Ahhh Deadlight, you were doing so well. You open up with such great potential, but after your first act literally every choice you make seems to be the wrong one. Combat? Story? Traversal? All go in the wrong direction, and it could have been so different…
I suppose I should explain just a little more. Deadlight is a side scrolling combat platformer in the vein of the relatively recent Shadow Complex, or much less recent games like the classic Prince of Persia and Out of This World. You take the roll of Randall Wayne, a survivor of a Zombie like apocalypse as he attempts to cross Seattle and re-connect with his family. Along the way you have to battle “Shadows” (the games version of Zombies), jump, leap and fall your way through the environment and every now and then help a few of your associates.
Early on, everything goes pretty smoothly; following a brief introductory motion-comic, you’re left by your associates in a warehouse you first goal appears to be to try and make your way back to them. While doing so the game slowly but surely introduces you to all the different elements that will help you on your journey. You are shown the basics of traversal, how to combat Shadows, firstly with an axe and then latterly a pistol or shotgun and also how to deal with the games basic puzzles. The running and jumping is a simple “hold down trigger, press A to jump” affair and in the early stages where you less pressured, works like a charm. Combat starts of sensibly enough when you find an axe that can be used to either shove back the Shadows, or slice them in two. And what puzzles are on show are simple enough, but just enough to keep you invested in the action. So far Act One, so good….then act two happens.
And it’s here in act two where everything starts to go to pot. In the slower stages, the basic act of getting from A to B to is manageable because you are not rushed and the game is allowing you to take your time, and is actually quite an enjoyable experience However, when put under pressure by A, say totally idiosyncratic helicopter constantly shooting at you, it simply doesn’t cope. The controls are designed for a more measured approach where you can think about what you are doing and where you are trying to get to before acting. However as the game goes on you are put in more and more situations where you are trying to get through them way too quickly, or even worse a number of areas where you (unless blessed with incredible foresight) simply have to die to find out where to head next, and too often you’ll find yourself trapped under a collapsing building or impaled on spikes that appeared from no where. There are also a few occasions where your progress is hampered by puzzles that seem to want to hide away from you as much as they can; simple objectives like hitting a “thing” with your slingshot and made ten times more frustrating when the “thing” is almost totally hidden by the design of the world around it.
When you’re first left to your own devices in Seattle, your actively encouraged to avoid confrontation, contact with even one Shadow can leave you low on health and this same logic continues even after gaining you first offensive weapon, the axe. Using it too much wears out your stamina leaving you more susceptible to having a zombie nibbling on your neck, and plenty of situations arise where using the distraction of a whistle to draw them away is a much better option to aid your survival. Avoidance seems to be the key. But just as before, the developers seem to get bored of the slower pace and put you in situations where combat is unavoidable, and the game just isn’t suited to the more combat orientated approach. Often times you’ll find yourself cornered by one shadow, only to break free but be instantly pounced on by another, a chain which can continue until finally die to start again. In some instances, Zombies appear from the background, staggering towards you until you attack, this can be really misleading though as there is no clear definition as to where the background ends and the foregrounds starts. Meaning you’ll easy swing and miss with your axe, then get pounced on time and time again. When the pistol, and latterly a shotgun, is introduced it gives you another method of dispatching the undead, but it’s a process that just feels at odds with the mood and pace of the earlier stages of the game.
The biggest failing of the game though, and it really is huge, is the story. What starts off pleasantly (and clichéd-ly enough) as a simple Man trying to find his family story, soon goes in all manner of misjudged directions and tries to reach levels of storytelling that are beyond even its wildest dreams. What makes it even more dire is the voice acting and oh so hammy script that come along with it. Every now and then a game comes along that transcends the horrible voice acting its given and becomes a cheesy great, Deadlight cant even get this right. It’s just plain bad! (I’m trying really hard here to not give anything away, as if you’ve already stumped up the Microsoft Space Points for this game, you really have to sample it yourself, but trust me you will be blown away by the misguided failure that will unfold in front of your eyes.)
To its credit though, Deadlight is a very attractive and atmospheric game. The world looks grimy and beaten down in a very appealing way, and shows off a surprising number of different locales, its just too bad what your asked to do in these areas is so often so frustrating. Dotted around these areas are a number of bonus items, including diary pages, which give a little bit more meat to the story of Randall and the world he finds himself in. As well as that there are also three hand held LCD style games hidden in the world to find and play, one of the few specific nods to the game being set in the 80’s.
So that’s Deadlight, a tale of hope and then bitter disappointment. You open up with such great potential, but after your first act literally every choice you make seems to be the wrong one. Combat? Story? Traversal? All go in the wrong direction, and it could have been so different…