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As the third game in the lineup for Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade, Deadlight looks to join in on the crowded genre that is post-apocalyptic zombie games. Is it the smash everyone hoped it would be, or is it just as lifeless as its enemies?
The most admirable and interesting thing about Deadlight is its art style. Stealing a page from downloadable hit Limbo, it combines heavy shadows in a 2D form with some fantastic depth that really helps flesh out the world around it. Objects in the foreground are blurry and have some weight to them, copying human vision to an impressive extent.
The atmospere of the game steals yet another page from Limbo, relying on the ambient sounds of the world to create its gloomy and depressed mood. It’s airy, it’s creepy, and it does more than its fair share of helping immerse you in the apocalypse.
Unfortunately, the game’s fantastic and beautiful art style don’t manage to save it from itself. After taking a moment to appreciate the aesthetic and feel of the game, you do have to actually play it. And it all falls apart from there.
The game follows the exploits of Randall, an unfortunate man in the 1980’s who’s been caught in the apocalypse and is trying desperately to find his wife and daughter. Not much is known as to how everything went south so quickly, since there is no access to internet, and all sources of communication are down.
From the beginning, Randall comes across as a very typical apocalypse protagonist; he’s gritty, he’s broody, and speaks with a voice not unlike Human Revolution’s Adam Jensen. Overall, what was meant to be a torn character with flaws and fears becomes an annoying one who does nothing but lament about his woes and fails to connect with the player. Bottom line: he’s completely generic and uninteresting, giving me less of a reason to care about him and whether or not he reaches his goal.
The game is a pretty standard 2D platformer; while guiding Randall, you’ll run, jump, wall jump, and climb from ledges and boxes, moving through the environment and using it to your advantage as you avoid enemies and disable dangerous environmental hazards.
And for being a game made up entirely of platforming, it’s sad to find that the platforming is clumsy and poor, feeling very loose and out-of-control of the player. Randall moves like he’s walking underwater (only made worse when he’s actually walking under water), and jumping from ledge to ledge lacks any sort of tight precision that might have made level traversal less of a trial-and-error experience. It’s slow, it’s weak, and it lacks any satisfaction due to the poor nature of its handling.
Zombies make up the bulk of enemies in the game, and they’re the completely ordinary moaning, shuffling, George Romero-esque zombies we’ve seen before. They’re slow and respond to your presence, especially sound, which becomes a useful tool for evading them. It should be noted that this is not a zombie-killing fest. Randall will equip melee and ranged weapons, but evasion and use of the environment are a much better means of escape and survival, as the undead can easily overwhelm you once you are caught.
Controls in the game aren’t intuitive to say the least. Normal movement and functions such as shooting, aiming, or crouching are assigned to buttons that don’t make a lot of sense, and you’ll be forced to use the analog stick instead of given the option for using the d-pad for general movement. While this might seem like a petty issue to take with the game, I suffered more than my fair share of deaths due to poor movement control and lack of precision that came from using the analog stick. Alternate control options would have been an easy and welcome remedy to this.
But probably the absolute worst part of the game is its visibility. Why? Because it has none. The game attempts to immerse you in the gameworld by giving you a large panoramic view of the world, but in doing so completely oversees the fact that, while you can definitely see all around you, it’s often impossible to see yourself. You blend in as a silhouette in the middle ground of the screen with everything else around you. Thus, traversal becomes incredibly difficult when you can’t see where you’re going or what you need to do to get past an obstacle. There were many times I needed to crouch underneath a gate to move forward, but ended up chopping at a chain link fence with an axe to break it until I realized what I needed to do to get through. The result? A lot of the “puzzles” became little more than guessing games, making it tedious and annoying in contrast to Limbo’s intuitive and inspired solutions.
One of the redeeming qualities of the game, however, is its many collectibles. As you move throughout levels, you’ll be prompted to interact with the environment, often finding clues and little things that give a glimpse as to what happened to the world, and what’s going on now. Things like graffiti, pamphlets, and items all help stitch the lackluster story together, adding some much-needed depth and insight into the game’s universe.
And achievement hunters will have a heyday with Deadlight, especially in the beginning of the game. I had achievements popping like a bag of Orville Redenbacher’s in the microwave for doing things I didn’t realize I could get rewarded for.
Overall, Deadlight is a game with fantastic atmosphere and aesthetic. It sets up the mood of the story very well with its use of ambient noise and a unique art style conveying great depth of field and space. But the game isn’t able to hide poor mechanics, a weak story, lack of visibility, annoying main character, and awful platforming behind its aesthetics, making it one of the poorest platforming games I’ve ever played. The original idea of the game was without a doubt interesting and unique, but the actual game itself is little more than dead on arrival.