In a world full of zombie games, Tequila Works’ Deadlight Director’s Cut follows State of Decay in re-releasing for Xbox One a few years after its original Xbox 360 outing. In such a saturated market, what makes it stand out against the competition, and was it worth the re-release?
Deadlight is essentially a pretty linear side-scrolling platform game, with puzzle and combat elements. You play as Randall Wayne (unfortunately referred to as ‘Mr Wayne’ through the majority of Act II), a Park Ranger in search of his wife and daughter a few months after the effects of ‘Patient Zero’ have destroyed civilisation, with both ‘Shadows’ and ‘The New Law’ trying to kill any survivors. Sound familiar?
Deadlight’s zombie enemies, the Shadows, are essentially the same as you’d find in any other generic undead/infected game; slow moving, unable to climb or jump, but deadly if you make the slightest mistake. And, unfortunately, you will make mistakes. In fact, you’ll make mistake after mistake, and it won’t really be your fault 85% of the time. Deadlight seems to want to emulate the classic ‘rotoscoping’ games like Flashback/Another World and Prince of Persia in its control scheme, and because of this, responsiveness takes a backseat to pretty much anything else. Whilst in those games, you could forgive a little frustration due to their groundbreaking nature, we’ve come a bit too far for that to be acceptable any more. It’s not like Deadlight takes after instant respawn games like Super Meat Boy or Ori & The Blind Forest either; one section where I was dying time-after-time trying to actually get off a ladder rather than just climbing back and forth over it was resulting in 5-6 second loading times. That might not sound like much, but when you’ve died and you don’t feel like it was your fault (over and over and over again), it starts to grate a little.
A lot of the checkpoints begin with Randall’s voiceover, so you’ll get to hear the same lines multiple times in some instances. The sound design in the game is inconsistent; the voice acting is nothing short of terrible, but the music can actually be very good in places, like the great 80’s-rock-style track in the Stadium. You’ll also get to hear the appalling voice-work in the games cut-scenes, which are pseudo-comic-book-style efforts that whilst not terrible, aren’t up to the standards of more recent efforts like Valiant Hearts. Any times I was getting even remotely invested in the gameplay, the poor script and hammy delivery would pull me right back out again.
On the subject of gameplay, it’s a total mix of bad, and not too bad. Again, the controls really ruin the experience; especially for a game that has multiple ‘twitch’ sections where one wrong move results in death. My favourite times with Deadlight were the no-pressure moments where I was free to roam around and enjoy some platforming, feeling a little like a 2D Uncharted at times. The game also gets very close on a number of occasions to recreating that Canabalt-thrill where you’re just sprinting and jumping for dear life; it all gets very rousing until yet again, you get stuck trying to get off a ladder or tackle a Shadow.
Combat is another annoyance, you’ll traverse the world with a few weapons the game gets absolutely right and one in particular that you’ll rely on, but wish you didn’t have to. The guns feel very satisfying (nothing like a shotgun blast to take a few heads off a line of enemies) and have a decent reload mechanic to make you really think about how you’re going to use your bullets before you get stuck into a horde of Shadows. Your trusty axe, on the other hand, is again at the mercy of the controls; you can knock an enemy down, and then finish them off whilst on the floor, but you have to be standing at exactly the right place, and shuffling Randall there is not as easy a task as it should be. Axe swings, like climbing and hanging, take up stamina, which is another interesting addition to a standard platforming formula. Use up too much of your Stamina bar and the screen will start to pulse; use it all up and Randall just might drop off of a telephone wire into danger.
Deadlight presents many puzzles during its three acts, but they are all instantly solvable; you’ve seen these puzzles a million times before in a million other games. During my 5 1/2 hour playthrough, I didn’t get stuck at any point. There are ‘secrets’ to be found during the game also, things ranging from information about the world pre and post devastation, as well as electronic handhelds that allow you to play a Game & Watch style mini-game. One of these secrets, pages from Randall’s diary, again took me out of the world completely. You’re running around Seattle, looking for your family, and all of a sudden Randall will say, ‘Another page of my diary’. Why would his diary be scattered around various structures?
Graphically, there’s a lot going in Deadlight’s favour, and it’s probably its biggest strength. The scope and scale of some of the scenes is impressive, and there are some great uses of zoom in smaller rooms, and silhouettes are displayed brilliantly, especially where the ‘Shadows’ are concerned.