While zombie games are a decidedly flooded market these days, one can’t help but recognize that the majority of them are fairly quality in nature.
TellTale’s The Walking Dead, the Left 4 Dead series, and many more have pushed the boundaries of their respective genres, and transcended the typical “post-apocalyptic” tropes that we’ve seen many times before.
Deadlight will no doubt draw comparisons to Limbo, Oddworld, Out of This World, Blackthorne, and any number of bleak, dark, platformers. The only problem is, Deadlight isn’t as good as any of these games.
The developers have stated that the novels Cell, The Road, and Hello America influenced the design of Deadlight, but you really aren’t able to tell, because it basically looks like The Walking Dead, in just about every facet of the game.
From the decidedly Walking Dead comic-book like cutscenes, to a carbon copied key scene, to the visual imagery and the backgrounds themselves, a lot of it aesthetically lends itself to Tony Moore’s style. If you’re a fan of said series, the whole experience should be fairly enjoyable: just don’t expect something wholly original that you’ve never seen before. Even Randall Wayne, in all of his gravelly voiced glory, is encroaching “been there done that” territory.
In addition to the “seen it before” art style, Deadlight basically functions like an amalgamation of many old school platforming adventure games, most notably Out of this World, which features a number of scripted engagements. To be clear, there are many scripted events that you only need to learn once, which helps cheapen the replay value. What basic, primal platforming there is present in the game is truly a mixed bag.
If you’re expecting a Metroidvania type adventure, look elsewhere (by the developer’s own admission), as the game is highly scripted, and incredibly linear, only offering a few “hideaway” sections here and there for secret collectables. That inherently isn’t a bad thing, it’s just something to expect going in.
Either the game will hold your hand in showing you nearly every jump with a small white arrow, abandoning a true sense of desperation, or it will completely rely on random luck. The main culprit of entropic unfun is the jump mechanic. Simply put, the jump system is utterly broken.
There are a number of areas that will be impossible to reach without a pixel perfect jump, and even then, it can be random as to whether or not you can actually make it. I can think of two specific instances in which this happens in the game, and both times, I went back and tried to figure out everything I could before finally going back to the required jump fifteen minutes later.
The game also contains a stamina bar, which exists to attempt to add to the tension of melee combat, and sprinting. Unfortunately, all it really does is make the game less fun. Once you obtain the pistol and shotgun, combat becomes extremely easy. Unfortunately, you have to make due with the axe for approximately the first hour of the game, which is fairly useless most of the time that you’re in possession of it.
To be blunt, you can only get a few swings in before your character tires out, and nine times of out ten, you’d be better of running away than fighting because you get nothing out of direct combat (no XP/collectibles, etc). While “flight over fight” is clearly the intended theme here, it’s done in such a way that makes the experience more frustrating than fun.
While I initially liked the stamina bar, the developers design choices hold back the concept from being truly enjoyable. To be clear, it’s not that Deadlight is too difficult — I was able to complete the game despite the multitude of trial and error sections — it’s just that the juice isn’t quite worth the squeeze.
Deadlight is also a very, very, short game. If you’re expecting an epic story with many twists and turns, curb your expectations to roughly around three hours, with about a half of it consisting of throwaway sections that add nothing unique to the game’s world, or story.
Now, just because a game is short, doesn’t inherently mean it isn’t worth your time or money. VVVVVV for example can be beaten in less than an hour, but is easily worth the price of entry given how dynamic the game is, and how engaging each and every segment can be.
Deadlight, on the other hand, has an entire one third of the game that feels like it could have been utterly discarded. What’s even more jarring is that the third act can also invoke that same feeling of redundancy. In summation, the game starts off with a bang, descends into a wholly uninteresting second act, drags in the third, then presents an on the nose finale.
This second act specifically has to do with a character named “The Rat”, and it completely extinguishes any momentum or fun that is gained at that point in the game. Instead of running from hordes of kickass zombies (like you were just doing for about an hour straight), you’ll be relegated to an underground training ground of sorts.
You know how most people hate the sewer levels in games because they’re largely unfun? There’s a large degree of truth in that bias, and that’s pretty much the case here. You’ll attempt to slowly walk around spikes, traps, and water hazards (yep, Randall can’t swim, seemingly only because the developers didn’t want to program water physics), as you progress further into a very uninteresting subterranean labyrinth.
It could have truly been a terrifying, and interesting experience if The Rat was maniacal, interesting, or deep in any way. I don’t want to spoil that much here, but suffice to say that he doesn’t really add anything interesting to the narrative, and his character is pretty much a “been there done that” experience.
After all is said and done and you experience the predictable twist, you can go back and relocate all of the game’s hidden secrets (and after knowing all of the game’s thrills, chills, and motions, it isn’t very fun), and play three hidden Tiger Electronic-esque mini-games from the main menu. That’s about it, unfortunately, as the game doesn’t really lend itself to any meaningful replay value.
I had high hopes for Deadlight. The first time I ever laid eyes on the game’s screens, I was enthralled. I thought it was a return to the glory days, when Out of This World and Blackthorne reigned supreme.
But when only one third of the game is truly worth playing, it feels more like a tech demo than a fully fledged $15 game.
This review is based on a digital copy of Deadlight for the Xbox Live Arcade.