Point Review: Deadlight (360)

August 26th, 2012 by

Developer: Tequila Works
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Genre: Survival Horror Platformer
Players: 1
Console: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Hours Played: 5-6
Progress: Beat main game and beat the highscore on one of the unlockable LCD minigames

It seems like every second or third M-rated game that comes out these days has something to do with zombies.  If it’s not a blatantly zombie-centric game like The Walking Dead, Left 4 Dead 1/2 or Dead Rising 1/2, then zombies will all too often be worked-in somehow as in games like Call of Duty: Black Ops, Red Dead Redemption, ARMA 2 and Borderlands.  One genre that hasn’t been too saturated in zombies as of late, though, is platforming games. Deadlight steps up to the plate as one of the more highly anticipated entries in this year’s Xbox Live Summer of Arcade by putting zombies into the moody platformer mix.  Does Deadlight live up to its anticipation, based largely on the generally high quality of titles released in each year’s Summer of Arcade, or does it become mired its many aspects often seen as technical faults like being from an indie development team and containing zombies?  Read on to see what our zombie-bashing playthough uncovered.

  • The story follows a man named Randall Wayne as he searches the ruins of Seattle for both his family and (intermittently) his group of zombie apocalypse survivor friends.
  • There are a couple of small twists in the plot, but as a whole compared to the rest of the zombie game fodder the story is more-or-less predictable and doesn’t really hold the game up on its own.

  • The game is set-up so that you navigate the world stuck in a 2D plane, but all of the characters and environments are 3D, much like Shadow Complex before it.  Also in Shadow Complex-style, enemies can lurch out of further back “layers” as it were onto your 2D plane to attack you.
  • It’s almost impossible to tell when zombies are in your way, or slightly further back, so wasting ammo or precious platforming time on zombies that you think are in other “layers” gets frustrating quite early in the game and never improves.
  • Interactive elements of the environment are usually highlighted, as one would expect, but the platform parts (which happen to be fairly important in platforming games) are often hard to distinguish from background elements that the player happens to constantly sail through on their way toward certain doom.
  • The game mercifully puts checkpoints rather frequently, so when the ceiling comes crashing down without warning, or an unseen trap is sprung in yet another impossible-to-dodge-the-first-time way, or 4 zombies randomly burst out of a door and eat your face off, it’s less of a big deal than it technically could be as usually you’ll lose at most 3-4 minutes of progress.
  • The controls work fairly well, there’s even a novel LB-mashing way to reload weapons, but what to press when gets confusing, especially when precision matters a lot in later levels.  There was one instance when I discovered that double-tapping the A button on a ledge (which usually means “scale this ledge please”) results in you going back down the ledge.  When this ledge happens to be in the middle of a room full of zombies at hanging butt-level, this glitch results in quick death in a once again frustrating manner.
  • Combat can be just as frustrating as the platforming, as there is a stamina gauge limiting how many swings of your axe you can take before the screen goes wobbly and you are disembowelled by whatever happens to be standing the closest to you.  Gun aiming works in much the same way as in Shadow Complex, using the Right Stick, but there is a delay when you’re switching weapons or beginning to draw a weapon that often ends up being the difference between life and death, leaning much more often to the death side of things.
  • There are a lot of collectibles scattered about the levels in a classically Metroid/Shadow Complex manner, but they can all be collected as soon as you find them, as there is no back-tracking like there is in the aforementioned games.
  • The best thing about the game is that it gives out achievements like it was going out of style.  Deadlight qualifies as one of the Xbox games with the least time to Gamerscore ratio.  My perhaps 5.3 hour playthrough of the game netted me well over 85% of the game’s 400G with very little effort aside from spending close to half of that time staring at the “Press any button to load last checkpoint” screen.

  • The graphical style of Deadlight is a bit reminiscent of Limbo whereby the characters in the game, and many of the environmental elements, more or less appear black against the background in most situations.  
  • While this graphical style can look good, it wasn’t as mind-blowing as the very limited number of screenshots on the Internet would lead one to believe.  It’s best to watch a 720p or 1080p gameplay video of the game to get a good feel for how the graphics look in motion than viewing the still images that are available. 
  • The in-game graphics are nicely stylized, but at the end of the day are nothing to write home about.
  • The cutscenes are presented in a still/Ken Burns-style comic book manner.  While this method can be quite interesting when used well as in games like Gravity Rush, Deadlight‘s comic book cutscenes are sort of fence-sitting in terms of quality.  They certainly get the job done, but I can’t help but think that they could have been done better either using the in-game engine or by having them fully animated like in Mirror’s Edge (even though this is a bit much to ask of an indie game).

  • Even less-so than the graphics, the sound in Deadlight is nothing to write home about.  You have the usual zombie grunts/squishy noises that we’ve come to… love (?), but from the music to the environmental noises there’s nothing terribly special here.
  • The voice acting in Deadlight is a very mixed bag.  The main character’s voice is alright, with shades of Sam Fisher, but basically every other voice in the game, no matter how big or small of a character seems either unprofessional or grating in some way.  A particularly bad example of voice acting comes late in the game when Mr. Wayne is interacting with the militarized militia who not only repeat lines several times (sometimes in unison), but all sound like they were voiced by somebody who had never heard a recording of their voice before.

  • While 85% or more of the game’s Gamerscore points can be easily achieved in the initial playthrough, that last 15% will likely require some level replaying on the gamer’s part.  There are achievements for beating the generously low high scores on three Game and Watch-style LCD games that are unlocked by being found as collectibles in the game-proper.  My initial playthrough yielded only one of these three, so they’re fairly well hidden in their respective levels.  There are also two achievements reserved for finding the rest of the collectibles: pages from Wayne’s diary, and ID cards/other memorabilia that largely reference famous murderers. 
  • There are also leaderboards which can yield a pyramid-scheme-like achievement for having a friend also purchase the game.  The leaderboards track time and completion percentage of the game if you’re someone who likes being competitive in single-player games for some reason.

While Deadlight seemed promising when it was first announced as part of Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade promotion, even in spite of its zombie apocalypse setting, but it’s short length, rather pedestrian narrative, and too often clunky or just plain frustrating gameplay tell a different story.  Unless you’re a die-hard zombie game fan, or someone looking for some quick (albeit still frustrating) Gamerscore points, I wouldn’t recommend this game at it’s current 1200 MP cost.  If this goes on sale sometime down the road, there are worse ways to spend your 5 or so hours, but don’t come to Deadlight looking for a blockbuster title like its actually good Summer of Arcade predecessors Bastion and Limbo.

 Rated 6.8

 A review copy of this game was provided to us by its publisher.