The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 12
At first glance, Deadlight appears to be another solid entry in the reemerging 2D market. It's dark visuals, 2.5D presentation and environmental puzzle solving echo fellow Summer of Arcade titles Limbo and Shadow Complex. Unfortunately, any comparisons to that pair of excellent games ends on the surface. The experience of playing Deadlight, once you dig down under that impressive exterior, creates a feeling of frustration I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
The first taste players get of Deadlight is a foundation laying cutscene. It is, however, poorly constructed at best. Gorgeous illustrations are quickly paired with stiff voice acting. Deliveries are noticeably wooden and lack proper urgency. What should be a raucous blend of several emotions, and an impressive starting point, is instead conveyed in an eerily even tone that teeters on the edge of being just as unsettling as the undead themselves. There's little reprieve from the sub par voice work once gameplay begins since the main character Randall rambles on about the world around him at every turn. I personally found some relief in turning off the voice-overs and playing with only subtitles; though that solution is just as flawed considering the many small bits of exposition pop up in over-sized text boxes at the bottom of the screen, regularly obscuring the path that players are expected to traverse at the most inopportune of moments. The most enjoyable tidbits of story are locked away in Randall's journal, which provides some interesting insight into the years leading up to where the game picks up. It's a shame though, that some of the best the game has to offer are tucked away in a place most players will never see.
The story itself is a passable, if slightly generic, take on the genre, though most players will find it difficult to keep track of what's going on between fits of laughter at the character portrayals and tussles with the swear inducing level design. The potential for a change of pace by way of Randall's Dream and Nightmare sequences is squandered away as the levels present nothing more than a simple jog from one point to another accompanied by short bits of story as bookends.
While never reaching the heights of a Super Meat Boy, Deadlight often asks players to coax an unreasonable level of precision from controls that appear to be purposefully lacking it. Whatever praise can be leveled on the design for taking a more realistic approach to physics is quickly rendered moot as that same element forces levels of accuracy that seem, at times, absurd. In many cases Deadlight's puzzles begin to feel like a fighting game, but one being played with a broken joystick. Knowing exactly when to trigger a movement is key and stringing together several in perfect succession is often required to get through an area. Many times though, Randall's weight has him taking an extra step when a quick stop was needed, or a jump just ever so slightly too early falls woefully short. Later stages of the game drastically reduce the room for error, transforming the lower jumps and weighty input into obstacles just as formidable as any of the game's undead Shadows. Long animations for things like climbing over fences and pulling out firearms mean that, in some cases, getting through a situation feels more like luck than any kind of skill.
Layer that over level design that is overtly hostile to players and the result is a game that's more punishment than entertainment. Safe paths are often obscured by the busy environments and nasty surprises heaped onto players before they have a chance to react. Appearing to have figured out the solution to an area, only to go sprinting of a hidden ledge is common. Combat shares the same unpredictability and often frustrating curve balls.
Fighting the Shadows in large numbers isn't an option, something the game makes abundantly clear early on. Despite this there are several areas in the game where undead are thrown at players who have almost no way to deal with enemies in a group as well as several more where an unexpected number of shadows suddenly appear. Attempting to charge through a crowd will only send the scruffy protagonist sprawling to the ground, struggling to get free of the Shadow he just slammed into while the rest beat him to a pulp. In most cases the only option is to swing away and hope luck has the walking corpses fall over long enough to sprint past. Even that isn't a satisfactory solution though as each swing rapidly drains stamina, a combo doesn't always knock the Shadows down, and the shambling abominations often seem to instantly grab Randall when he draws within melee range, resulting in a quick death as the rest of the crowd joins in. It's hard to imagine that a group of Shadows could be so dangerous when not five minutes earlier they blindly jumped to their death from a window after being lured to it by a simple whistle.
What truly turns Deadlight into a punishing experience though is the number of one off instances in the level design. Like similar 2D experiences the game builds on a handful of core ideas and then modifies them. However, unlike most similar games Deadlight also throws players into the teeth of situations that they have never seen before and will never see again. The result is many solutions which require players to literally toss themselves at an obstacle over and over again to figure out how to advance. Getting through some of those situations without realized just how it was accomplished happened far too often. Thanks to the unpredictable puzzle designs, even knowing how the common elements work does little to help suss out a way around the rest.
