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By Dylan_Hodge16-11-2012
siegarettes (editor)
Leigh Cobb (editor)

The Defence

Tequila Works
Microsoft Studios
Adventure, Platformer
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Duo 1.6 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce GT 220
AMD Radeon HD 6450
2 GB
5 GB

The Case

When there is no more room in hell, the shadows will walk the Earth. Yes, the backstory of Deadlight mines much of what is familiar about the zombie apocalypse genre of fiction, such as the collapse of society, the towering ruins of once great metropolises, the scarcity of resources and the inevitable nouveau-tribalism of a people without a structure to support them, but it does it all without ever once using the word “zombie.” Instead, the lumbering dead are referred to only as “the dead”, or “shadows” and I’m not sure if this was due to a linguistic or visual aesthetic choice. Certainly, we are inundated with zombie fiction, and perhaps Tequila Works felt that simply calling them something else was sufficient to distinguish this game from other like entries in the fiction (it isn’t; they’re zombies). Perhaps more likely is that Tequila Works decided to call them “shadows” because, well, they look like shadows. In Deadlight, the zombies, much like the protagonist Randall Wayne, are virtually always framed in Limbo-esque silhouettes. It is an interesting visual style, one that serves as an essential metaphor for the experience of Deadlight as a whole: put simply, I was left with the overwhelming feeling that the game was concerned with style much more than it was concerned with substance.

The Trial

The trappings of survival horror in Deadlight are slightly misleading, as the moment-to-moment gameplay consists primarily of platforming and solving environmental puzzles. The puzzles never really get complicated, which allows the game to move along at a nice pace (the game is easily digestible; it can be completed in around three to four hours). The zombies serve as both excellent environmental dressing and an omnipresent source of pressure. While you have weapons for most of the game, combat with the shadows is rarely the logical choice. Rather, you will spend your time madly dashing past them, darting to locations where they can no longer reach you, and your weapons, guns and a fire axe, are more often used to remove barriers in the environment.

With the state of the game's controls, suicide looked like the best option.

With the state of the game's controls, suicide looked like the best option.

Combat is always present as an option, but you will rarely be tempted to pursue it. A couple of swings of your axe drain your stamina bar, causing the edges of your screen to flash blue and you to move slower (sprinting does the same thing). Furthermore, ammo is predictably scarce for most of the game and you sometimes need it to affect distant things in the environment, discouraging you from shooting zombies even when you could. The fact that reloading bullets or shells corresponds to button presses at a 1:1 ratio (i.e. reloading your six shooter fully requires you to frantically mash your ‘r’ key six times) further compounds the player’s reluctance to actually use guns on the zombies.

In many ways, these mechanics are theoretically interesting because they underscore the fundamental fragility of the protagonist. In virtually any environment populated by shadows, I felt overwhelmed and desperate. Death comes quickly and frequently, and so the world is populated with fairly frequent checkpoints. The problem with this is that the game doesn’t control very well, especially with a mouse and keyboard. This makes sense, given that the game is an XBLA port, but it seems pretty clear that little thought was given to making the controls palatable to a PC audience. For example, to drag a crate from one point to another, you have to hold ‘e.’ The whole time. Even though you are moving with WASD. Really, in a game where precise movements are often required to simply not die to some environmental trap, forcing the player to hold the interact key instead of making it a toggle seems pretty ridiculous. Even if that doesn’t sound too bad to you, the mouse and keyboard controls just feel muddy and unresponsive. Only about half the times that I died did I feel like it was because I actually did something wrong. The other half I died because, even though I knew what I needed to do, the game wouldn’t let me do it reliably.

These problems were abated somewhat when I caved and plugged in a gamepad, but even then the controls were vaguely floaty, which is a serious problem for a game that seems to expect very precise, deliberate motions. The mechanics of the game mentioned earlier would be fine if the game had more responsive controls, but it doesn’t, and so the game’s mechanics just seem unfair and infuriating.

Jump, jump!

Jump, jump!

