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Gleamlight Gleams on the Surface, but There’s No Shine Skin-Deep

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Gleamlight review

After reading Alistair’s Import of the Week on Gleamlight, I was insanely curious about this title. It sounded like everything I’d like. No idea what’s going on? Check. Beautiful visuals? Check. (You could almost say they were gleaming.) Hack-n-slash combat? Check. Adventure game with platforming-esque puzzles? Check. I was ready to go with Gleamlight and raring to find out what this world was all about. Well, I have no idea what it is about, because I rage quit shortly after the first boss fight.

Just let me explain before you get out your torches and pitchforks. Gleamlight did have all of those things I mentioned, and I will say this is one gorgeous game. I loved all of the stained glass effects. The glass breaking sound effects were also just amazing. Visually, Gleamlight hit all the right buttons. Even the drabbest environments were so beautiful because they were made of glass.

However, the game’s biggest issue is unfortunately one of its largest copy points. One thing that the developer really wanted to created with Gleamlight was a rich, immersive experience. For example, The lack of a written, obvious narrative was a great, immersive touch. When you start the game, all you see is a sword. You play as a character who looks exactly like Orko from He-Man. You have no idea where you are, what’s going on, or even who/what you are, but you know that these dark glass creatures will kill you if you don’t kill them first. And who is this mysterious dark figure who shows up to either stab you or kill one of the glass monsters and flee? Who knows, but boy howdy will it be fun to find out as the game progresses!

Gleamlight mystery man

Who is this masked man? Too bad I’ll never find out.

But Gleamlight also doesn’t include UI, which is something the development team proudly promoted as deepening the immersive experience. You have no idea how much health you have, how much damage your sword attacks are making, etc. On the surface, that sounds just fine. I enjoy deeply immersive experiences like this that don’t hold your hand every step of the way. When you’re in a mystery world like this one, the lack of a UI absolutely adds to it.

That said, the game also teaches the player nothing. I’m fine with games letting you figure out some controls on your own. I actually thought it was quite charming that I stared at the opening screen for at least a minute, because I didn’t know I was supposed to press something to pick up the glowing sword to begin. I was waiting for a cutscene to start or something. Gleamlight didn’t “teach” me to do that or how to swing my sword or how to jump. It didn’t teach me that collecting red shards from enemies healed me and added to my health. All of that was more than fine, and it added to the overall mystery of the game.

However, it didn’t teach me anything. I got stuck for several minutes very early on, because I was certain I didn’t complete a certain path or solve the whole puzzle. I went back to previous areas over and over, dying over and over, just to be sure that I had done everything I could do. In the end, I was at a complete loss as to how to proceed. After a few more minutes of struggling, I begrudgingly turned to YouTube for help. When you have to go to YouTube for help within the first fifteen minutes of a game, you know that’s a bad, bad sign. Apparently, I was supposed to magically know that I could jump down as well as jump up and what the button presses would be.

Gleamlight glass ghosts

Okay fine, I can chalk that to not thinking through the problem. But then after the first boss fight, I was stuck again. How in the world am I supposed to traverse all of these deadly (but beautiful) spikes? I went back to YouTube, feeling like an absolute loser. When I defeated that boss, I received a new ability. Was I told this? No. Was I told what buttons to press to activate it? No. If this YouTube video hadn’t stopped to explain the new ability and how to use it, I would still be on that downward shame spiral that I’m pathetic and an idiot. I may not be good at games, but in all seriousness, how is the player supposed to know they learned a new ability without being told?

So this is supposed to all be part of the immersion and blah blah blah. But here’s the thing; if this was truly an immersive experience where I am learning as I go, I would know I learned something new. It might be the voice of God letting me know or a tingle in my heart, but I would know I learned a new ability. Even Neo knew after being plugged in that he knew Kung Fu. He may not know how to utilize it just yet, but he KNEW he learned it. If the game chose not to tell me how to activate the new ability, that is fine. I don’t mind pressing buttons to figure it out. But at the very least, tell me I have a new ability.

Gleamlight boss fight

The boss that gives you a new ability without you ever knowing that it happened

At that point, I quit. Within 30 minutes of playing, I have had to look for help twice. Both reasons were because I had some ability the game never explained to me. It was never going to get better, only harder as I had to figure out what abilities I was given and how to use them. Going to YouTube breaks up any immersion Gleamlight could hope to have had.

It’s truly a shame, though. On paper, Gleamlight looked like my ideal game. I’m still curious about the overall story, but not curious enough to suffer more frustration along the way.

Keri Honea
Keri has been a part of the video games industry as a writer and editor since 2004. Her video game backstory is long, convoluted, and better left unheard. When she’s not playing or writing about video games, she’s reading Warhammer 40k novels, teaching yoga, and making sure her kids don’t burn down the house.