Deadlight

Don’t worry: spoilers are segregated from the main body of the review.  You’ll have ample warning to avoid them.

Randall Wayne believes the best way to survive a zombie apocalypse is to run in a straight line.  That’s the only way I can explain why he chooses to Rube-Goldberg his way up, over, and through buildings instead of walking around them.  Also, he’s a cold-hearted asshole with a voice that sounds like something spawned from a mating between whiskey and a power sander.  I call it the “Video Game Tough Guy Voice” because it’s essentially the same voice as Solid Snake or Master Chief or any other number of emotionally dead heroes.  He’s the star of Deadlight, the “highlight” of this year’s underwhelming Summer of Arcade lineup, and a game that is not worth the hype.

Dude even looks a little like Solid Snake, in both the gameplay silhouette and also in cut scenes.

In Deadlight, the most unlikely end-of-world scenario outside of “Donald Trump elected President” once again occurs: zombies!  Only they’re called “shadows” here because.. I’m not sure.  Maybe this version of 1986 exists in a parallel world where Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Return of the Living Dead never happened, and thus nobody knows what a zombie is.  Presumably this means that Rob Zombie goes by some other spooky sounding name like, I dunno, it’s supposed to be 1986 so Rob Commie or something.    Either way, civilization somehow completely collapses when faced against the most easily disposable threat the world has ever seen.  Seriously, how DOES a zombie apocalypse work?  The ones in Deadlight are among the dumbest I’ve ever seen in a game.  They have absolutely no survival instinct, often walking straight off cliffs, or into electrical wires after watching other zombies fry themselves.  In order to take over the world, an animal would need to become an apex predator.  That means limited weaknesses, higher order of thinking, and genetic advantages.  The zombies in Deadlight have trouble understanding the concept of a staircase.  Even the Daleks figured that one out.

They can’t climb.  They can’t jump.  They can’t use weapons.  They’re easily distracted by whistling or car alarms.  Their only weapon is teeth.  How is it they manage to wipe out 99% of a race that is armed with Uzis, rocket launchers, or plain old human ingenuity?  Fuck you, that’s how.  Just shut up and play the game.

Think of Deadlight as Silent Hill meets the old school Prince of Persia.  You run, you jump, you climb, you hang, you activate switches, you shove boxes, and you fight with or flee from enemies.  Deadlight is a game where survival takes center stage over body count.  While you might at various times have guns or an axe to take on the undead, avoidance is encouraged.  That’s just as well.  Combat with the axe is slow and clunky.  Guns take too long to draw, and sometimes the aiming seems a bit off.  I swear there were times when I know I tagged a fucker square in the head, yet he would get back up and keep coming at me.  When zombies close in on you, you automatically take damage, but you still have to press B to shove off them.  If you’re on your last bit of health, there is no auto-damage, which negates the entire fucking point of having it in the first place.  There might as well not even be a life bar.  If a hoard of zombies closes in on you, it’s automatic death.  There’s various health pick-ups and stuff that will give you an extra bar of life, but why even bother?  There’s unlimited lives (as there should be) and tons of checkpoints.  It seems like a feature tacked on because this is how games are made despite not serving a purpose.

The graphics really are breathtaking at times. And then there are times when enemy limbs clip right through walls. That’s a real buzzkill.

Let’s face it: the only thing Deadlight has going for it is the atmosphere.  It’s a creepy game, at least at the start.  While you’re scaling buildings, running through empty highways, and collecting your first hidden trinkets over the game’s opening hour, the experience is almost exhilarating.  And then things go to hell once you end up in an overly long sewer section where a guy named The Rat Man takes all your accumulated weapons.  At this point, hardly any zombies show up for over an hour and Deadlight becomes a punisher-platformer, destroying the entire mood of the game in one fell swoop.  Creepiness?  Gone.  Eagerness to proceed?  Gone.  Sense of tension?  Gone.  And Deadlight never recovers from it, even after you return to the streets, because the previous section was just that bad.  By time I was at the end, I was anxious for the game to be over with.

