Another rushed zombie game? Great. Yeah. Marvelous.
Deadlight is easily the most anticipated title of Microsoft‚Äôs Summer of Arcade line-up, despite the colossal bandwagon jump that is its premise. Chronicling yet another zombie apocalypse, the influences aren‚Äôt so much worn on the game’s sleeves as they are flown from a banner. Borrowing the comic book melodrama of The Walking Dead and the environmental platforming from 90‚Äôs classic Flashback, Deadlight will win few awards for innovation ‚Äď and fewer yet for competence. It has all the soul and stability of the zombies that litter its streets, and seems to shuffle along with their inherent aimlessness as well. Its short existence begs just as much to be put down and dismissed; another rotten cadaver in the stagnant zombie game genre.
To give the game some credit, it‚Äôs obvious that despite its liberal ‚Äėborrowing‚Äô of ideas, developer Tequila Works have moulded it some identity of its own.The game‚Äôs meticulously-crafted universe weaves a tangible sense of isolation, as car-strewn highways stretch into the distance and charred flags flutter lazily in the breeze. However many games are set within a zombie apocalypse, few are as well-realised as Deadlight. It helps, perhaps, that the game doesn‚Äôt shy away from some utterly gorgeous locales in order to maintain a sense of dread; sun-drenched neighbourhoods and lush greenery add vibrancy to this dying world, a juxtaposition that makes the universe one of the best in zombie fiction. Despite the all-too-obvious inclusion of an unprejudiced military force concerned more for their own survival than that of the people they‚Äôre meant to protect, this is an appropriately lawless world. Unfortunately, its inhabitants don‚Äôt share this believability. Shoddy acting and poorly-animated cutscenes (which, again, carry far too many similarities to the Walking Dead‚Äôs comic book aesthetic) frequently mar the experience, the poor voice acting and grainy sketches shattering the atmosphere and bringing the most exciting sequences to a grinding halt. Main character Randall, meanwhile, has a bafflingly inconsistent approach to narrative, occasionally rambling to himself (‚ÄúI‚Äôve got to help them!‚ÄĚ) then shattering the sense of isolation by seemingly addressing the player (‚ÄúLet‚Äôs go and rescue them!‚ÄĚ).
Such inconsistencies might appear minor, but it‚Äôs their frequency that renders Deadlight irredeemable; by the game‚Äôs final act, it‚Äôs possible that anything that could conceivably go wrong with the game already has. Zombie fiction frequently demonstrates a world without order, but said lawlessness is taken to such extremes that the game itself picks and chooses mechanics at random. All too often, Randall‚Äôs most basic abilities are altered or removed completely in order to accommodate the game‚Äôs many fleeting set-pieces, the reasoning delivered through crudely-implemented text boxes filling the blanks the scenario fails to convey. Similarly, the game‚Äôs numerous doors all act with jarring inconsistency, enough so that each needs its own icon to illustrate whether it needs smashing, kicking, or opening. Any others are either set dressing, or hiding a legion of zombies that no player could reasonably expect without first succumbing to their contrived placement. Yet it‚Äôs the various ledges and platforms that are the worst offenders; so many of them bleed into the scenery that the developer, incredibly, needed to highlight those that can be climbed on from those that can‚Äôt.
The impression, then, is that this is a game of tactical approach, where opportunities are signposted for methodical execution; yet all too soon, the game‚Äôs fondness for quick-fire platforming turns the adventure into a series of stop-start action sequences that the clunky controls are ill-suited to accommodate. Frequent checkpoints alleviate the frustration, yet the multiple attempts to conquer certain sections at the behest of an unresponsive avatar reinforce just how much of Deadlight‚Äôs challenge is based on attrition. For all of Limbo‚Äôs sudden and unforeseen obstacles, it at least provides adequate means to avoid them; here there are no such comforts, the challenges arriving less from logic and hindsight and more from frenzied controller-wrestling and what feels far too often like luck.
The game‚Äôs sudden fetish for these sections happens with an almost audible clunk, the game‚Äôs mid-point dragging players into the long-trite video game sewer stages where spikes, slopes and pitfalls are introduced via a story event that‚Äôs as pointless as it is distracting. Story, pacing and stage design all suffer from the game’s erratic nature, so much so that it only takes one of these facets to stumble for the rest to be dragged down with it. It‚Äôs as if the paltry 2-hour running time is an apologetic gesture; one hour in, the urge to absorb every ounce of its gorgeous locales has already given way to impatience and lethargy, the disappointing ending hurrying itself into the closing credits with little weight or payoff.
How appropriate that Deadlight should be a game about zombies. It has no clue which direction to walk in, and infects all that touch it with fatigue and apathy. It‚Äôs a platformer without clear footing, a story without a consistent narrative, but most crippling of all, a game without rule or reason.
Check out Ryan Scully’s other reviews at buttonjunkie.wordpress.com, where he uploads all the old stuff he was too lazy to submit here.