Tuesday, June 3, 2014

'Deadlight' (Game Review)

I'm always up for a good side scrolling platform game, so when I saw that Deadlight was free on "Games with Gold" on the Xbox 360 it was time to invest a few hours of my life in it. Now that I've beaten the game, I want about 75% of those hours back.

Deadlight is developer Tequila Works attempt at turning old school puzzle platformers like Price of Persia or Flashback into a survival horror game. You play as Randall. He's a former park ranger living with a group of survivors after a plague of zombies decimates 1986 Seattle Washington. Following the intro where some seriously bad stuff goes down separating him from his group, he sets off looking for his wife and daughter. The opening cinematic is told in comic panel format and does a nice job imitating The Walking Dead (the graphic novels, not the video games).

The first third of Randy's adventure is him trying to escape from the city's core, avoiding pitfalls and "shadows" which is this game's synonym for "zombies". You'll climb boxes, grab ledges, eventually find a fire axe to defend yourself, and scramble through some amazing looking environments.Visuals are this game's strongest asset. The environments and animations are just amazing. They're dark, dirty, and the "silhouette" character art is wonderful for setting the game's tone. The music isn't too shabby either, and there are some clever Xbox achievements that are all titles of popular songs from the 80's.

As I began the 2nd act I thought "this game is great!", but that's when they totally pulled the rug out from under me. You eventually arrive in an area called "The Labyrinth". It's a totally non sequitur area and sub-plot that derails the story and makes no logical sense other than an excuse for the developers to put in some masturbatory level design featuring horrendously difficult traps. Just when you settle in to Randy not being totally defenseless, some lunatic Vietnam vet takes all his gear away for no good reason, and you have to die repeatedly on unfair pixel-perfect jumps in a game where the movement animations are intentionally detailed (see:sluggish). Poor form Tequila Works, poor form.

This continues into the game's final act where the story tries to get back on track, and you rescue a kid who is not Glenn from The Walking Dead but is pretty much Glenn from The Walking Dead. Again, more trial-and-error puzzles where you'll die if you don't have a crystal ball or a lot of dumb luck on your side. That sort of "Gotcha! Memorize that and re-start from the checkpoint!" style of game design drives me insane, and too much of Deadlight is full of it. The hordes of shadows don't help either. You'll go from "hobo" to "hobo with a shotgun" in the game's final third, but the undead overwhelm you so fast that the mechanic to push them away is basically useless. Was this an attempt at "realism"? Maybe, but it's still not very fun. By the time I finished the game (which is only a few hours long) I was just kind of glad it was over, since I had become so frustrated with the "try, die, repeat" treadmill it puts you on.

Deadlight was a disappointment. I say that because it starts out so promising with some great ideas, and then totally nosedives. For such a short game they should not have shoehorned that strange 2nd act in, and then tacked on a bunch of nonsensical events to try and wrap the plot up properly. Even more odd, the script and voice-acting even seem to deteriorate. It goes from "cheesy in an entertaining way" to sounding like two guys recording a terrible radio drama in their friend's bathroom. Also, before you tell me I'm just bitter and bad at video games, pretty much every walkthrough I looked up complained about cheap deaths, and we all know YouTube is the authoritative source for game design commentary.

If you really love zombie games, maybe try Deadlight. Or maybe just play a better game like Out of This World. If you do try it, download it while it's free. I got it compliments of my Xbox Live subscription and I'm still here complaining about it. Can you imagine what my review score would've been if I actually PAID for it?

Grade: C-
Reviewed on Xbox 360

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