OXCGN’s Deadlight XBLA Review
Sleep With The Light On
by Chris Fox
© 2012 Chris Fox
But just like any thing that we like, too much of it can get as sickly and unbearable as any thing else.
Zombies in games, movies and any other form of geek media have been done to death (no pun intended), so what fresh meat can DeadLight bring to the table?
Well, it turns out a fair amount.
Join us, won’t you, as we turn back the clock to mid ’80s Seattle to once again face the undead, though not as we’ve known them.
We’re not using the “Z” word
Randall, or Randy to his friends, was never really a people person but was most certainly a loving husband and father to wife Shannon and daughter Lydia. Neither of them are any where to be seen however, as the world has gone all post apocalyptic on Randy’s ass.
It’s up to Mr. Wayne and a handful of other survivors to find said wife and daughter while staying alive and out of the reach of the zombies.
Before we go any further, it should be made clear that the undead are actually known as ‘Shadows’ in Deadlight. And fittingly so.
You will be afraid of the dark.
The action takes place in an old-school side-scrolling fashion as Randy runs (predominantly) to the right side of the screen to get where he needs to go.
Deadlight is particularly reminiscent of all time classics like Flashback and the original Prince of Persia. Randy’s animations when he skids to change direction or jumps up to grab a ledge look almost as if they were torn right out of Prince of Persia, but in an amazing way.
Lover not a Fighter
Most of us aren’t proficient in the use of firearms or even fit enough to be engaged in physical activity for more than a few minutes. Our efforts to fend off or fight the undead would be sloppy, at best.
Deadlight beautifully captures this real-world approach to combat (even if it is a little too frustrating at times). Randy does his best with his axe (or gun on the rare occasions that he finds one) but barely gets out of scrapes in one piece after frantically swinging his weapon around in blind panic.
Deadlight encourages other, more passive means of dealing with these shadows.
The best advice to deal with an undead attacker would be to avoid them and that’s exactly where Randy thrives. Shadows can be lured into one spot so they can be easily jumped over or even led into various traps or pitfalls to minimise unnecessary damage to our hero.
It is here that Tequila Works must be commended for under-powering the player (in a 2D platformer no less) to create real fear and tension. Coupled with nice little puzzles, there is everything a platformer fan could ever want right here.
Livin’ On A Prayer
I really can’t stress enough how much I love Deadlight‘s visual style (think of what we’d get if Shadow Complex and Limbo had a baby).
Tequila Works present to us a dark and truly gritty world. The grey, dreary and despairingly depressing surroundings perfectly reflect Randy’s almost hopeless psyche.
We are never quite sure if a collection of shapes in the darkness is a harmless coat rack or a flesh-eating Shadow. Soon, the player becomes wary of all darkness and begins to empathise with Randy a whole lot more.
Alternate 1980′s Seattle is depicted here with beautiful backgrounds and a truly creepy and unnerving atmosphere.
Speaking of the 1980s, references to that crazed decade can be found everywhere; from the cassette tape loading motif to the achievements being named after unforgettable 80s pop classics.
If, like me, you were born in the 80s, these will resonate immediately. In between playable sections, the story progresses in animated comic panels. These, while looking good, suffer from hit and miss voice acting. This is a great shame, as the narrative would have hit even harder if this was not the case.
Axis of Evil
This ranges from having a group of unaware (yet easily alerted) enemies just behind Randy in the background or seeing locations you have yet to visit in the distance.
Entering a seemingly empty house only to suddenly see one of the ubiquitous Shadows emerge from the kitchen immediately parallel to Randy’s position is equally awesome as it is terrifying.
Tension comes from escaping the Shadows, not fighting them. From leaping up to a ledge in an abandoned apartment as the undead graze your feet to fleeing from gaggle of walking corpses across the city streets, Deadlight has heart pounding fear by the gallon.
Stealth elements are at play here, which is a great thing to see in this type of game. It is so much fun to successfully sneak past a group of enemies whilst dropping a car on another.
The premise is nothing original (a guy takes on the undead to save family), but it is in the execution that Deadlight shows its unique excellence (beautiful, original stealth side scroller).
When we are pulled into flashbacks with Randy, they are in full, vivid colour; a stark contrast to the dreary, hopeless colour palette of Randy’s present.
He remembers the past as a brighter, more colourful place than it actually was.
Deadlight really hits the psychological home run, successfully exploring just what a cataclysmic event like the end of the world would do to our sanity. In this way, it is similar to Walking Dead.
Nothing is perfect, however, and neither is Deadlight. The overall polish in terms of control and in-game bugs is severely lacking at times and did frustrate to the point of annoyance.
Along with this, precision platforming can also be difficult when you can’t see where to jump next. Whilst the game successfully captures the confusion of being attacked by Shadows in the dark, this can, at times, lead to a frustrating gaming experience.
Deadlight is also too short.
The game can be clocked in around four hours and there really is not much in terms or replayability, other than collecting missing pages of Randy’s diary as well as other items.
The majority of the campaign is a joy to play. This can’t be said for The Rat’s Den, however.
There’s a very ‘trial and error’ nature to this area and it certainly made the game feel more generic than it actually is.
The short length and stuttering story are what keep this game from being a true classic. Hopefully we will see these issues addressed in Tequila Works’ next project.
The Grateful Dead
Deadlight should be commended for bravely tackling the genre from another perspective, specifically the two-dimensional one.
For every thing that Tequila Works got wrong, they get five things right.
Yes, the game is too short and contains some very frustrating platforming but the tone, atmosphere and stealthy side scrolling undead action makes it a title not to be missed.
Deadlight proudly continues this tradition.
What do you think? Are PSN and XBLA games more innovative and interesting than their AAA counterparts these days? Let us know your opinion below.
© 2012 Chris Fox
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