Adventure platforming returns in Deadlight.
PROS: Great visuals, gameplay, level design.
CONS: You’ve seen this story dozens of times now.
MAKE IT HARDER ON YOURSELF: Try to beat it without shooting any zombies.
As a gamer during the holiday season sometimes friends, and family may scrape enough together to get you a game or two. One of the more interesting games I received for Christmas 2013 was Deadlight. Released at the tail end of 2012, Deadlight is a survival horror themed game that shares an awful lot more in common with games like Another World (Out of this world), Flashback, and the original Prince Of Persia than it does those like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Eternal Darkness.
It’s almost jarring because the visuals in this game go out of their way to use the Unreal Engine to evoke that sense of dread seen in the last 15 years of survival horror. The storyline follows that of a gristly aging man named Randall Wayne who is searching for his family in the zombie apocalypse. It’s not the most original story in games or films especially in this current trend of zombie themed stories over the past several years. But to its credit, Deadlight does try to put its own spin on it toward the end. Throughout the campaign you guide Randall through Washington suburbs, cityscapes, underground caverns and more as he tries desperately to find his loved ones.
The game is displayed, and played in a 2.5D perspective. As I said near the beginning of the review, Deadlight takes its inspiration from early 90’s platform adventures built around trial, and error puzzles. The most notable of which is Another World. So much so that when you beat the game, you can find Eric Chahi’s name in the special thanks section of the credits along with Jordan Mechner’s. These were the creators of Another World, and Prince Of Persia respectively. Like those games, Deadlight’s gameplay puts you into situations where you have to think about carefully timed jumps, plotted out uses of items, or causing distractions to solve puzzles. Most enemies have to be outwitted rather than dispatched save for a couple of epic sprinting sections that will bring back memories of escaping Combine forces near the beginning of Half-Life 2.
Miss a jump, and you may fall onto spikes. Time a roll wrong, and you may find yourself electrocuted. Fail to solve a puzzle in time, and someone you care about may die causing a game over. There are also a lot of secret items, like diary pages, and scrapbook pieces you can collect to fill in some of the back story if you’re so inclined.
If it sounds like I’m calling Deadlight too derivative, don’t take that the wrong way. It does indeed borrow a lot of elements from its inspiration, but by no means does this make it a bad game. In fact, it does a pretty great job in its attempts to recreate that style of gameplay that has been relatively absent since the days of the Amiga, Super NES, and Genesis. It’s clear that the folks at Tequila Works loved those games, and were really committed to making a great send up of that gameplay.
Deadlight does make a few missteps along the way though. First of all, the PC version of the game has a very paltry configuration menu. If you play this game on a computer you will find one sole, slider devoted to quality. That’s it. Moving it left turns some of the effects off, while moving it right will turn some back on. You can’t turn on or off individual settings at all whatsoever. So those who really like to tweak games will be disappointed. Keyboard commands are there, but it’s clear that the game was meant to be played on the Xbox 360 pad. From the Microsoft game studios logo in the credits, to the 360 button prompts, to the references to Xbox Live, you will really want to play this on a 360 pad if you have one.
Deadlight tells its story mostly through cinema screens that are animated in only one or two spots. I know this is a growing trend in middle budget, and independent games. But in the case of Deadlight it really misses an opportunity to try to ape its inspiration. One of the reasons Another World was so great was because of how it could tell its story so well without a single line of dialogue. It used it’s environments, and players’ reactions to them to tell the story. Deadlight has some great environments, and to be fair most of its voice acting is pretty decent. But it doesn’t use them to their full potential. It would have been nice to see more of the cinema screens replaced by the in-game sequences the game already uses to further back story in some sections.
Also I would have liked to have gotten to know the motivations behind the true villains revealed to the audience during gameplay. We are told that they are behind the zombies, and they have ulterior motives. But the game doesn’t really explore that back story very well. It does give us some insight into the past of the protagonist though, and so it does wrap up that narrative, even if it is a little abrupt in doing so.
In the gameplay department, it isn’t always obvious which ledges can be navigated or what objects can be moved. But those are indeed nitpicks. After a few times of dying trying to solve puzzles you’ll have that idea bulb go off, and make your way out. Finally, the game isn’t very long. Advanced players can make their way through the game in about three hours. The average player will probably complete it in about five. The game is a budget priced title, so this isn’t as bad as a AAA $60 title clocking in at far too low a running time. But at $15 some players may decide to wait for a discount.
Overall however, I really enjoyed my time with Deadlight. It isn’t going to be the most original title you’ll play. It’s story, and gameplay have been done elsewhere. But it is also a very well crafted game you can tell developers really poured a lot of effort into. The mechanics work great. The play control works great. The puzzles are put together very well. It’s just a really fun game to play through, and figure out. For anyone who wishes there were more Another World, Flashback, Prince Of Persia, or early Oddworld games to play, check it out.
Final Score: 8 out of 10.