Deadlight For Xbox 360 Live Arcade Review
Side-scrolling action adventures games, a staple from an older era of gaming, have flourished on Xbox Live Arcade. Games like Shadow Complex and Limbo have melded tried-and-true concepts of an older NES era with the technology of today’s generation, providing gaming experiences that feel familiar yet fresh, and altogether enjoyable. When I heard about Deadlight, a side-scrolling action adventure set in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world, suffice it to say I was sold. I mean, come on, a zombie side-scroller reminiscent of the aforementioned Xbox Live arcade titles with a nostalgia for older side-scrolling games like Out of this World for the Super NES, one of my favorite games of all-time? How could I resist? While the game fails to match the gameplay and level design found in Shadow Complex, or the emotional impact of Limbo, it’s a fairly decent game that’d be better served with a bit more depth in both departments.
In a premise that’s not entirely unique, a 1986 Seattle has succumbed to a viral outbreak that reanimates the dead, leaving the once densely-populated city nearly devoid of all life…of course, unless you count zombies (or “Shadows” as they are referred to in the game) as among the living. You play as Randall, a former park warden, who is searching for his wife, Shannon and his daughter Lydia. After splitting up with a group of survivors at the beginning of the game, Randall continues to search for his wife and daughter while trying to make it to a Safe Point, a supposed haven for survivors. Randall soon discovers that the “shadows” aren’t his only threat as he struggles to maintain a tenuous grip on his life and his sanity.
One thing’s for sure: Tequila Works has done a fantastic job capturing the atmosphere and feel of world that’s fallen into disrepair. You get that sense of place; a city that once had purpose, life and relevance now feels far removed from anything resembling as such. The Unreal Engine 3 is put to good use here: the environments are well crafted with great attention to detail; the shadows, lighting, and weather effects against the dilapidation of the buildings and structures help to augment the feelings of despair and isolation. Zombies infest the streets and remain an ever-present danger throughout the game. You’ll see them feasting on corpses in the background and foreground and if alerted to your presence will amble towards you in threatening fashion. Randall remains shrouded in darkness throughout the game – much like the protagonist in Limbo – with only glimpses of him in the storyboard-like cutscenes. It’s an interesting, though unnecessary, stylistic choice that at times looks odd when Randall traverses well-lit environments.
Controls, for the most part, are your standard platforming fare, with Randall able sprint, crouch, and grab ledges to traverse the various platforming puzzles throughout the game. Early in the game, Randall will acquire an axe and a gun to defend himself from the “Shadows.” However, let me be clear: this isn’t a combat heavy experience. Randall is incredibly vulnerable, so while he may be able to dispatch a few zombies at a time, he can easily get overwhelmed. A stamina bar is shared among the combat, sprinting, and “ledge-hanging” so you’ll need to manage these efficiently throughout your combat and platforming encounters. Find yourself low on stamina and the screen pulses red as Randall’s movement slows significantly. Find yourself low on stamina at a most inopportune time and you’ll find yourself sitting through a loading screen. I find this vulnerability refreshing as you can’t simply plow through the game on the back of your combat prowess; you’ll need to be a little bit more cerebral opting for flight over fight more often than not.
Unfortunately, the platforming feels inconsistent, at times requiring precise use of sprint and timing, and other times not so much. There were moments where I found myself unsure of where to go next, only to find a once seemingly unreachable platform, all of a sudden reachable. Another time, I found myself at what seemed to be a dead end, only to realize that I needed to crouch under a barely open garage to get to the next area. Maybe I’m not that perceptive, but I feel the game didn’t prime me enough to remember that I could crouch, nor was it clear that there was a half-open garage in front me. However the game does shine during the more harrowing chase scenes, where your platforming reflexes are tested in the heat of the moment. Overall, the puzzle platforming never gets too frustrating but lacks the ingenuity found in other puzzle platformers like Braid or Limbo, making the game feel safe overall. What does get tad a bit frustrating are the loading screens after successive deaths. They are just a bit too long.
The story is interesting enough, but the supporting characters lack any depth as they are shuffled away almost as quickly as they are introduced. This lack of association, while adding to the isolation, disconnects you from the last bit of humanity left in the world. Thus, the characters serve mostly as filler and context and you never feel as emotionally vested in the world. The best part of the game is when you meet up with Harold the Rat. He’s the most interesting character in the game with solid voice work to match. Even the puzzle elements are much more satisfying during this sequence, requiring a bit more thought.
While Deadlight captures the desolation and atmosphere of a world that’s succumbed to darkness, its inconsistent platforming and lack of deeper characterizations stifle what could have been an absolute must-have title. Sure, either could have been forgiven if the other stood out, but both elements fall just a bit short. What you’re left with is an average puzzle-platformer that looks great but lacks substance to match.