The Summer of Arcade shuffles into week three with the zombie-infested streets of Seattle in Deadlight. Perhaps the most critically acclaimed games that have ever come out of this annual promotion are 2D platforming puzzlers from independent developers. Is Deadlight the next great game in a lineage that has given us the likes of Braid, Shadow Complex, and Limbo?
Well, the game certainly has the aesthetics and production values down pat. Sitting somewhere between the visual-styles of Shadow Complex and Limbo, Deadlight features a high-contrast backlighting that heavily silhouettes everything in the foreground. This includes the hero of the game, Randall Wayne and the zombies he so matter-of-factly refers to as Shadows. Itís a very appealing game to look at and it animates well (other than the odd lack of transition when jumping to climb ladders in the background). The story, told through in-game dialogue as well as graphic novel-style panels is done well enough, but ultimately treads on all the tropes that accompany zombie games. While somewhat disappointing, the run-of-the-mill story still provided enough of a hook to draw me in and set the stage for what appeared to be a wonderful experience.
To help create a survival horror atmosphere, the undead in Deadlight vastly outnumber you. While you acquire weapons in the game (a revolver, shotgun, slingshot, and an axe), ammo is limited and Randall gets fatigued quickly. Couple that with the hit or miss accuracy of the axe and a horde of zombies can overwhelm you almost instantly. I canít tell if the poor hit detection of the melee combat is intentional or not, but it certainly emphasizes the game wanting you to outsmart and avoid the undead when at all possible. This is where the core of the game, puzzle-platforming, comes into place and I was ready to get some serious brain muscles working. You quickly learn about throwing switches to extend platforms and how pushing crates can allow you to jump on top of them to then climb higher. Okay, well, youíve already learned those mechanics in about every game of this type in existenceÖ and sadly, the game never progresses much past this level of mindbenders.
The game never challenged me mentally and thatís a major setback for a game that is based around puzzles. Whatís more frustrating is that there are a handful of good ideas in here that arenít really explored much. For instance, you can whistle to lure zombies towards you and walk into traps in the levels such as electrified puddles. I maybe used that tactic four or five times throughout the entire game and it never built upon the mechanic. Thatís what youíd expect in a game of this ilk. You learn the basics, then the game challenges you by layering them together. That progression never materializes in Deadlight and it leaves the game as a pedestrian walk through a zombie apocalypse. Heck, icons even point out which surfaces you need to jump to or smash through. Itís infuriatingly hand-holding.
Thatís not to say I didnít die. I died quite frequently. The majority of my deaths in the three hours it took to complete the game were of the unavoidable variety, though. Things like not realizing there was a bottomless pit in between two platforms that looked like one continuous platform or a buildingís roof suddenly collapsing on my head without any sort of hint that it was going to happen. If those things happen once though, you simply restart from that checkpoint and now know to jump or to run. There wasnít but once in the entire game where I had to pause for a few seconds to boggle my way through a level layout. Thatís including getting around 90% of the secret collectibles (health extenders, diary entries, etc.) too. Another good percentage of my deaths came from the rigid jumping mechanics that the game uses. Itís difficult to nail precise leaps and there was at least one area in the game where I knew what I was supposed to do, but still took several attempts to get the exact point of takeoff correct.
Iím just not sure what type of player is going to be thrilled by Deadlight. Itís a decent enough game to play due to the visuals and atmosphere, but it seems lost in what type of game it wants to be. Itís Shadow Complex without the power-ups or open-world-y exploration and itís Limbo without the clever puzzles or intentionally vague theme. As much as I loathe comparing it directly to those two games, that is instantly where my mind wanders. The two to three hours that Deadlight lasts never comes close to capitalizing on the potential of the aesthetic and the premise.
Outstanding | Very Good | Fair | Poor | Awful
Recommended Buy Price: $7.00
Current MSRP: $15.00
Deadlight was provided for review by Microsoft. I completed the campaign in three hours accumulating 24 out of 30 Achievements for 285 GamerScore.