The streets are cruel. The just and unjust alike are dealt similarly dark hands. It seems only those who come to the game with their own cards up their sleeves have a chance. Vagrant vomit washes down to the storm drain, carried by the night’s rain. She sticks out like a sore thumb, too beautiful for a scab of a city like this. Woman like her come to town, can only mean trouble.
Metropolis: Lux Obscura is a match-3 puzzle game with a story set along by its choose-your-own-adventure elements. Developer Ktulhu Solutions (Perky Little Things) has created a dark, gritty, mature game with sex, drugs, and plenty of violence.
Metropolis: Lux Obscura tells the story of Lockhardt, a recently released convict who has no friends on either side of the law. His only means of making it in the city is by taking unsavory jobs, though he does have something of a code. His path is beset on all sides by crooks and sexy women, both just as willing as the other one to kill to get what they want. Lockhardt is forced to choose just how bad he’s willing to break, though his main motivations are rarely clear. It seems he’s just trying to get by, but that doesn’t make for a very compelling story.
Stories is what makes up the bulk of MLO’s runtime, rather than one major one that we follow throughout. The stripper that needs money for blow, the escort that is being pursued by a jilted Senator’s son, and the lonely housewife that just needs a good night. Pretty much a madlibs of [insert sex worker] is in trouble because of [insert criminal act]. There is a slight thread connecting throughout, giving Lockhardt reason to do the things he does.
It’s in the writing that MLO stumbles the most. While it is clearly trying to be a mature piece, it often comes off as immature. There’s very little subtlety to the writing and characters, who are brash and in your face about how scummy they are. It’s an ironic fate that befalls too many pieces of fiction. It’s clear the game is going for a film noir detective story, sans the detective and with a convict in his place, but its crass language is used with the delicacy of a jackhammer. The city of New York feels less like New York and more like Sin City, though not nearly as entertaining.
While the writers were definitely going for film noir, it just falls short of that due to lack of class. That’s not to say it was ever boring, however. Interesting faces keep popping up in Lockhardt’s path, and while they all meet cliché criteria, MLO lucks out in that there are few games like it. While there are plenty of games rated Mature, few actually try to push it as far as they can, at least insofar as sex goes. Nudity and adult situations are plentiful, maintaining MLO’s gritty atmosphere.
The player guides Lockhardt from location to location, often having only one option to choose from but every so often several will pop up. Each location comes with a bit of dialogue, followed by Lockhardt having to beat up some guy or, if he’s lucky, bed some dame. Choosing your location does have consequences for which ending you get, and more importantly how abruptly your campaign will end. The game touts four unique endings, though this isn’t a matter of all four roads being equal length. Choose to turn in the drugs to your boss and a certain ending will come knocking on your door later into your playthrough.
MLO pads much of its running time with these different endings. The problem is that since the game uses a level-up system, it’s unlikely a player will want to start all over again in order to progress further. In my own playthrough, I ran into a brick wall of two of the four endings being available to me, but as they were the only paths I could take, my journey ended there. It’s frustrating, but it can’t be said your choices don’t matter, at least. If you’re looking to really feel the weight of your decisions, MLO has you covered.
So, what do you do when you’re not getting information or squeezing some woman’s ass? Fighting. Pure and simple, Lockhardt loves a good brawl. Fighting is carried out through the game’s match-3 system. Similar to other games like Puzzle Quest, there are two opponents, each with hit points and a focus to get the other guy down to zero before he can do the same to you. There are several kinds of attack “gems” on the board that can be matched to deal damage, each one having a different level of strength behind them. Needless to say, a gun gem does more damage than a boot gem. There are also medkits to keep your health up and police badges that you must avoid, or you’ll take damage.
Despite the writing feeling unpolished and amateurish, the balance for the combat in the game is actually well done. Each fight offers up a fair challenge, demanding that you balance reducing your enemy’s hit points while restoring your own. Later in the game, opponents have so much health and deal so much damage that stringing together combos and 4-matches are the only way to really topple the goliaths and mobs.
After fights you can also level up, allotting you no stat boosts but instead an offering of four different traits. You can only choose one, and which ones are available seem to be random, so choose carefully. It’s a shame that your starting hit points never go up after leveling up, but you can at least restore health past your starting amount of 100, should you think you need the buffer.
The biggest challenge in the puzzle is how many different gems there are. By breaking up the attack option into three or four different kinds of gems, it becomes harder to get decent combos and cascades. Police badges will just build up and up, and since your opponent doesn’t move gems around, you’ll likely be forced to take a hit or two just because it’s the only option on the board. Thankfully checkpoints are generous and make sense. After each victory the game saves, allowing you to even make a different decision on where to go first, if you wanted.
MLO is portrayed as a motion comic. For the uninitiated, a motion comic is somewhere between still images and moving ones. Comic pages are warped and pushed to convey movement, with characters and dialogue boxes appearing as needed. For this, the team chose a very talented artist who has brought sex and grit to the almost-film-noir adventure. The presentation is in black and white, with bits of color sprinkled in to emphasize certain elements, like the orange on a prison jumpsuit, or the red of the blood on a baseball bat.
Another area the game falls apart in is the voice acting. The voice acting is nothing less than atrocious. It honestly sounds like they didn’t bother to hire professional actors and just took people from the office and asked them to read lines. Sometimes the performances were laughable, and other times just groan-inducing. It’s a shame too since the music falls so much into the background I honestly don’t remember if there was any. So the voice acting is left to do all the heavy lifting in the audio department.
Overall the gameplay is simple, but enjoyable. Don’t expect any mold breaking from this one. It’s a hard genre to innovate on, perhaps. The basics of match-3 are there in the name, after all. Still, more elements to play around with would have been appreciated. It’s a passable experience, to say the least. What it should be commended for is trying to bring more adult themes to games, rather than just relying on violence to get that M rating. However, due to its lack of class conveyed through amateurish writing, the effort will only serve to use MLO as an example for why not to bring sexy back.
The art is excellent, there’s no doubt about that, but the voice acting is so far on the other end of the quality meter that it takes away points. The multiple endings, each coming at different times, is well handled, up to a point. While it’s nice to have consequences for decisions, some consequences have no clear answer as to why they happened, or if an event could have even been prevented. Not relying on “so-and-so will remember that” is a bonus, but it’s so obtuse with cause and effect that should someone want to go back and try another playthrough, they may be unsure of what to do and not to do a second time around. It overall hampers the chances of a second attempt.
At the end of the day, what you're likely looking for in a match-3 puzzle game isn't going to be its writing or voice acting, most likely. If all you want is a capable match-3 for less than $10, Metropolis: Lux Obscura is a decent option. If you're looking for a film noir style detective story with fewer scruples and class, this game won't impress. And if having naked women in your game is a tipping point, well then Metropolis has what you need.
|+ Bare bones but balanced puzzle gameplay.||– Abysmal writing.|
|+ Excellent art.||– Even worse voice acting.|
|– Can be locked out of game content from endings.|