If I was to pick a favourite era for comic book heroes, I would have to say 30’s and 40’s. I am talking about the likes of The Phantom, The Shadow and The Rocketeer… that sliver age where heroes were heroes and bad guys were… well mostly Nazi’s. So when I saw Seattle based Harebrained Schemes studios latest title The Lamplighters League, I was more than a little interested as it looked to capture the tone and vibe of those classic comic series of yesteryear, but with a modern twist. A turn-based strategy that sits comfortably in the X-Com and Marvel Midnight Suns sort of space, it tells a tale of an alternate version of the 1930’s where you must assemble a team of skilled misfits to stop an ancient cult (named the Banished Court) who are made up from three cult factions (Nazi’s in all but name), which aims at achieving world domination.
It’s classic newsreel pulp fair as you go globetrotting in search of new team members to join your noir spin on The Avengers, as well as stopping the Banished Court at every twist and turn. The Lamplighters League gameplay is very deep to the point it doesn’t really teach you what some attacks and buffs do that well, which saw me having to turn to YouTube for a bit of guidance from time to time. But if you have played the likes of X-Com you’ll have a rough idea of how things work over its action point and grid system, as you take your moves and then sit back and watch the bad guys take a swing at you. This gets a little more interesting as there is a real time side to combat, or more so stealth, that lets you get in a sneaky first attack, before things switch to the grid battlefield; this highlights that paying attention to your surroundings can and will pay off. Also after making it back alive from an adventure you often earn upgrade cards that add buffs and bonuses to your crew which keeps their skills evolving over time as well.
Every in-game week you get a new to do list made up of main and side missions, as well as recruitment ones. Choosing your missions plays a huge part in shaping the game, with them affecting a lot of the moving parts from supply lines, to slowing the enemies, to who is available to be recruited and when. In a twist you’re actually on the back foot in The Lamplighters League and it’s not a race to stop the forces of evil from getting the “MacGuffin”, but instead stopping them from activating it. As is the way with these games, you’re never truly thriving but just doing enough to survive. Visually things are very stylised… maybe a little too much. With the characters having an almost plastic like smoothness to them in a way, but it does have a 30’s vibe very well on the menus and world front.
Soundtrack-wise its brilliant and feels every bit the part; like it’s just been ripped from a classic afternoon matinée and the voice acting adds not only character to moments, but also gravity and real weight. On the downside The Lamplighters League is a little rough, with more than a few glitches and bugs that range from the game hard line crashing, to losing saves and progress. But there have been a number of patches released during my time reviewing the game, so hopefully these kinks are getting ironed out.
The Lamplighters League is an epic adventure that starts out as a race against time to save the world and ends with you punching everything from squid-men, flaming mummies and ghosts to do so. It’s a little bit of a slow burner and it’s a lot to get your head around at first, but there’s a rollicking good time to be had here… once its hooks are into you.
An XBox review copy of The Lamplighters League was provided by Paradox Interactive’s PR team, and the game is available now on Xbox and PC for around £50.