Deadlight is a unique blend of vintage side-scrolling adventure mechanics (in the vein of SNES/Genesis classic Flashback) with slick modern visual (akin to Limbo) that deals with some dark and mature themes surrounding a small group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic ‘end of the world’ zombie setting. The game feels good, although vastly different from most modern ‘platformers’, and offers an interesting story-line focused around survival and rescue, with a nifty little twist in the third act.
+The storyline, while not completely original, is an interesting one and offers a little more weight than we generally see out of an arcade title.
+The controls are smooth and work well, even though they aren’t exactly ‘traditional’ for games of its genre.
+The length of the game is just about right, it fits snuggly in the ‘short but sweet’ category that arcade games should.
-There is no replayability for the casual gamer. Unless you’re a competitionist or an achievement whore when the game wraps up (just over 2 hours) you’re done for good.
-Some of the artistic choices in the game mar the level design and can cause some unexpected deaths.
In all honesty I’d nearly forgotten about the side-scrolling adventure genre. I say adventure as opposed to ‘platformer’ because what Deadlight, and its predecessors, provided is something much grander than what most people would associate with the term ‘platformer’ (namely titles like Mario, or Sonic). While it’s true the gameplay focuses around the same core mechanics: running, jumping, navigating through a labyrinth of 2D obstacles; the game styling is completely different. Deadlight is reminiscent of a forgotten sub-genre of video games that haven’t been in the spot-light since the SNES/Genesis era with titles like Flashback. And I, for one, am glad to see the genre’s return.
Now, to be fair, the game already gets a couple of nationalist bonus points for having the game begin in our own back-yard. Deadlight opens its curtains in the small(ish) town of Hope BC. It is about as close as I’ve ever seen to a game setting itself up in our home town Vancouver (unless you want to count Mass Effects obvious Vancouver land marking and allusions).
The story, which takes place in the 1980s, focuses around main character Randall Wayne; a park-ranger who has his world turned upside down by a sudden and mass outbreak of zombies, known as ‘shadows’. Rumor surrounding the world of Mr. Wayne is that there is a survival shelter just south of the boarder in Seattle and together with a small group of like-minded survivors he meets along the way; he heads down through the states in hopes of finding salvation, as well as his family.
At first blush the story is an obvious one; it offers a driving force behind Randall’s actions and not much more. During the game’s second act however, things turn a little narrative-heavy. Everything, it seems, as not as they first appeared. The storyline turns dark and, without giving too much away, the story becomes one of redemption rather than a straight-forward rescue mission.
Honestly though, it wasn’t the story that piqued my interest when I first heard of the game. It was the art.
Deadlight offers stunning 2.5D visuals that are weighted, heavily, by the concepts of darkness and shadow. Playing, no doubt, to the game’s idea of zombies being called ‘shadows’ there’s a lot of darkness in the game, encounters with the light are generally brief and deadly. Everything has a very ‘Limbo’ feel, though a touch more lighting is offered to define the characters as they navigate through the world. The most impressive bit, for me personally, however was the use of comic-book-style cut-scenes to progress the story. Between acts, and at random intervals during chapters, the game would take a time-out to provide some beautiful hand-drawn artwork for a motion-comic style story. All put together each segment, the comics and the gameplay, came together nicely to provide a unique and haunting visual to the game’s dark and depressing story.
The game’s controls are a little more weighted than most will be used to from other platforming titles, which was the original inspiration for me for the comparison of Flashback. Those that remember the SNES/Genesis/Sega CD action/adventure/platformer classic will know, in an instant, what I mean about weighted controls. Everything about the game is deliberate and ‘slow’ feeling. You can still ‘lillypad jump’ around in some sections, and several areas require constant forward motion in order to avoid certain, and instant, death but through-out the entire experience you need to be well aware of what you’re going to do well in advance of actually committing to a button press. There is much less reactive action/twitch gameplay in Deadlight than most platformers, a perfect example being the decision to pick-up ammo. The animation can take about 5-10 seconds to complete, and when you’re being chased down by a horde of ‘shadows’, with no option for cancelling the animation, it’s the difference between life and death.
My complaints list is short. The only real gameplay gripe that I could offer is in a couple of fleeting moments of poor choice relating to the art of the game and level design. A couple of times through-out there would be gaps, which had railing. It would be anyone’s guess, at first glance, which segments of railing required you to climb over, and which you could right straight through (and over an edge into an opened pit).
The game is relatively short, though that’s to be expected in an arcade title. It can be cleared in a couple of short hours, but provides a full story in its three acts. I know that drawing a comparison to something as epic and well-received as ‘Portal’ is a dangerous choice, but in terms of a short, sweet, complete experience Deadlight stands shoulder to shoulder with Portal. The game is, without question, a complete experience with all the trimmings: challenge, story, enjoyable characters and an interesting plot twist. The only place that it tends to lack is in the replayability. If arcade games could be rentals this would be a prime candidate. But with so few reasons to replay the game’s short single-player campaign (there are some collectables which you could, in theory, back-track for) it seems like something that’s likely to be picked up by only the most avid of Xbox Live gamers… or achievement whores, considering it takes advantage of the recent increase in point limit and offers 400 points rather than the traditional 200.
Deadlight is something that I might not be able to recommend to all gamers, but those of you out there, like myself, who miss the classic SNES/Genesis style of platforming/adventure games in the vein of Flashback it’s something you should at least demo. The game feels great, and brings back warm memories of a by-gone era while producing a solid, original story of survival, loss, and redemption.