Deadlight Review: A Picturesque Stroll Through Seattle
Deadlight Takes it Back to the 80s
Deadlight is a side-scrolling survival platformer developed by Tequila Works. It is the first production by this company and it is the third game to be released during this year’s Summer of Arcade on Xbox Live. Deadlight throws you into the life of Randall Wayne; a small town everyman who comes from Canada to the American Northwest in search of his wife and daughter. Along the way Randall finds some of his friends and some of his memories, while attempting to dodge hordes of the undead (known in Deadlight as “Shadows”) in the shadow of Seattle in 1986. Deadlight seems to take cues from various other games in its style and content. The zombie theme is one that, while a bit clichéd, is still near and dear to my heart, so whether or not Tequila Works takes Deadlight beyond my expectations has yet to be determined.
Deadlight is a Free Running Amalgam
The game starts out by very casually slipping your overall objective into a few short words of dialogue before throwing you directly into the tutorial. You then are directed on how to jump, climb, run, use an axe, and then jump again. The game feels similar to Limbo, with the speed and freedom of assassin’s creed. Of course that freedom is confined to two dimensions, but it is done in a way that doesn’t feel restricting making it much more similar to Shadow Complex. You spend a majority of the game free running, scaling buildings, and solving physical puzzles. Shadows are merely an obstacle in your way, more of a hindrance than an antagonist.
Deadlight Stumbles Along Just Fine
Deadlight controls fairly well; the running and jumping are very clean and flow very well, but you will occasionally find yourself getting frustrated over unregistered key strokes. Also, it seemed as though there was no right or wrong way to try and jump through a Shadow, either you jump through them, unscathed, or you get hung up and attacked, which in certain scenarios will lead to your demise. The Shadows also make combat a hit and miss procedure, the game only supplies the axe as a melee weapon, and this is your primary means of combat as the game only supplies two guns, both with limited ammo. The combat feels unfinished; the axe on zombie contact isn’t fine-tuned enough to the point that some swings may go without contact for little to no reason, but the combat is not the focus of Deadlight, and these cases are few. The only true problem I found with this game’s controls was the ladders. The ladders in Deadlight are done in traditional platformer style, where you must press down to mount them; the only problem with this is that there is only one true sweet spot for mounting the ladder. I found myself spending a horrendous amount of time walking over the top of the ladder before the game would finally realize my intentions. Other than the ladders, which can be brushed over with some patching, the game moves gracefully and effortlessly, but that is not necessarily good.
The visuals in Deadlight are stunning; the cityscapes made the game feel massive. I found the side-scrolling to be opened up greatly by the third dimension of landscape. What I mean is that, although the game only allows you to play in two dimensions, you will find that your assailants, the shadows, will come from the background to mess you up. This makes for very intense moments as you make your attempts to progress through the levels. One moment you may be crossing a highway, the next you’re stuck on said highway, slowly realizing that the highway is filled with the stumbling undead, and they’re coming for you. The only downside to this feature is that it is hard to tell whether or not a Shadow is actually in your path or just off to the side, making for awkward moments. The dream sequences that take place are very abstract from the dark dreariness of reality; sometimes they are colorful and inviting, the rest of the time they’re colorful and baffling (cue inception horn). There are no real cutscenes in Deadlight; the story is carried over, from Act to Act, through the use of hand drawn comics which, in my opinion, take away from the grandeur of the post-apocalyptic setting. I would have found it more enjoyable to leave out cutscenes and comics altogether and give the player more time to admire the view.
The main character is a very cold individual. From reading the collectible pages of his diary, to listening to his constant, brooding commentaries and narrative dialogue, it is clear that this man has not reacted well to his current situation. Although, he spends the entirety of the game looking for someone, Randall is always alone in his mind; he spends less time talking and more time feeding his dark thoughts with more dismal accounts of a failed humanity. It feels as though they should’ve gone a little lighter on the Max Payne, beat yourself up, style dialogue and more time allowing the environment to speak for itself. There is more time spent running and listening to dialogue then there is watching the world around you. The overall scope of the game is vast and devastating; the environments take you through urban and suburban landscapes that aren’t given enough time to develop. The leaderboards in the game are driven solely on completion percentage and time, giving the player the desire to simply scavenge and run. For a company’s premiere title, I believe it would have been a wiser choice to allow for a more submerged experience, giving every scene the chance to be taken in, not ran through at breakneck speeds. The game is beautiful and should flaunt it, the only chance you have at that is during the search for collectibles.
Collectibles are scattered throughout the game, there are three types: IDs, Journal pages, and scrapbook pieces. Some collectibles call for you to go outside of your comfort zone to obtain; some of them are hidden in secret rooms. The IDs are picked primarily from bodies found everywhere. The journal pages and scrapbooking supplies are found virtually anywhere, the only visual clue you receive is that the locations glows a pale blue when you are nearby. Collecting these things is not a difficult task; when replaying the game you are given checkpoints with which to load from in each Act. The selection screen gives you a run through of what you missed in each area, making it very simple to find that last ID or that Tyco style handheld game (because yes, they have those). This selection screen also gives you the times for each zone, making it extremely simple to find your problem areas and rerun them, in case you’re like me and love to beat all your friends’ posted times. Ultimately, the collectibles were extremely easy to find, I found the majority of them on my first playthrough and acquired the rest soon thereafter. The handheld games are provided for those who enjoy reliving their hand-me-down childhood. It became blatantly clear that the replayability was stifled by the scene selection, as it made it very simple to 100% the game, achievements and all. I don’t considered myself a true completionist; I will make an attempt to unlocking as much as I can and call it done, but seeing that I was able to completely finish the game, in roughly 10 hours, breeds some contempt in my heart.
Deadlight is a good premier title for Tequila Works; the visuals are stunning, the gameplay is exciting and fast paced, and the story would make M. Night Shyamalan proud. However, the controls could use some patching and the overall experience could have been greatly improved by simply allowing the game some room to breathe and develop. Replayability is existent but is slowly snuffed out by scene selection, causing this game die out just as you’re really starting to enjoy it. The narrative is interesting, but the back story is what really makes it immersive (only found through reading the collectible journal pages), but Just as the excitement in Deadlight begins to grab hold of you, it’s smothered by an ending that leaves you guessing, wanting more, and a bit cold and empty… Also, a bit hungry for flesh.