Part of that has to do with the controls being crap.  Deadlight seems to give you all the tools needed for the tasks at hand.  You can wall-jump, do a tuck-and-roll off high falls, or a diving roll through narrow pathways.  It sounds great, but the response time to all actions in the game suffer from a delay.  The possible exception to that is using the fire button when you use a gun, but even then something about it seems like it doesn’t fully work all the time.  Meanwhile, there are several sections of the game that require agility-based platforming, yet all movement is hampered by the unresponsive controls.  Is it impossible to beat?  No.  Actually, if not for control problems, it would probably be kind of easy.  But Deadlight doesn’t carry with it the feel of a trial-and-error platformer, yet that’s how the game ends up.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the story.  Don’t worry, I’ll place all spoilers inside a special spoiler section, although I would caution readers to not read any comments below until you’ve finished the game, assuming you still plan on burning 1200MSP on this piece of shit.

The game stars a Canadian dude who seems a bit on the paranoid militant side.  When the zombies take over, his family disappears.  He joins up with a rag-tag group of survivors as they make their way to a “safe zone” in Seattle, WA.  The game opens with the group on the outskirts of Seattle, with Randy having just blown away a member of their party that has been infected.  Right from the game’s get-go, I didn’t like Randy too much.  He has no personality and a voice like a drunken frat boy trying to sound like Optimus Prime.  But, his story is an interesting one.  When you read his diary, you realize the dude had a few screws loose before the end of the world happened.  Once it got going, he really went off the deep end.  By the way, you pick up the missing pages of his diary throughout the game.  Of all the odd things that spoiled the mood for me, this one was the most obvious.  Why on Earth would pages of his missing diary be scattered all over a town he’s never been to?  The only explanation I can think of is there is no diary and he’s not actually finding pages, but just remembering events.  Kind of artsy-fartsy, but that is the only theory that can possibly work, so I’ll go with it.  Still, I wish they had thought of some other way to do it.  Warning, spoiler section ahead, sandwiched between the next two pictures.

Spoilers!

What the FUCK is up with that ending?  I had so many people building up the big “twist” and it turns out Randy had already capped his wife and daughter at the start of the apocalypse, and he simply forgot about it.  The way people were raving about it, I was expecting it to be something much more cerebral, like the whole thing being a delusion.  But no, it turns out that Randy is simply a forgetful idiot.  He didn’t turn the gun on himself because he only had two shells, and obviously he would need one for each person.  Um, no.  It’s a fucking 12-gauge shotgun, not a pea shooter.  You position your wife’s head against your daughter and you pull the trigger.  I’m pretty sure both would die from that.  Then you have one shell left all to yourself, because daddies always get the biggest portion at dinner.

Oh, and the chick you save at the end was another dumb bit.  They make it out like some kind of deep moment, but come on, we just fucking met her fifteen minutes beforehand.  Maybe Randy had known her for a while, but we didn’t!  Then, after building up an entire game about looking for lost love, they try to pass off Randy’s needless self-sacrifice as some kind of deep emotional moment.  First off, Randy didn’t save the chick.  He pushed her off the dock on what looked to be a wind-powered boat.  That’s not saving her.  That’s delaying a death sentence.  Let’s go over the possible things that can happen to this poor girl.

#1: The girl, who was screaming “I don’t want to be a monster” can have either the waters or the wind push her right back toward the dock.  Best case?  She’s zombie chow.  Worse case?  She becomes a zombie herself, which is exactly the thing she wants least.

#2: The group of humans that are being bastards apparently just for the sake of being bastards are STILL alive, STILL armed to the teeth, STILL have access to helicopters, are just yards away from you,  and are probably pretty pissed off at you for helping to fuck up their base.  If they catch poor Stella, which they will because they’re RIGHT FUCKING THERE, I’m guessing they’re going to do a whole lot worse than just kill her.

#3: Assuming the winds are friendly and none of the angry soldiers survive, she’s still stuck on a fucking boat, all alone, with no supplies and no weapons.  Never mind the fact that zombies have apparently conquered the whole fucking world, meaning there is no safe place to go.  Her options on the boat are starve to death or drown herself.  Don’t you just love happy endings like this?

Maybe Randy should have said “hey, there’s a batshit insane fucker living in the sewers in Seattle.  Try to make your way to him.  Sure, you’ll be eating rat meat until you finally lose the will to live, assuming you don’t die from all the booby traps he’s going to make you dance through for his own personal amusement, but at least you’ll be alive.”  But no, he pushes her out on a boat, stares down the hoard of zombies coming at him, credits.  Horrible ending.

End of Spoilers!

