The concept of traipsing through a post-apocalyptic world will be nothing new to the gaming public, having been treated to the wastelands in Fallout 3 and stumbled blindly through the dusty streets in I Am Alive, to name but a few. Cue Deadlight, the new downloadable release from Tequila Works hoping to scare its audience with horror themes and a foreboding atmosphere in a similarly torn up world. Unquestionably, the developer has succeeded in evoking the strong sense of dread associated with the genre, but in the case of Deadlight this is much less of an achievement than it is an unwanted by-product. Expect to swear, roll your eyes and groan like a member of the undead as you go to war with the irksome controls and frustrating try-and-die level design.
The story takes place in an alternate version of our world, where humanity has fallen prey to yet another apocalypse courtesy of a zombie outbreak – referred to here as Shadows. You play as Randall, a bedraggled survivor looking to reunite with his wife and child, uncovering the truth behind a shady military organisation in the process. The tale relies on staid storytelling techniques (you’ll need to gather meds for an injured friend in a hospital, for example), and only rarely does it throw a curveball and reach for something new. One strange moment will have you traversing the deadly traps of an underground cavern, befriending its designer as he tests your survival skills with seemingly no greater purpose in mind.
The truth of Randall’s past unravels throughout his journey, but it can be hard to care given the frequent use of poorly sketched stills in place of rendered cutscenes. This money saving omission only serves to compound the game’s issues regarding presentation, which fails to impress on a number of levels. Combining the stylistic silhouettes of Limbo with the more realistic models of Shadow Complex, Deadlight should be visually dazzling. Instead, the environments are simply decent, ranging from the grey shades of abandoned warehouses to the often lighter and more sprawling outdoor areas. The main issue here is that it can be a challenge to tell inert scenery from what’s immediately climbable, be it a ladder viewed from the side or a cable from above.
In some cases, traversing this chaotic land is impossible without the aid of a few handy tools. A fireman’s axe is Randall’s weapon of choice, though it’s far less adept at chopping through zombies than you may hope, only killing them once they’ve been knocked to the ground. Firearms can be accessed at points throughout the game, with the limited ammo encouraging you to check bodies of the fallen at every opportunity. Again, the dark foreground does the game no favours by obscuring interactive objects, only hindering your efforts to scavenge in the process. There are a few nice ideas on show such as having to use a slingshot to hit switches to open paths and move elevators, plus a desperate charge through the infested suburbs will get the adrenaline pumping. Sadly, similar moments become far more irritating than they should be.
Slicing away at a zombie or two is a feasible task, but you’ll soon realise that avoidance is the real key to survival. Standing your ground rarely leads to success, with some rooms spewing out a constant stream of Shadows looking to turn you into a tasty brain soufflé. It’s here that the wonky controls begin to take their toll, or indeed when you find yourself being chased through a series of high rise buildings. Randall likes to take his own sweet time to change weapons at precisely the wrong moment, refuses to climb a fence just as he’s being shot at and is downright shocking at kicking doors open. It doesn’t help that the game seems to enjoy your near-constant failings, rewarding you with traps that you should expect to tackle many times as you run into yet more deaths that are unavoidable on anything like your first few attempts.
It’s not that a challenge is unwelcome, in fact having to think for yourself is a key part of what makes gaming feel like an achievement. That said, death is all too common in Deadlight, with Randall failing at every turn simply because the developer decided he probably should for a while. The final act changes things up a notch with new enemies, but also expands on this trial-and-error format with little regard for a handy checkpoint. Parts of the game could take over ten attempts considering the row of instant deaths and short amount of time you have to figure things out, with each failure seeming more and more like the game’s way of taunting you for not spotting the nuances of each room the moment you enter.
It’s worth noting that Deadlight takes only two straight hours to finish. There are collectibles such as diary pieces, but the likelihood that you’ll want to go back for this purpose is remote at best. It’s not a lost cause despite the frustrating try-and-die mechanic, but that doesn’t make it a worthwhile purchase either. What qualities it has are greatly overshadowed by gameplay issues that the developers were either blissfully unaware of or seemed to think would enrich the experience. Full of unrealised potential, Deadlight is a passable game that’s as bland as the cookie-cutter zombies it presents.
This review is based on a downloadable copy provided by Microsoft.
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