Deadlight review

  • Striking visuals
  • Fast, entertaining platforming
  • A nice blend of light combat and enviornmental puzzles
  • Boring story and low-quality voice acting
  • Trial-and-error gameplay clashes with loose controls
  • Short, and not entirely satisfying

Greatness is on the tip of Deadlight's tongue. One look at the incredible visuals and memories of Braid and Limbo come rushing back, and we’re reminded of other XBLA releases that found great rewards in sleek, sexy, unorthodox graphics. Tequila Works' title, set in a post-apocalyptic zombie-filled Washington circa 1984, puts players in control the talkative Randall Wayne, an ex-park ranger on a quest to find and rescue his missing his wife and child, who disappeared when shadowy zombies took over their neighborhood. Though Wayne has basic survival skills (as he should, what with his career and all) he’s no fighter, meaning he spends most of his time running and outsmarting his dull-witted opponents instead of going in guns blazing. 

This dark, moody gameplay is paired nicely with equally dark, moody visuals. We were immediately drawn to the way realistic graphics clashed with striking high-contrast lighting. Though everything appeared to be fully modeled and textured, it is all lit in such a way that made objects in the foreground look like 3D silhouettes - creating a beautiful, unique appearance. We sometimes had issues discerning the background from the foreground because of this style, but it was a small price to pay for one of the most beautiful XBLA games in years.

The focus on platforming and exploration - as opposed to shooting and stabbing - is a nice departure from some others in the platforming genre. It makes for tense situations that wouldn't be possible if Wayne had a cannon strapped to his hand. When we'd see an enemy we'd immediately freeze, surveying the level and looking for the best way to escape without drawing attention. Sometimes this meant platforming around the enemies, sometimes it meant attempting to lure them into traps, and other times it meant running and hoping we’d be able to simply put enough room between us and our pursuers.

It’s here, during these entertaining, quick platforming segments, that Deadlight shines its brightest. We’d dash, leap, and then smash into a room, stopping to catch our breath before being met with another, equally exhilarating segment. Sometimes. Other times, we’d find an empty room we need to escape from, which usually proved more difficult than outrunning the undead. The aformentioned issues discerning foreground and background objects would make finding a path difficult at times, and we often felt as though Deadlight relied too heavily on trial-and-error despite not having the tightest controls or smoothest platforming.

We’d leap towards an open window, miss by a long shot, and assume that the answer was somewhere else, only to realize later that we simply didn’t collide perfectly with the spot we needed to. We'd swing an axe at an enemy, miss, and have no idea why our strike simply clipped through the foe as we were tackled to the ground and devoured.

There's a place for trial-and-error platforming (it's what created the genre, after all) and there's a place for unforgiving controls (it can make for more realistic situations), but their place isn't side-by-side. We never knew exactly what we had done differently to succeed instead of fail, and that's always frustrating. And yet, despite being occasionally annoying, the game is never actually all that difficult. We never really felt challenged by Deadlight. Checkpoints were usually plentiful, and we were able to finish the campaign and collect a decent number of collectibles in just over three hours. Though we'd often get stuck, or need to repeat a segment a few times until we found success, it never felt rewarding.

Usually, moving on meant uncovering more story, which isn't actually as rewarding as it sounds. Deadlight's characters and narrative are actually much more well-developed than games like Fez or Limbo. Plot is abundant, from scattered journal pages to flashbacks and near nonstop internal monologue from the main character. Typically we’d welcome such an addition, but the execution is so poor that it ended up taking away more than it added. The dialog is cheesy at best (and downright awful at worst), and the voice acting is distractingly dreadful. Characters are constantly shouting exposition, ham-handedly acting through their needless roles with strange accents and no subtlety. We'd have preferred it if the game had no dialog or story at all, as we’d feel more emotionally invested in the character if we weren’t constantly groaning about his bad acting and uninteresting musings.

