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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.