Video Game Review: Deadlight
Developer: Tequila Works
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Xbox 360 – Live Arcade title
Price: 1200 MS Points
As a sidescrolling platform game, the inspirations behind Tequila Work’s Deadlight are obvious; the gameplay is informed by classics of the genre like Prince of Persia and Flashback, as well as more modern fare like Limbo. Deadlight is also influenced by Limbo in its looks, making heavy use of shadow and silhouette to great effect. The art direction also pays clear homage to The Walking Dead and the film version of Cormac McCarty’s The Road. As a matter of fact, there’s a striking resemblance between Viggo Mortensen’s character in the film and the games protagonist, Randall Wayne.
Randall is an ex-Park Ranger, struggling to find his family in a post-apocalyptic Seattle in the mid-1980s. As is the way of the video game industry just now, that apocalypse has been brought on by zombies, or “shadows” to use the game’s own term. The cause or origin of the shadows is never revealed, although Eastern European and extra-terrestrial origins are both alluded to.
Any platformer lives and dies on the basis of its controls and Deadlight is no exception. For the most part Deadlight performs quite well, I’m pleased to say; movement is smooth and responsive, with Randall responding with reliable speed and accuracy outside of combat. When you do get into combat though, things start to fall apart and you’ll want to avoid it as much as possible. Not simply because the shadows are lethal in numbers greater than two, but because the combat mechanics are terrible. Although it’s possible to score headshots with the game’s limited weapons to make life easy for yourself, the weapons are generally clumsy to use and feel underpowered. Even the shotgun, traditional nemesis to zombies the world over, feels a bit pointless.
Hand-to-hand combat, while chunky and satisfying, tires Randall out bizarrely quickly, leaving him at risk of being swamped again. Fortunately, the game doesn’t force you to get up close and personal very often, but the few times it does will have you gnashing your teeth in frustration. Also, inexplicably, you’ll have to avoid water like the plague, as Randall follows in the proud tradition of video game characters who die on contact with the wet stuff.
Going back to the art design, the world around you looks fantastic. Clearly a great deal of care and attention has gone into the backgrounds. Post-zombie Seattle is a grim and grimy place. The rooms, corridors, and buildings you make your way through are broken down, busted up, and decaying. The environmental and background artists deserve praise for making a hellish world seem oddly beautiful. There’s a psuedo-3D effect in places as well, where enemies lumber out of the background as you pass them by. Occasionally you’ll find the art actually causes problems, because it’s easy to mistake a piece of background detail for a valid ledge, leading to an instant-death fall or you standing about, scratching your head while you try to puzzle out your next step.
The soundtrack deserves a mention. Hell, it deserves a review all of its own. Haunting, ethereal, moving, beautiful; I could burn through a thesaurus trying to find enough adjectives. You can listen to the main theme over on Soundcloud, and hopefully that taste will be enough to convince you I’m talking sense. I tweeted Tequila Works to ask if they had plans to release the full soundtrack, and it seems that they do, although they’re staying tight-lipped on the details.
Moving on to the story now, and we begin to see things fall apart. The story itself is fairly by-the-numbers, although it seems to think it’s better than it is. If the gameplay is an attempt to create a kind of cinematic platforming, the story never really rises above B-movie level. Grizzled survivor, mis-matched comrades, and a fight for survival, Randall’s backstory is filled in through the occasional flashback and lost pages from his diary you can find if you go exploring. Sadly, the writing isn’t great. At its best, it’s simply acceptable, but more often than not it’s just plain bad. The dialogue is clumsy, the exposition painful and the main character’s internal monologue/voiceover frequently sounds like the voice actor is reading from a first draft rather than a finished piece. The voice acting isn’t much better, and is delivered in quite the most stereotypical gravel-voiced manner I’ve heard in a while.
It’s testament to how much I enjoyed the game that I was willing to play right to the end despite the clumsy storytelling. To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with the plot or story itself, it’s jut the way it’s told that lets the game down. Even so, the script seriously needed a rewrite along with someone to point out that there’s nothing surprising whatsoever about the big twist at the end.
So, your one line review? Deadlight is a fun game, with moments of greatness, but ends up feeling like it could have been an awful lot better with as much work put into the story as there was in the art.
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