"Hindered by its dated design."
Developer: Tequila Works
Release Date: August 1, 2012
If The Walking Dead had an action adventure game, instead of Tellttale’s narration, it would be Deadlight. This dark 2D platformer in vein of Limbo, shuffles a protagonist towards his goal, scrolling from one side to another. Filled with silhouettes, running, jumping, the undead and a cinematic scope, this release certainly looks the part of a brand new epic. However, its enthralling highpoint only starts drooping more and more as the short game chugs along, to almost inexplicable extent.
There is one thing Deadlight captures perfectly though and that is atmosphere. Drenched in a black foreground, the game mixes a dark contour together with scenic expanses as far as the eye can see that are just stunning. When not scrambling through decrepit constructions, the protagonist will stumble onto wide environments filled with decayed detail of doom. These macabre tableaus also get shot with camera angles that slightly rise to unveil more and more of the terrible scenario going on in the background. This is enhanced even more through lead character’s small stature in in the game, which creates a vibe of helplessness amongst the ever growing void around him. The negative space eats away at lead Randall Wayne and the picturesque sensation gets frequent splashes of detail to truly make it feel livid, for a lack of a better term.
This contrast between dark foreground and more detailed background also gives Deadlight a certain comic book appeal. This style is used to create motion comic cutscenes. Even if not all of it is of equal quality, particularly with rather poor voice actors, it does help reinforce the drawn theme. Still, the noir backdrop has a flaw in that it uses very inconspicuous differences to mark interactive objects, which get lost in the void. It’s near impossible to notice locks or sticks until the pattern is figured out that an exit is probably blocked by such an item in the first place. Still, if there is one thing to be remembered from this game, it’s the terrific atmosphere while reaching the next objective.
In order to get to his goal of getting back in touch with his life, Randall will need to run and jump and probably kill some undead too. In short, this game is (the original) Prince of Persia with zombies, for better or worse. Our guy lunges towards a ledge, grabs on, crouches through spaces and speeds past traps as a building falls behind him. Dexterity is a must and as far as survivalists go, Randall is fairly efficient, except for his inability to swim for framing purposes. Often, he’ll be prompted to interact with the scenery in order to solve simple puzzles in a pinch, but these prompts also include ammo caches, hidden secrets and more.
However, solving any puzzles will often not require as much quick wit as it will need a certain dosage of luck and faith. Deadlight’s major flaw is that it is drowning in trial and error sequences that ask the impossible and that will lead to many deaths. It starts simple enough though: Randall is posed with a pressing issue and gets funneled towards an escape that may require some handiwork. However, as time progresses and more features are added, this will tumble down to more elaborate contraptions with an unforgivable sequence of trials. Now, instead of 2 or 3 tricky moves, the player will need to instantly overcome a series of excruciatingly specific actions or die; no exceptions.
Paint it black.
The worst part about the aforementioned issue is that this is the only thing giving any longevity to an otherwise very short game that breaks down more as it develops. What starts as a unique and captivating struggle for life, devolves in a melodramatic nuisance that is dying to be The Walking Dead. The culmination of this is the inexplicable ending sequence, complete with large anticlimactic ending. Add to that the traditional gameplay annoyances of Prince of Persia with slight motion delays and the tally of total grievances is rather large and that’s a darned unwelcome blemish on this gorgeous title.
It almost seems like the developers are trolling players at some points; that’s how thick the cynicism is layered in some situations. Contemplate for one a room where the only way out is a door that will immediately swarm Randall with zombies and kill him. It takes a madman to overcome this simple obstacle and that’s just one of many examples. The next obstacle might mean certain death or the next one will; it’s a constant gut-punch.
Luckily, there are definitely moments to alleviate the pain in Deadlight. Sporadically, that one fine groove of running and jumping will seem evident and then the gratification of being an expert survivalist has a good payoff. Add to that the ability to take a gun and spray a zombie’s face off or just unload on a horde. Climb on high seated wires to witness the decay below; there are many finer points where the sense of awe is still present. It’s this, the potential within, that make it such a shame that the game stumbles over itself or falls prone to laziness in its design, instead of building upon it or even staying the course. A short while after the credits roll, players can still replay to complete hidden secrets or try a clever, unlocked mini-game or two, but whether that alone is enough bears questioning.
It’s not that Deadlight is a bad game by definition, but rather it offers a glimpse of magnificence and then shoves it away to make room for a frustrating experience with a sad conclusion. Its wowing atmosphere and simple entertainment value are heavily hindered by its dated design choices and that will wear on its appeal for fans of the genre and others alike. Therefore, whether or not Deadlight will be a captivating side-scrolling adventure is pretty much a matter of chance, rather than set in stone, though the odds are not in its favor.