Deadlight attempts to do too many things, and falls short in perfecting any of them. It's overwhelming in its ambition, but it’s this lack of focus prevents it from being anything more than an interesting, flawed experience. If the story was compelling and well-developed we’d have been interested in the journey, but it wasn’t. If the gameplay was tighter we would have been able to forgive the uninteresting narrative and dialog. Even with this lack of focus Deadlight is a fun game with wonderful fast platforming segments and magnificent art direction. But in the end the style stands tall, and the substance is but a shadow of what it could have been.

More Info

Release date: Aug 01 2012 - Xbox 360 (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Published by: Microsoft
Developed by: Tequila Works
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language


  • CitizenWolfie - August 4, 2012 3:20 a.m.

    I agree with pretty much everything in this review. I feel like Deadlight had so much potential but wasted it in favour of odd plot twists (such as the sewer/Rat man part) and terrible voice work. It mentions fairly early in the review that it's more about platforming and exploration, but so far I've found the exploration part really linear. I understand that platform games are about getting from A-B but I think for some reason I was expecting either multiple paths or Metroidvania-esque gameplay. But I do love those tense "flee" moments and how there is very little gun play.
  • Tenlo - July 31, 2012 10:24 a.m.

    I'm playing this at the moment and I don't find the voice acting too bad, but then again I assume that seeing as the game is set in the 80's then the hammy acting is a tribute to some of the hammy acting from the 80's movies we had to endure. I will agree the platforming can be frustrating though. I haven't finished this or done the review yet, but so far I don't think it deserves as low a score as you gave it, but reviews are personal opinions at the end of the day
  • adment77 - July 31, 2012 2:50 a.m.

    Considering that Limbo is one of my favourite games, I think I'll be at home here. Length isn't a worry for me, it's the atmosphere and style that makes it worth it.[img][/img]
  • Darkhawk - July 30, 2012 3:29 p.m.

    The voice acting comments sealed it for me. If developers don't have enough respect for the art form to direct the actors well, then they don't get my respect as a gamer. <<cough cough>>David Cage<<cough cough>>
  • MasterBhater - July 30, 2012 2:16 p.m.

    If you continue to judge games based on how long they are, they'll grow stale...that's why every developer adds useless multiplayer to their games nowadays, because nobody cares about quality, just LENGTH.
  • GR HollanderCooper - July 30, 2012 2:18 p.m.

    Short games can be satisfying, but a short, unsatisfying game should be called out for it.
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - July 30, 2012 10:18 a.m.

    I was really looking forward to this game, probably won't be getting it now. I just can't justify spending $15 on a 3 hour game when there are so many cheaper, better games out there.
  • larkan - July 30, 2012 9:20 a.m.

    Thank you for the honest review, I hope people read this and take it to heart before going out and spending $15 on a 3 hour mediocre game. I hate to say it, but I felt the same way about Limbo. Sorry folks, in today's gaming world where we have games with huge amounts of replayability for $15 (Dungeon Defenders, Binding of Isaac, just to name a couple), charging this price for a 3 hour game that has very little replay value is setting a horrible trend for the future.
  • StoneDreadnaught - July 30, 2012 9:55 a.m.

    You're kinda missing the point if you think a game is measured by how many times it can be replayed. Games like Limbo, Deadlight, Flower, Fl0w, Elite Beat Agents, Rhythm Heaven; They all try to do something different. Whether it's with an art style, or a game element, or even a unique character, they're TRYING something that wouldn't dare be 'risked' in a AAA title. That's why I'm all for supporting these more unique titles, even if they are short. And I think you're forgetting one very big name that started out as just a little add-on, essentially, for a game collection; Portal.
  • GR HollanderCooper - July 30, 2012 10:20 a.m.

    There's a big difference between a great three-hour game and a less-than-great three-hour game.
  • rtype21 - July 30, 2012 11:36 a.m.

    Different does not equal good
  • christian-shaffer - July 30, 2012 2:55 p.m.

    I don't believe he ever said it does.

Showing 1-12 of 12 comments

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000