Deadlight is the zombie portion of Summer of Arcade. Zombie apocalypses are still all the rage and when used correctly can make a captivating setting for a game. Deadlight nails it’s use of zombies perfectly using tried and true parts of the genre and adds it’s own unique twist.
In Deadlight you play as Randall Wayne, one of the few survivors and you’re tasked with looking for your wife and daughter. You’ve lost track of them when the shadows (they’re zombies, the shadows are zombies) started wiping out all human life. You’ll do this in classic side scroller fashion moving left to right trying to stay alive and solving puzzles along the way.
Let me clear up one thing straight away. I’ve seen and heard a lot of people compare Deadlight to Shadow Complex and that’s nowhere near true. Shadow Complex is in the Metroidvania genre with lots of backtracking and leveling up and finding new ways to explore already discovered areas as you get stronger.
Deadlight plays like a mixture of the game Flashback from the 16 bit days and the original Prince of Persia. There’s no back tracking and there’s no rediscovering new areas as you level up. It’s a straightforward, linear game that is all about getting from point A to point B with some light exploration along the way.
Randall Wayne isn’t the prototypical action hero, he’s a normal guy placed in a near impossible situation. Having Randall embody “average” means that you won’t be mowing down hoards of zombies, instead you’ll be avoiding and trapping them along the way. Anything more then one on one confrontations with zombies could mean death so you’re always on your toes with a level of tenseness that doesn’t go away. This is survival horror combat at it’s best, it’s not about flawlessly dispatching evil, it’s about just doing enough to survive another second.
Another thing that helps intensify the experience is the art style. The game looks and run beautifully with darkness and shadows giving a wonderful eerie atmosphere to everything in the game. The heavy reliance on the darkness also means that along the way zombies will come right out of the shadows and be on top of Randall in a second. In most cases there’s always a “tell” before it happens, maybe it’s the glint off a pair of eyes as a zombie becomes aware of your presence and comes to investigate or maybe it’s a background shadow that doubles in size as a zombie gets up from the ground and comes towards you. The game’s atmosphere is great.
I wish I could say that the game plays as well as it looks but sadly that’s not the case. It’s not that the game controls badly, it’s just that the gameplay doesn’t always fit the control scheme.
When you control Randall Wayne you’ll find that he has a certain weight and momentum with him and that’s fine in the first part of the game. Jumps must have perfect placement and the momentum of the character help heighten the experience by making you concentrate on hitting landings perfectly so as to not fall down into a swarm of zombies. In the opening platforming and puzzle solving areas the gameplay and controls feel right and they’re done perfectly.
Then comes the rest of the game.
In the second act you’re put into a scenario where it’s nothing but puzzles. Normally I’d be fine with that but most of the puzzles require pixel perfect placement in order to pull off some jumps. That’s not the worst part though, the worst part is that if you’re not standing in the right spot when you try to make a jump you’ll fall like a stone and come nowhere near where you need to land. If you stand a few pixels over and do the same jump you’ll make it with relative ease.
The problem in this portion of the game is that it’s not teaching you where you should go. It’s not like you’re jumping from the wrong point, barely missing it, then realizing “hey I’m almost there let me just scoot over a little next time”. There’s such a wide swing between the success and failure distances it tells the player “look you missed that by a mile, go try another way to solve this puzzle”.
The misdirection doesn’t stop there though. There are many areas that will teach you to look out for a hazard, how it operates, and how to safety proceed. Later on when you approach the same looking hazard it operates a completely different way and kills you. I’m all for rewarding a player who’s quick on his fingers and can avoid hazards in games, the problem is that’s not how Deadlight works. Deadlight has a lot of cheap deaths that force the player to die to see where the game switched things up. Thankfully the game’s autosave feature prevents players from having to replay long stretches of the game. It still doesn’t compensate for the game pulling the rug out from under the player, it’s annoying and not designed well.
After the puzzle area you’re thrust into more of an action setting and the wheels come off completely. Know that part in Super Mario Bros where Lakitu is up on his cloud and tosses Spiney eggs and you need to run and jump through a good potion of the stage to survive? Know how that worked so well because Mario has no weight and can change direction mid jump? Well imagine playing that but put a refrigerator on Mario’s back.
The controls for Randall Wayne are not meant for fast paced gameplay like that yet that’s what’s shoehorned into Deadlight and it hurts the overall product. Where realistic weight and momentum feel so right in the first part of the game in the last part they feel alien, they feel like you’re doing it wrong. When I played these parts, and died, I just kept on thinking to myself “why would you make this game engine do this?”.
While you play all three acts there’s items to collect and secrets to find that explain the time before the shadows (see zombies) and how Randall and others have coped and survived through the ordeal. Many of the items wont be out in the open and you’re going to have to do some poking and prodding to find each and every one.
Even with some serious searching you’ll find your time with Deadlight on the light side. I finished the game and found most of the hidden items in two and a half hours. Now I’m not one to say that longer games are better or that a 60 hour game is better then a 10 hour game if they’re the same price. It’s not about the length of time it’s about the experience. Most of the experience with Deadlight is frustrating and disappointing, especially since the beginning of the game is so fantastic.
The voice work goes from average to abysmal with most of it in the poor range. For the majority of the story Randall is voiced well with only a few slips where the quality takes a noticeable dip. Other characters aren’t so fortunate and it seems almost all of their dialogue is delivered poorly.
The other sounds in the game are well done with boards breaking, machines working, and weapons having the appropriate “oomph” behind them.
The music in Deadlight probably isn’t anything you’ll always remember but it’s also something that wont distract you while playing the game. It’s a nice mix of tempo that frames each segment of the gameplay and it all comes together nicely.
Why it may be helpful for anxiety
- Interesting story
- Good autosave feature wont have you replaying long stretches if you die
Why it might be unhelpful for anxiety
- Dark and creepy atmosphere
- Uneven gameplay will frustrate players rather then engage them
- Some characters exhibit different forms of psychosis
- An overall feeling of destruction and hopelessness during gameplay
- Lots of death
- Come across people who committed suicide
Why you should be on the fence
Tequila Works is on the cusp of something great. Deadlight wasn’t it but they’ve demonstrated that they’re capable of delivering an engaging and interesting story and their art direction is superb.
Kudos for trying to give the player different forms of gameplay but this was a case of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. The first portion of the game was fantastic, if that was done through the entire game you’d be reading a completely different review. Instead we got a sample of just how good Deadlight could have been and then we’re shown worse and worse forms of gameplay as we progress.
There’s a lot to like about Deadlight. The story is unique even if the genre is not, the graphics and art style are incredible, and the first part of the game is a must play for everyone.
There’s also a lot to dislike about Deadlight. While the first part of the game is a “must play” the following parts of the game go from “maybe play” to “do not play”.
The voice work is not good to the point where it actually takes away from the gameplay because it’s so distracting.
Lastly the length of the game is a problem. Two and a half hours just doesn’t cut it, not when that two and a half hours also has a tutorial and cutscenes. The actual time you’re playing the best part of the game is probably somewhere in the 20-30 minute range.
For some the things that Deadlight does right it will be worth a purchase from some people, I think the majority of people out there are best to avoid it for now.
This review was based on the Xbox 360 version that was provided by the publisher.