Honestly, Deadlight isn’t terrible by any means.  But the story loses its intrigue only a third of the way through, and ultimately has an unsatisfactory conclusion.  The voice acting is abysmal.  The characters are all twats.  The secondary enemies, a bunch of military dudes,  are one-dimensional cartoon villains.  Actually that’s not true, because even COBRA Command had more depth than these fuckers.  So while Deadlight is not that bad, it’s not that good either.  And it’s not worth the 2 gigs of space it takes up, or the 1200 Microsoft Points it costs.  You could get all of the top-ten games on my leaderboard for the same cost and still have 400 points to spare, and all ten of them are better games.

It felt like the developers had an awesome idea somewhere along the line, but couldn’t figure out how to stretch it out.  I like the idea of a 2D side-scroller/survival game set in a real American city.  Even if my good buddy Cyril at Defunct Games tells me that the city in Deadlight is most certainly not any Seattle he’s ever been to.  Duly noted.   But Deadlight just fails as a game due to not sticking hard enough to the premise of escaping zombies and trying to survive in a world crumbling around you.  The human enemies and the Rat Man section only served to take out the unnerving tension of the goings on.  I entered the game with genuine chills and exited with genuine apathy, because Deadlight is as shallow as a wading pool.  Which Randy would still manage to drown in, but that’s besides the point.

Deadlight was developed by Tequila Words

1200 Microsoft Points never did get the achievement for surviving a lethal fall by rolling through it because it never once was necessary in the making of this review.  I did get five achievements in five minutes, including one you get just for checking the online leaderboards.  I’m surprised they don’t hand out one just for reloading your gun.  Oh wait, they do that too. 

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8 Responses to Deadlight

  1. Oh man, less than a paragraph in and a wild right hook sucker punches both Solid Snake and Master Chief. Master Chief I can understand, he’s as paper thin of a character as there ever was, but Solid Snake? MGS4 really fleshed him out as a human being, but I digress, not here to talk about that.

    It looked as if Deadlight was going to be a great title, probably the best pick of the Summer of Arcade samplings, but it seems Deadlight fell pray to many of the problems I thought it might, mainly the shoehorned human military enemy section that so many survival horror/ zombie games seem prone to fall into to. When you really think about it the military gunning down every person unfortunate enough to walk across their path doesn’t make a lot of sense, even within the realm of a zombie apocalypse. You would want to gather up as many non-infected people as possible and take them to a safe area. The less people walking around in the open mean less chances of the infection spreading, then it’s just a matter of waiting out the zombies. Decaying flesh open in the elements = very short apocalypse

  2. It looks really good, but for 1200 points I want to kill more than just shadow zombies. I want to cover the ground in zombie parts, and I want to wash it all away with a sea of zombie blood (or possibly just burn everything).

    If you’re reviewing xbox live arcade games, why don’t you review Braid, Fez, Limbo, and Minecraft? Think of the entertainment those reviews would provide for your readers, or the extra traffic you’d get from google.

    • I’ve played through Braid more than once because I was trying to figure out if I missed some kind of context for the incredibly stupid stupid stupid stupid STUPID twist ending. I didn’t. It’s dumb. Pretty decent game, but the ending is pretentious as hell.

      I bought Fez and started to play it, but the game is too flashy for me and a major risk to my epilepsy. I was seriously devastated when I realized it. I had loved what I had played up to that point.

      Limbo: I thought it was alright. Story was too bleak, ending underwhelming, gameplay was solid but not spectacular.

      Minecraft: I plan on looking at it sometime soon.

  3. Anno Niem says:

    The controls really suck. For some idiotic reason you can only change the keyboard keys to your liking. Mouse keys are what they are so you also can’t use a mouse key for a keyboard key action. If a mouse is involved I want the right mouse button for jumping, not possible. Another thing there are 3 different buttons for basically the same thing. Crouch, roll and drop down a ledge all have their own button, FTW! Similar situation for up and jump being 2 different buttons. Having to reload your bullets 1 bij 1 sucks as well (no auto reload when running out, not even 1 bullet).

    I also didn’t like running out of stamina after swinging your axe around just a few times and clipping to edges. A) this shouldn’t be tied in with stamina and B) way to fast running out, it’s like the hero has serious health problems/really bad physical condition. Heroes are supposed to be better than the average human not worse.

    Then there is the annoying super wide screen display of the game. Just a big waste of screen space this way. Even worse on my old 4:3 display (your brain also gets a close to 4:3 image when looking out into the real world).

  4. Errien Teunisse says:

    I Disagree with most things that you say except for controls.

    If you approached this game with ‘Yawn more zombies’ and then call it pretentious for trying to actually show the personal struggle of being this man in a world gone to hell then i don’t quite know what you were expecting.

