Deadlight – Review

Platform | Release Date
360 | August 1, 2012
Developed by Tequila Works
Published by Microsoft Studios

The Pitch:

The world has ended. There is no hope. No new beginning. Only the survivors. DEADLIGHT follows the journey of Randall Wayne, a man searching for his family across Seattle during the aftermath of a 1980s event that has decimated life on earth. This visually stunning Cinematic Survival Platformer will challenge you to run, jump, climb, and struggle for your life as you look for answers and the ones you love.

Released as part of the Summer of Arcade, Deadlight is standing on the shoulders of giants. Many of the most well regarded titles on XBLA are classic 2D platformers released during this promotional period: Braid, Bionic Commando Rearmed, ‘Splosion Man, Shadow Complex, and Limbo. You can even throw in Trials HD into that list. Does Deadlight bring something new to the table, or outperform expectations to be worth your time and money? The answer is yes and no, respectively. Deadlight is a 2D survival horror/platformer that inherits all of the good and all of the bad from both genres.

“Shadows” inhabit the world of Deadlight. For all intents and purposes, they work like your standard zombie/infected/mutants/undead lore: the world is rubble, a bite will turn humans into shambling monsters, and the few humans left struggle with their sanity and each other. While it could initially appear to be a well-done, well-trodden plot, not everything is as it appears. Unfortunately, I cannot begin to explain any story details without getting into Deadlight’s most likely discussed shortcoming: Deadlight is maybe 2 hours long. Describing even the first 30 minutes would spoil a fourth of the game.

Don’t stop reading yet; don’t dismiss the title just because of its brevity, but do go in knowingly. Deadlight is very short. I managed to find many of the hidden objects and ended up with an 75% overall completion rating after my first run through of 2 to 3 hours. To extend playtime, you can easily revisit any subchapter within the three main acts, and on the selection screen it shows the total number of items you found and missed. I don’t put in too much stock in “Collect all the glowies” so prevalently found in many platformers’ achievement list, but the tools are there for those that want to explore without a walkthrough. I didn’t feel compelled, but I would return with a guide if I could discover a secret ending unlocked at 100%. The story is what would bring me back. The Walking Dead, crossed with Limbo, add a hint of unreliable narrator with a dash of literary allusion and you’ll have the right feeling of desolation and loneliness while surrounded on all sides by zombies. The voice acting itself was mostly poor, par for a survival horror game, but didn’t distract too greatly; and the main character’s performance was just fine.

As an interactive story experience, I look at Deadlight in comparison to the price of going to the theater. You hear this analogy often; that you shouldn’t judge a game based on its length but on its quality. “This game is the price of a movie, that DLC is the price of a mocha latte, or the App is an item off the dollar menu”. With Deadlight, it is literal. It is 2-3 hours long and costs roughly the same as going to see The Dark Knight Rises, Ted, or Step Up Revolution.

Deadlight’s unique twist is the mix of survival horror into classic 2D platforming. There is a heavy influence of the original Prince of Persia present. The controls are near identical, even including “jump up to grab the ledge, miss and grab air, step forward a space, jump straight up again”. The difference is that such misses can result in a pack of zombies eating you. Such retro controls might be initially seen as a detriment, but it is actually a strength.

Many older survival horror games had ‘terrible’ controls that heightened tension and allowed for slow enemies and encounters to still be lethal. Scares and tension could be slow and deliberate, without surprise or shock value. As controls were improved, faster and deadlier enemies were needed. Pure survival horror games are now rare, and there is often discussion on whether a title is survival horror or just a scary (or not) action game. Similar to how RPG mechanics have been introduced into other genres, many horror titles are other genres with the influence of horror. In this case, Deadlight’s retro controls allow for a ‘clunky’ survival horror experience in a 2D platformer. With imperfect controls, you can find yourself quickly surrounded by zombies. One can hurt or slow you, and if any more than two reach your character you instantly lose. As someone who loves Prince of Persia, I really appreciated their effort. I found the controls a bit frustrating and would have preferred them tuned up slightly, but if I had to choose between these and a silky, smooth experience, I would choose these.

I really liked Deadlight, but I also like zombies, Prince of Persia, many of the other XBLA platformers. I also don’t mind the idea of spending $15 on 2 hours of entertainment. However, I was expecting it to be a bit longer and can understand if the surprise of its length was a detriment to others. This title was provided for review, as such my own value can only be gauged theoretically and with hindsight. If you have to choose between Deadlight and something else you need to spend $15 on, weigh this carefully. If you are looking for a great, single-evening play session, Deadlight comes recommended.

About Aaron Phokal

Aaron is a staff writer for Splitkick.
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