Deadlight is and may remain my biggest disappointment of the year. That’s a pretty heavy statement, so hear me out.
I grew up as a kid in the 80′s loving two things above all else: video games and horror movies. As such, I developed a fondness for cheesy zombie flicks and side-scrolling platformers like Mario and Contra. How excited was I when I heard about Deadlight: a sidescrolling, platforming, zombie game with survival horror and puzzle elements thrown in? Sign me up!
I didn’t even flinch at the 1200 Microsoft points. “Shut up and take my money,” I yelled at the monitor while watching the trailer, “This is gonna be AWESOME!”
And for the first few minutes, it was. It was a bit more slow-paced than I had anticipated (think the original Prince of Persia, just with a revolver) but it was still pretty cool. The sound and the graphics are both well above par for an XBL game and it seemed that while the story was heading in a cheesy, more or less cliched direction, show me a modern day zombie story that doesn’t.
The game features Randall Wayne, a forest ranger from British Columbia who is trying to find his wife and child in a world that is plagued with zombies. If you’ve played any one of hundreds of other games like this one, you already know the story, so I won’t spend anymore time describing it. I was so giddy that I was finally playing my dream, zombie-sidescroller, that I hardly paid attention to the opening cinematic (which is highly uncharacteristic). I was overwhelmed with excitement.
And then I died for the first time and found out that Randall, the forest ranger/survivalist, can’t swim.
Not only can Randall not swim, but the moment he touches water deeper than his head, he instantly drowns. From that point on, everything about the game just started sinking along with him. It was just little annoyances at first, but these stacked up and culminated into a game that I likely would not have bothered finishing had I not been reviewing it. That’s saying at lot considering it only takes between two and four hours to wrap.
Randall maybe be the most annoying character I’ve ever had to play as or listen to as he spewed pseudo-philosophical bullshit regarding the post apocalyptic world he currently finds himself in. I did a web-search for some of his quotes and stumbled upon another reviewer who had a similar issue with our gruff sounding hero. Some of his gems include: “The survivors of a war are always the ones who tell the stories of the battles,” and “Darkness doesn’t exist. What we call darkness is the light that we can’t see.”
Deep, Randall… real deep.
Another issue with Randall isn’t so much how he controls, which I think is fine. The problem is that if you’re not in the exact spot you need to be when you jump, you’re going to miss your target. Not only are you going to miss, but you’re going to miss in a way that makes it look like what you’re trying to do is completely impossible. Please bare in mind that this is a platformer and this annoyance is a major weakness. It took me two hours and 29 minutes to beat the game but it would have only taken me two hours flat if it weren’t for one part.
There was a jump I attempted to make four or five times and each time, I would fall to my death. As far as I could tell, I had to push a crate to the left, climb it, jump towards a raised bridge and pull myself up. When I tried, I wasn’t just missing the ledge by inches, but by a good four or five feet. It was to the point where I decided that I obviously wasn’t going the right way or I was missing something. After spending about 20 minutes trying different things, I got fed up and checked an FAQ. Word for word, the FAQ said: push the crate all the way left and jump toward the raised bridge and pull yourself up.
The FAQ told me to do exactly what I had been trying. As it turns out, unless you wait until the absolute last second before jumping, you’re not going to clear the gap. This is not an isolated incident in the game – you will frequently die while attempting what seems like a simple leap, only to fall short. If you drop from 20 feet or so, don’t worry about your ankles. Randall is a parkour master who doesn’t feel pain. He can wall jump Ninja Gaiden style, hand over hand across power lines, even scale traffic signs hovering over Seattle Expressways… just, for the love of god, stay out of the water.
The game takes a bizarre twist in the second act that makes ABSOLUTELY no sense, when you are put through a death gauntlet of switches, trap doors, spike floors and walls. These puzzles are never overly complicated, but the problem is, they amount to guess work. Unless you are clairvoyant enough to know exactly what trap lies ahead, you will die. This has nothing to do with skill or lack thereof. You die because you didn’t know. I don’t mind a challenging game one bit – in this age of hold-your-hand introductions it’s actually refreshing when a game makes you think or actually challenges you from time to time – but the only reason this game is challenging is because of annoying level design made even more annoying with annoying mechanics that are annoyingly broken.
Are you noticing a theme here?
The combat system is pretty bad, but fighting is secondary anyway. You have access to an axe, a revolver and shotgun. You can just run by most enemies, and if you are stopped by more than one at a time without a gun, you’re dead anyway. WHY AM I EVEN BOTHERING WITH THIS NONSENSICAL GAME ANYMORE? See? This is what I mean.
There are a few high points to the game. The graphics are excellent and the animations are smooth. . There is usually something cool happening in the background and you’ll find yourself wishing at times that you could stop and enjoy the scenery a bit. The devastated city of Seattle looks great. The cut scenes are really cool and “graphic novel-esque”. The music is also excellent and does a good job of setting a dismal atmosphere and (other than the voice overs, which are really lame) the sound effects are all pretty cool. Every thing feels like it has the right weight to it. The ability to sprint comes in handy and the stamina meter is an interesting addition, even though it hardly influences how you play the game – there is very little reload time if you run out.
Every now and again you’ll encounter a chase sequence that has you sprinting over obstacles causing you to frequently die and start over until you memorize the pattern. These add a bit of tension and excitement and break up the monotony of the regular game play… which also consists of dying until you memorize patterns, just at a much slower pace. It’s the only part of the game which caused me to sit up from my bored slouch.
It’s not a complete disaster of a game, but it’s not that far off because the cons definitely outweigh the pros. The annoyances make you just not want to bother.
It’s hard to find a reason to play this game and it’s impossible to want to play again after having seen the ending. Let’s just say the story wraps up in a cyclone of failed logic and cliche so unsatisfying that it knocks the story about three steps below most 28 Days Later fan fiction. If that is how you want to spend your $15, then by all means go ahead. My suggestion is don’t.