Video Game Review: Deadlight
Stylistically, Deadlight has few peers in the downloadable marketplace.
All it took was one look at this year’s Summer of Arcade trailer for me to know that Tequila Works’ Deadlight was the game I had to play. Its presentation and gameplay screamed LIMBO meets Shadow Complex, which just happen to be two of my all-time favourite Xbox Live Arcade games. Now, the question was: could it measure up to those titles?
When everything is flowing smoothly, Deadlight is a joy to play. Jumping feels precise, and when you’re springing from objects, transitioning into rolls and sprinting to the next leap of faith it has a borderline parkour feel to it. Melee combat is decent and features a stamina meter to prevent you from flailing away wildly without consequence. The shooting mechanic is also solid as you aim with the right analog stick, fire with the right trigger and reload (bullet by bullet) with the left bumper.
Despite a strong core, the controls do have some shortcomings. Most notable is how finicky interacting with the environment can be. Blue gears appear on screen when you can manipulate an object, whether that’s a hidden item to be found, a board to be dislodged or a bookcase to overturn. When given time it’s a non-issue, but when you enter a room and need to turn around to close or blockade a door and prevent a pack of enemies from entering, it’s far too imprecise.
Several times during the campaign I found myself frantically inching back and forth trying to find the miniscule sweet spot where the gears would appear. Sometimes I’d get it in the nick of time. Other times enemies would reach me first and send me cursing back to the checkpoint. I’m all for Deadlight creating a sense of panic… just not that way.
What makes Deadlight immediately stand out is its unique brown-gray world, with some stunning backgrounds of the rotting remains of what was once the Emerald City. The mix of light and shadow is used to near perfection — to which the red eyes of the undead offer a stark contrast. Your character’s silhouette moves smoothly and moments like the ones where he sprints through a boarded up door, causing the camera to zoom in quickly on an interior scene give the game a dynamic feel.
As stylistic as the visuals are, however, there are times the blending of background and foreground don’t make it immediately obvious where you can and can’t go. You’ll think you’re about to spring over a rail only to run right “through it” (technically, you’re in “front” of it) and fall to your death. Plus, the game’s second act, much of which takes place in an underground labyrinth of sorts, is nowhere near as visually interesting as what’s going on in Seattle — and if you’re anything like me you’ll spend that entire section anxiously waiting to get back above ground.
Most of the voice acting is serviceable, though there were times when Randall Wayne’s narration reminded me a little too much of Ralphie in A Christmas Story. The bigger issue with the audio is that the mixing is uneven, and there are times when in-game elements (such as radios) and dialogue can scarcely be heard. On the plus side, the game’s melancholy soundtrack does a fantastic job throughout.
Give Deadlight some credit for going with a unique setting as the story unfolds against the backdrop of Seattle in 1986. Outside of that, though, you’ve been here before. You play as Randall Wayne, a survivor who is (you guessed it) looking for his wife and daughter amid a world that has mysteriously succumbed to an infection, a la 28 Days Later. Also, as with many post-apocalyptic tales, there is a hope-inspiring “safe zone” just waiting to be reached that promises a reprieve from your waking nightmare. Throw in a rogue military faction and you’ve got an imposing collection of doomsday clichés.
If you’re concerned the “been there, done that” story will derail the game’s momentum, don’t be. Even with the undead in the villainous starring role (referred to as “shadows” this time) the gameplay proves to be an excellent blending of platforming, desperate combat and RUN!
To be clear, Wayne is not a one-man army. Yes, he’ll pick up an axe, a revolver and even a shotgun along the way, but he’s also frail. You begin with just three bars of health and an accompanying stamina meter, which drains when you exert yourself by doing things like sprinting, hanging from ledges and swinging your axe. And although both gauges can be upgraded by locating hidden objects you never, ever feel powerful.
That dynamic means you really have to pick your battles in Deadlight. The gamer in me wanted to stand safely on top of a bus and decapitate shadows (always aim for the head), but ammo is fairly scarce and you never know when you’ll get hemmed in by the undead — and when dealing with more than two or three at once your only options are run or shoot, your axe won’t cut it.
There are also a number of moments when flight is your only choice… whether evading an impossibly large swarm of shadows or dodging gunfire from a helicopter, all you can do is put your head down and run. When shadows do grab hold of you, mashing the “B” button will dislodge them temporarily. This is a desperation tactic, however, and if the group is too big they’ll eventually overwhelm you.
Each of the game’s three acts is broken up into short sections with hidden objects, diary pages and even handheld video games to locate. Any section can be replayed at your leisure once you’ve finished the game, allowing you to back and hunt for whatever collectables you missed in your first playthrough.
Even with that, Deadlight is a short game. It may take 4-to-5 hours your first time around, but even now the top times on the leaderboard are closer to an hour. To be fair, that’s a bit misleading because the game only records time when going from one checkpoint to another successfully — in other words, even if you die 25 times between checkpoints it just notes how long it took the time you survived. Still, with no additional difficulty settings your only incentives to return are finding 100 per cent of the objects and improving your times to climb the leaderboard.
I wanted Deadlight to be great; I had to settle for it being very good. Well paced and engaging, Deadlight is another strong entry in Xbox Live Arcade’s signature Summer of Arcade series.