    I don’t exactly see the issue with his voice because i know plenty of people who talk like that, it was the 80′s, everyone smoked a bajillion cigarettes a day, especially someone who is as strung out on nerves as he seems to be.

    Stop trying to say ‘how does the world fall to zombies’ and actually think about the thematic premise of zombies in this genre. They take over the world because:
    1. Animals were carriers too.
    2. Because people don’t just shoot loved ones out of the blue. We keep people alive with horrible diseases to try and cure them in this world, thats reality.
    3. Because its a zombie apocalypse, it happens suddenly, people get bit and because the thematic premise of worlds like this is that everyone is quite fragile, but filled with Hope. Hope is the key here, they hope that their bites aren’t severe. They Hope they will get to the safe point.

    Hope drives many zombie apocalypse genres, but none so much as the ones focused upon day to day survival.

    The Rat Man sections were interesting because of the symbolic aspects of his own personal hell. He created the levels of hell himself to protect against the real world. He does it to protect his son and himself, mirroring Randalls struggles with fatherhood and family. Randall was always crazy, he was probably very overbearing as a protective parent with probably Schizoid problems.

    The Diary is a way to show the players his history while maintaining In Medias Res, they can show off Randalls character over time progression while not having to show it directly. Its not really that Artsy Fartsy, its a good system.

    And yes, here i am talking about your SPOILERS, but:

    “He just forgot?” really? You don’t think that a severely Schizophrenic man like Randall, coupled with the Trauma of having his own personal paradise (his “heaven”) turn to literal hell? To have all of his hallucinations and fears suddenly brought to life before his eyes? And yes, he only had 2 bullets, no you don’t line up your LOVED ONES in a parade and blow their brains out in that kind of a situation. Its logical thinking in an utterly illogical place.

    Pushing the girl out on the boat is a final expression of his HOPE. He is a massive control freak, “Never split up” he says. He regrets being separated from his family, he regrets living while they died (subconsciously) and then, in a final element of acceptance of his fate he joins his family and pushes her into a unknown future. But Hope is there, he hopes that she will survive and that brings his own story to an end.

    Unravelling what events are true, and what isn’t is half of the fun in this game. I mean every single ID he picks up is the name of famous murderers, showing off his own personal guilt while still connecting to important facets of apocalypse stories, that is the reactions. The personal stories of people who lived through the worst. The bodies in chairs holding pistols, The single gunman dead and devoured while his fellows obviously escaped. These define the survival apocalypse game.

    So, in conclusion, this game was amazing in its storytelling, it managed to hit all the right points of a great zombie apocalypse story, while showing off the personal and symbolic struggle of a man who’s battered mind is unable to comprehend his own hell. If you went into this game expecting to kill swaths of zombies like a Call of Duty 2D Zombie edition then you are what is wrong with the world.

  5. Errien, striking the balance here, you’ve been very fair to the game’s attempt at an emotive storyline, but I think a little too fair. The writers probably had all this in mind, but the developers missed a big trick with this game and maybe did a major discredit to the writers.

    This said, I went through the Ratman’s circles of Hell thinking it was all an allegory to the real truth – this, plus the poems we kept finding, and those strangely placed ID collectables, and those *fantastic* dream/nightmare/hallucination sequences, and one thought was in my head after the first 40 minutes of playing: “This better have some mind-blowing major reality-twist ending.”

    The diary suggests Randal was already suffering the onset of psychosis and this was before the apocalypse even began. With all the allusions to death and hell (he even refers to his situation as “hell on earth”) and all sections that clearly showed he was undergoing major hallucinations anyway, I thought it was all leading to the world being a total fantasy, the shadows were maybe even real people that his mind painted as monsters (his diary already implies he eventually perceived people as monsters and untrustworthy), the armed guards actually out for him and weren’t the bad guys at all, he was actually a psychotic serial killer freak gone nutso after killing his family etc. etc. or something a little more. The real twist was handled nastily, did not give much satisfaction as a conclusion, handled the potential emotion of it wastefully, and didn’t back up everything we’d seen and read already. Its story telling is not amazing because the nuances don’t give us the pay-off it’s building towards.

    Also, if you think someone’s failed expectations of a game are what is wrong with this world, you need to check the news sometime ;)

  6. messofanego says:

    It’s kind of a weird feeling to be hyped for their next game because RIME (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHgrSnEpwfY) looks fucking great and would not have expected from Tequila Works. Hopefully, it plays much better than just being a looker.

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