This is disappointing because the game succeeds on so many aesthetic levels. The art direction is brilliantly flawless; there were quite literally set pieces in the game where I left Randall hanging from some ledge or something as if in stasis because I was so impressed with the way the level looked and felt. Indeed, anyone looking only at screenshots of this game would probably be tempted into playing it. The motion-comic style cutscenes also look great, but, unfortunately, both of these excellent qualities of the game are diminished by the mediocre voice acting and uninspired audio. The voice actor of the protagonist quite literally sounds like he went to the Steve Blum School of How to Sound Like Steve Blum, and no one else in the cast is any better (in fact, they are categorically worse). Furthermore, the audio in the cutscenes (that I actually kind of liked) was incredibly spotty; sometimes cutscenes played without sound and I was forced to piece together the story from subtitles where individual characters were not labeled. I tried several different suggestions from the Steam forums to resolve this issue and none of them seemed to work. Either the sound in a given cutscene worked or it didn’t, and I couldn’t seem to fix the problem. I can at least say that this is the only bug I encountered in the game and, while it was annoying, it certainly was not game-breaking.

The story is vaguely interesting, and has a few intriguing narrative devices. The first time I realized that every dead person in the game that had an ID on them was named after a serial killer, for example, I perked up. Without spoiling anything, though, this ties into the end of the game in a fairly predictable way. In a lot of ways it seems like the story is going for a Post-Modern feel, where you are supposed to be unsure how much of what you are being presented with is actually happening, but even this is lazily implemented and ultimately half-hearted.

A warm red glow is perfectly normal during an apocalypse.

A warm red glow is perfectly normal during an apocalypse.

All of these issues could be forgiven if the game were actually fun to play. For the most part, however, it simply isn’t. It is a fairly bland puzzle platformer that gets atmosphere right and not much else. The actual heuristics of moving through the world simply don’t make a very good game. These annoyances are further compounded when the game practically tries to morph into some bizarre imitation of an action game in the third act. Again, no spoilers, but suffice it to say that the game makes you square off against armed human opponents, and it is here that the inadequacy of the controls becomes truly unbearable. There was a section of the game near the end I literally replayed upwards of twenty times, even though I knew precisely what I was supposed to be doing. Actually, the controls were so poor that I began to doubt that what I was trying to do was even the correct method of progressing. Of course, it turned out that I was, in fact, supposed to run to a gap in a bridge, wait for a soldier to follow me and then shoot him, jump over the bridge and help the woman I was escorting climb up the bridge, then jump over a fence and shoot two more soldiers before they turned and shot me, all in about five to ten seconds. This is where the game utterly fell apart for me because the controls were just so awful. Eventually I grew sick of trying to execute this series of actions with the mouse and keyboard and plugged my gamepad back in. Even then, it still took me a couple of tries because of intermittent controller latency. As I pulled into the home stretch of the game, which is supposed to be narratively fulfilling and emotionally moving, I was too busy frothing at the mouth to even be bothered.

The Verdict

Deadlight has some cool environments and a decent dream sequence or two to offer you and not much else. Even if you really, really like puzzle platformers or zombie games, there are more interesting exercises in either genre out there for you to investigate. It also isn’t a very good port, so I would say if you simply must play it and you own a 360, you should just do that. But even then, don’t. Deadlight just isn’t worth your time.

Case Review

  • The Aesthetic: Yes, this is a cool looking game. That’s why it sucks that everything else about it just isn’t very much fun.
  • The Story: Some of it is sort of interesting, but I was never particularly invested. Your Mileage May Vary.
  • The Controls: Really, seriously, just awful. Made an otherwise bland but palatable game an aneurysm-inducing nightmare.
  • The Voice Acting: Mediocre at best, laughable at worst. Some of the side characters sounded like they were voiced by people who didn’t actually understand English but were only reading their lines phonetically.
  • The Gameplay: Neither innovative nor particularly refined. Nothing you haven’t seen before, and not as well done as those things you’ve already seen.
  • The Controls: Did I mention how fucking terrible these controls are?!



Score: 2/5
A machine that vacillates between causing rage and boredom.
Comments (4)
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Posts: 5

Yup; they way it looked made me keep wanting to like it. I oscillated between "wow, that looked awesome" and "this isn't very fun."

Posts: 241

It's a shame really, it looks so cool D:

Posts: 351

This game looks cool but that looks can be deceiving. I have never heard good things about this game, and you cemented it that I will not buy it.

Posts: 1317

Hehe, I liked the last line of the case review. Good review overall! Shame this game didn't turn out great, it had potential.