Getting past a tough spot also doesn't mean victory. As the game transitioned into a prolonged chase scene it became all too common to see Randall, who had just slammed through several doors and jumped off a roof seconds earlier, trip and fall over a completely unavoidable stack of empty paint cans or cardboard boxes before getting torn to shreds by an encroaching stream of bullets. It's these little touches that make the game seem unfair and hostile towards the people playing it. This feeling persists as the player is tasked with babysitting a young woman while fleeing from a hostile military installation. Few videogames do escort missions well, but Deadlight is particularly brutal in its execution; choosing to combine what amounts to a standard platforming timed section with that already notoriously hard to perfect mechanic. One bullet from any of the trigger happy ex-soldiers is enough to ruin everything in the blink of an eye. Constant pursuit, the same need for platforming precision, instant failure if either character dies and the fact that poor Stela can't even manage to pull herself over a ledge doesn't exactly do much to create an enjoyable experience.
Unfortunately, Deadlight's gorgeous visual presentation can't overcome dialogue delivery that is more likely to elicit laughter or stir up a strong desire to mute the characters involved than it is to produce an emotional response. The story is passable, drawing heavily from other popular post-apocalyptic zombie series, but most players will be seeing too much red from beating their heads against the many vaguely puzzle shaped walls to care much about Randall Wayne's journey to find his wife and daughter. More interesting story exposition can be found in the hidden pages of Randall's journal, but the fact that these can be missed is a detriment to the experience as a whole. The VI of the Shadows is simultaneously idiotic and deadly causing the combat difficulty to fluctuate wildly. There are times when the game hits its stride, but they're always abruptly interrupted without notice. There aren't enough gadgets with unique uses in Deadlight to give the game a Metroid-like feel and tertiary elements prevent the same engrossment in the narrative and visuals as Limbo before it. The result is that Deadlight shapes up to be something less than your average side-scrolling adventure and far short of what it could have been.
What The Grade Means: For me, a "D" means that the game falls slightly short of what would be expected of games in its genre. In most cases there may be a slightly greater number of aspects that are implemented poorly than those that are implemented well, or a few areas in which it substantially under-performs. A "D" always denotes a playable game, but most people won't find a way to get through it without a considerable number of bumps along the way. Some gamers will find plenty of enjoyment, but most won't feel the need to stick around until the end.
I completely agree with your review. I found this game to be trial and error based on game mechanics. Many times it is difficult to see what is suppose to be a platform, and what isn't supposed to be a platform. I have found myself stuck in an area because I didn't realize the thing in the background was actually something I could grab onto.
The zombies also being able to walk in from the background allowed them to flank you, whereas you cannot do anything to them. If you are already dealing with zombies, it because very difficult to get out of the way of the ones in the background. Using the axe seems to be so random it isn't funny. Random one hit kills, to complete misses of zombies in front of you, to randomly not killing an already downed zombie.
Lastly, it is pathetic that unless you have an axe, you cannot push a zombie down. Whenever you tackle a zombie, it turns out bad for you. I should be able to push down a zombie. I should be able to punch a zombie.
The game is also painfully short, and the puzzles are fairly easy. Overall, I would give it a 6.5 out of 10, merely for the fact when it does fire on all cylinders, it is actually a good game.
Definitely a letdown of a game.
This is such a shame to hear. I really enjoyed the demo and was looking forward to playing the entire game. The visuals are amazing and I don't mind the comic book style cutscenes. Even his monotone voice-overs were fine with me. It matched the words in his journal about being so detached and without feeling. This is the second write up i've seen that talks about the lack of playability and poor story. Such a shame as it looked like so much fun. Great article and thanks for the info.
I feel pretty much the same way about this game. It only took me a hair over two hours to beat it, and in that short time I kept running into issues that made me wonder if anyone playtested it. I remember one time at the start of a level I went left instead of right and fell through the map into a bottomless pit. I also kept seeing messages saying the game couldn't save to my profile, even though it did. And there were a couple times I would just die in midair for no apparent reason.
I felt no connection with the story, either. Even though it's a fairly standard zombie apocalypse scenario, the fact it was so short didn't leave much time for characterization. And I can't think of any reason at all why it was set in the '80s instead of present day. They didn't do anything with the setting beside the handheld minigames you can collect. The ending was pretty good, but the buildup to it didn't hit too many of the right notes for it to be as powerful as it should have been.
On the bright side I liked the sketch style of the cutscenes. Much better than the Erin Esurance garbage most games are using now. Randall looks alot like the Hobo with a Shotgun, too, so that's cool.