lacuna is not a nice place to be.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Saviant faith is the most prominent religion the setting, primarily in the colonies of New Jordan and Drovia (while the colonizer Ghara seems to be chiefly atheistic). We don't get much exploration on the tenants of the faith, but what we get would point to it being Islam-esque (down to the in-universe bigotry directed at them and alleged connection to terrorist groups).
  • Cyberpunk: Present to some degree. It is a noir story set in a sci-fi future after all. Much attention is drawn to how the society of Ghara and the Federation at large is chafing under the corrosive power of the capital the various Mega Corps are utilizing in an attempt to consolidate their power over the federal government, leading to a ever-worsening income gap, which is further resulting in increasing social unrest as inequality grows and more and more people are finding it harder to make ends meet.
  • Cyberpunk with a Chance of Rain: The sky is overcast or actually raining for long portions of the narrative.
  • Defective Detective: Detective Neil Conrad (your player character) is a complete mess of a man full of trauma, stress and personal woes from the heavy job, but he's also the sharpest detective in CDI.
  • Enigmatic Minion: Should you investigate matters properly, you'll get acquainted with two characters going by Boyt and Zora working for the vast criminal conspiracy you have to uncover. They're both extremely enigmatic and ambiguous figures working for a shady mastermind. Zora for her part can pull off something of a Heel–Face Turn in some of the endings.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Excluding the prologue (which is set 40 years apart from the main story covering different characters), the story of the game takes place in a period of around four days.
  • The Federation: The Federation certainly likes to portray itself that way. Both Neil and many other character notices that in effect it is not always that way, as various Mega Corps are heavily involved with the government, meaning that it often favors them above everything else.
  • Golden Ending: While most of the Multiple Endings are bittersweet to some degree or another, some of the variations that have personal meaning to Neil are unquestionably happy. If he manages to rescue his daughter, Laura, from the mercenary company, reconnect with his ex-wife, Cat, and make Zora reconsider her life-choices, making her pull a Heel–Face Turn at the end, Neil is ultimately at peace and happy with what he has achieved, no matter what else has happened.
  • Great Detective: You get the "Master Investigator" achievement if you solve every case in the game correctly.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: All regimes and factions involved in the story are varying shades of morality, but everyone has committed some horrible deeds somewhere.
  • Hardboiled Detective: Neil Conrad is a classic example with his sour worldview, cigarette-smoking habits, shabby clothing and constant cynic monologues. How much he leans on the stereotype will likely depend on how you play him.
  • I Have Your Wife: The mercenary company involved in the conspiracy abduct Neil's daughter, Laura, to blackmail him into aiding them.
  • Inherent in the System: There are quite a few debates in the game about the real extent of impact of Neil's actions when so much of it is hardwired to the system.
  • Internal Reformist: Joseph Banny was trying to change the system from within to get Drovia independence, but he was assassinate before much could come of it. You can also play Conrad this way with regards to the CDI, which has its own can of police corruption to deal with.
  • Intro-Only Point of View: The prologue sequence puts the player in the shoes of the teenage girl Mira as she experiences the infamous "Sector II incident" on Drovia. After this, the story jumps 40 years ahead in time and introduces us to Neil. Depending on the player's final action during the prologue, Mira either makes another appearance in a newspaper article where she is interviewed about her experience of losing her parents during the incident or her mother is interviewed and explains how Mira's death destroyed her marriage.
  • Last-Second Ending Choice: Downplayed. The most important choice that Neil faces comes right at the end, where he either chooses to leak the truth about the conspiracy surrounding the Sector II Incident or keep it a secret for now. The choice has so far reaching consequences that it effectively determines the tone for the entire Modular Epilogue, but some of Neil's earlier choices come into play when determining the rest of it.
  • Lead Police Detective: Neil Conrad, CDI detective, is your lead.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: A large part of the score consists of melancholic piano pieces, fitting the noir atmosphere.
  • MegaCorp: The setting is crawling with massive corporations that seem to wield as much power as governments do (if not more). It's your unlucky job to figure out which of them, if any, is involved in the particular crime you're investigating.
  • My Greatest Failure: Neil accidentally killed a woman in a car accident several years before the story begins. The trauma of the event leaves him unable to even get into a car, much less drive one, and he uses the train instead.
  • Neural Implanting: Adverts for "brain extensions" are often found across the game and they seem to be basically standard in the setting.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Gary (Neil's partner in the CDI) is pretty openly prejudiced against Saviants, but still tries to solve crimes against them.
  • Planet Terra: A twist on the trope, since the story of Lacuna takes place in a solar system that is evidently quite different from the real life one. But the Earth analogue is called "Ghara".
  • Private Eye Monologue: Neil Conrad occasionally monologues to the audience his insights into the world and the cases he's investigating. Noteworthy in that the game has no voicework anywhere except for his monologues, adding a lot more gravitas to it.
  • Rabid Cop: The player can play Neil as a violent, trigger-happy lunatic who threatens everyone into cooperating. The achievement for it is "Bad Cop".
  • Schrödinger's Gun: The player controls a teenage girl named Mira in the game's prologue. The final event of the prologue is a Timed Mission where Mira must reach a shelter room. If she does, a news article interviews her and states that she lost her parents in the disaster. If she does not, then the article states that her parents survived but that the loss of Mira destroyed their marriage.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Pursuing corporations in the court of law is a pretty much hopeless prospect in the game's setting.
  • Shout-Out: The game wears its Blade Runner references on its sleeves. The most notable case is the CDI (the setting's anti-terrorism police of sorts) having a flying car much like the Spinner used by the LAPD in said movie.
  • Skyscraper City: Ghara seems to be composed nearly entirely of skyscrapers and platforms to the point it's almost impossible to tell what "ground" level would be (given even the subway you take seems to be elevated above ground).
  • Sliding Scale of Law Enforcement: The police agencies (namely the CDI, a sort of FBI/anti-terrorism unit your character works for) are portrayed as a kitchen sink of good intentions, cynicism, corruption and various problems Inherent in the System. It's up to the player where Neil Conrad falls in this conundrum.
  • Smoking Is Not Cool: Downplayed. A more technologically advanced society has lead to smoking becoming gradually less of a health risk, but it is still something that is considered an addiction. Neil is actively trying to quit smoking, and the game both rewards and punishes you for indulging and refusing to indulge him.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Many of the moral choices Neil faces boil down to this. Often times, the question he faces is whether to follow procedure as a CDI agent and uphold the law according to its letter, or show leniency and try to put justice and equity before the law.
  • Unobtainium: Tyllanium is a rare mineral that is hard to acquire, yet it forms the basis of a lot of modern technology, especially it allows for production of batteries that are several times more effective than lithium-base ones. Hence why controlling it has become an important political question.