As a concept, Deadlight appeals to me more than crack cocaine does to a junkie trapped in rehab. Just look at all the dainty ingredients Spanish developer Tequila Works has thrown into the mix! What you have here is a 2.5D side-scroller that not only borrows Limbo's art style, but also its brand of physics puzzles. All this is set against a dystopian, post-apocalyptic backdrop featuring the best plot/gameplay element known to mankind—zombies!
The physics puzzles are reminiscent of Limbo
A promising concept
It gets even more interesting because the developers thank Eric Chahi and Jordan Mechner in the credits. For those who skipped the '90s, these two fine gents were behind rotoscoped masterpieces such as Another World and Prince of Persia. Deadlight, similarly, is a throwback to the heydays of cinematic platformers in the vein of Flashback and Blackthorne. These games focus on fluid, life-like movements and accurate physics instead of the exaggerated arcade design of most side-scrollers. Instead of endowing the protagonist with superhuman strength and agility, this side-scrolling sub-genre renders you more vulnerable.
The formula is perfect for a side-scrolling survival-horror platform—something that hasn't been attempted too many times since the sublime indie hit Lone Survivor. Deadlight, then, seems poised for greatness as it ticks all the boxes in every video game geek's checklist for an awesome experience. I mean, how can one go wrong with a survival-horror side-scroller with a strong art style and puzzle-driven gameplay? Unfortunately, you can indeed screw over something as fool-proof as that, and Deadlight shows you how.
Action sequences could have been used with better beta testing
Deadlight takes place in an '80s version of Seattle ravaged by a pandemic that has killed and reanimated all but a few survivors as the "Shadows". You're put in the shoes of Randall Wayne, who's on a quest to find his wife and daughter. The game starts off with Randall being separated from his merry band of survivors comprising of a cop, a Vietnam War veteran and two sisters.
The narrative uses a combination of comic book-themed hand-drawn cutscenes and Randall's journal to deliver storyline. It doesn't quite work as planned because the cutscenes are too vague to work on their own, whereas the 60-page journal is just too long and full of unnecessary details that detract from the main objective of fleshing out the plot. The idea is to provide a glimpse into the personal hell that the protagonist is going through, but Tequila Works doesn't quite manage to strike an ideal balance between revealing the plot through interactive cutscenes and expecting gamers to put up with the tedium of having to read through the journal.
The character animation is well done
Deadlight tries to incorporate an allegorical nod to the concept of hell on earth, with excerpts from Dante's Inferno referenced in the game. Just like the literary classic depicts morally corrupt historical figures suffering in hell, you come across dead bodies of famous serial killers such as John Wayne Gacy, Ed Gein and Aileen Wuornos being devoured by zombies. This is supposed to depict how sinners are being judged for their crimes on earth itself, after hell has frozen over in the form of the zombie outbreak. All this clever subtext, however, is rendered impotent by a plot that seems to end abruptly. The rushed conclusion simply takes the bite out of what could otherwise have proved to be a strong narrative.
Trial and error
The gameplay is no great shakes either. The axe and guns-based combat system may work well against zombies—engaging a few human enemies near the end proves to be an excruciatingly painful affair. Like its many inspirations, Deadlight employs a trail-and-error method to platforming. However, there's no semblance of logic or fairness to this affair due to its inherent control gremlins that make timed platforming a real pain in the ass.
The silhouette-based art style borrows a leaft from Limbo
The lack of intuitiveness or uniformity in platforming segments will see you dying quite often. Mind you, this won't be due to your incompetence, but because the developers clearly haven't spent enough time beta testing and refining the controls. It's frustrating to know that no amount of skill or intelligence on your part will alleviate the number of retries you will spend on platforming challenges. Deadlight's approach to challenging gamers is pretty much summed up by this excerpt from the Postal film.
Worse yet, for a game that expects you to restart so often, the load times are irritatingly long. It's almost sadistic that while every other game using the trial and error method provides near-instant respawning, Deadlight makes you spend several excruciating minutes spent looking at the loading screen as you die for the umpteenth time.
The platforming segments are painful
A rushed affair
Unfortunately, this is a promising concept that's marred by shoddy execution. This side-scroller makes you wonder if the developers just gave up mid-way and rushed it into completion. I mean, the gameplay is promising, but it's undone by a lack of beta testing. The narrative is interesting, but it seems like it has been wrapped up in a hurry.
Deadlight gives you an impression that somewhere along the line Tequila Works just ran out of money and/or time and just pushed out a game that could have been radically improved with just a little bit of polish.