Deadlight Review

October 6, 2012

/ by Tin Salamunic

Developer(s): Tequila Works
Publisher(s): Microsoft Studios
Platform(s): Xbox Live Arcade, PC (Steam)
Release Date: August 1, 2012

Just when you think the Zombie genre has reached its creativity plateau, a game like Deadlight comes along and breathes new life unto the undead.  This atmospheric although short-lived sidescroller perfectly captures the sense of dread and desperation as you fight your way through waves of Zombies and platformer puzzles.  Oh, excuse me, it’s “shadows” that we’re calling the undead this time around; Zombies must be a different strain of the virus.  What’s with all the alternate name-calling?
  • Eerie and atmospheric
  • A unique approach to the genre
  • Moments of brilliance
  • Too Short
  • Very repetitive gameplay
  • Puzzles are too easy and levels are too linear
Our story takes place in 1980’s Seattle.  Society is decimated after a virus breakout reanimates the dead, and our protagonist, Randall Wayne, gets separated from a group of survivors in his search for his family.  Deadlight is a platformer that feels like a mix between Prince of Persia and Limbo. Deadlight thrives on atmosphere, and the game’s visuals are nothing short of amazing.  The dark, silhouetted foreground frames the immaculately detailed backgrounds that range from disheveled cityscapes and rooftops to fallen neighborhoods and sewers.  The camera zooms in and out as you enter tight vents and small rooms, and the overall color palette is as muted as the silence that haunts your every step. 

Randall is nothing but a silhouette and the weight of his movement hints at his state of mental distress and physical exhaustion.  The only time you see the details of his features is during illustrated stills that tie the levels together.  These are stylistically similar to the first Infamous game, and while the loose drawings carry a nice raw aesthetic, they feel stiff and unimaginative compared to the rest of the game.

The eerie graphics are accompanied by engrossing sound effects.  Echoing drops of water provide a melodic tempo as your feet hit the ground and each city block welcomes you with flesh eating roars of the undead.  But dull voice acting continually interrupts the immersion.  Randall sounds like Max Payne doing an impersonation of Christian Bale as Batman.  His raspy voice sounds constipated instead of like someone running for his life.  It’s not that the voice acting is necessarily bad; it just sounds forced and unnatural.

Playing though Deadlight feels like reading a fantastic novel that had several pages ripped out.  Moments of excellence tease at so many innovative possibilities, but the game never steps beyond its basics.  The levels are linear and you’re hopping over dumpsters, climbing electrical poles, and jumping rooftops for the majority of the game.  Meanwhile, slow moving Zombies will try to go for a bite, but they’re fairly easy to avoid considering that there’s almost always an immediate escape route.  Your best bet is to lure them into traps by yelling.  You can clear an entire path by leading them into a corner of a level with your voice.  It’s a nice tactic, but it quickly looses its effectiveness once guns are introduced.  Bullets are sparse, but you don’t need too many to cap anyone in your path. Aiming is done with the right analog stick and a shot to the head is enough to avoid confrontation.

Halfway though the game you meet a crazy old geezer who goes by the name Rat.  He was living in the sewers long before the world collapsed and booby-trapped the entire underground.  While the puzzle platforming becomes a bit more interesting during these stages, it requires no intelligence to progress.  Not only is it obvious where you need to go and what you need to do, Randall also coughs up clues as he faces each obvious obstruction.  By this time you’re equipped with a slingshot that can trigger certain mechanisms, but a big, fat, red painted X makes it pretty clear where you need to shoot.  Despite the lack of challenge, the platforming is still very enjoyable if you’re looking for a quick distraction.  Even though Randall moves like a retired Prince of Persia, the controls are solid and the animations praiseworthy.

Like every tale of Zombies and the end of days, the undead aren’t the only problem.  As usual, you have your everyday crazies that’ll exploit a tragedy to relish their self-indulgent appetites for chaos.  “The New Law” is a reckless militia that fends for itself by any means necessary.  Of course, these nut jobs pose a greater threat than the flesh eating Zombies and the narrative quickly takes a turn for the obvious.  While I don’t expect the same depth or finesse that Robert Kirkman gave us with The Walking Dead, it’d be nice to see something that leans away from the norm.

As an adventure that only lasts about three hours and never expands upon its potential, Deadlight is worth playing only if you’re a die-hard fan of the genre.  The platforming is fun, albeit simplistic, and the visuals are the game’s strongest quality.  But the lack of challenge and repetitive gameplay will leave you with a feeling that the developers lost direction and focus once they explored their fundamental ideas. 

Final Score “When Innovation Misses the Mark” 7.5
Beautiful environments and superb animations. Deadlight oozes with atmosphere and detail, although the overall level designs feel simplistic and linear.
Deadlight plays it too safe throughout. The gameplay, while solid, is extremely repetitive and simple. The puzzles are a joke and there is no sense of challenge.
The game is three hours long. By the end, you'll feel like you've played a really long tutorial for a really great game…that never happened. Deadlight has so much potential, but it misses the mark in key areas to be called a success. There are collectibles along the way, but they're all laid out in front of you and require zero exploration.
Sound effects compliment the eerie visuals beautifully, but the voice acting is borderline bad. Randall sounds ok, but he needs to shut up about the already obvious clues when you're facing puzzles.

Review by Tin Salamunic

Tin Salamunic is the founder of The Game Scouts. He is a Video Game Journalist during the day and illustrator by night. He's been obsessed with video games since the early NES days, collecting every major system and game on the market. Video games are the reason he pursued the illustration career and he hopes to be creative director for a video game company one day. All Artciles by Tin. 

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