Earlier this year we played and reviewed No Code's game Observation, which was all about taking control of an AI in a spaceship. And so when Lightstep Chronicles emerged we were extra curious after getting a taste for stories revolving around AI. The idea of sentient robots has been a staple of sci-fi for years, and now Eipix Entertainment has delivered their own take on this concept, except this time you're playing as a human working with AI, or against them, as the case may be.
When a routine mission goes wrong, Captain Cain Phoenix finds himself strapped into a floating futuristic chair at the mercy of an AI called Aleph. It explains to you that it needs you to restore its control to the ship, while you also need the AI to save yourself and your crew. After all, your mission was to investigate Aleph's crashed ship, however, it turns out that not everything aboard this ship is as it seems.
Very early on we find out that Aleph is not the only AI personality on board this ship, and by introducing various AI characters Eipix Entertainment opens up an interesting avenue whereby you have to filter and critically analyse everything you're being told from each, since they're all relaying contradictory accounts. Some might be promising you the world, while some are looking to turn you against the others, and none of them speak at the same time, since only one voice can talk at once. Who do you trust? That's the dilemma at the heart of Lightstep Chronicles.
It's not just about saving yourself and your crew either, as there's a narrative to unwind about the fate of the ship you're on and its own crew. You're isolated and have nobody to turn to, so it's up to you to put the pieces together and determine who's responsible for the events on board, leading to some disturbing twists and turns. Each AI has their own significant story to tell within this narrative, and you're always learning new things from each, eventually finding out there's more at stake than you first thought.
Lightstep Chronicles is a text-based adventure and is very much driven by this narrative, as you're interacting with the environment in limited ways before conversing with the various AI companions you meet, choosing dialogue options that will change the way they react to you. Asking questions will get you the information you need, and the actions you perform will shape how the story unravels, and ultimately how it ends.
The dialogue is displayed at the side of the screen like a visual novel, and when you're not talking you can use a scanner in each room to find objects and interact with them. Control panels, cryopods, and more can be scanned and then used to progress the story and unlock extra environmental storytelling, helping you piece together the fate of the ship and its crew, and you do all this by clicking on various elements of the room from a certain number of viewpoints.
Since you can't manually move other than these camera points and four rooms, gameplay can feel rather limited, especially since there's no voice acting, which we felt was a real shame considering the quality of the story. Having some good acting, like a creepy AI voice, could have really added to the unnerving atmosphere being built, but sometimes it just felt like clicking through a wall of text. Some bits were more of a slog than others, especially dipping into a map of different planets to answer basic questions for as part of an AI's quiz.
From a visual perspective, Lightstep Chronicles looks the part, but it's just a shame it was so short (we managed to finish everything in about two-and-a-half hours) and that there was no voice acting to push the rather convincing narrative that extra mile. It definitely takes the theme of hostile AI to interesting places, especially considering the various personalities at war within the ship, but it just falls short of being an excellent thriller due to the limitations mentioned, and we were left wanting more after the credits rolled.