I think my angst around survival horror games stems from the many, many hours I lost to the genre back when I younger. There were many nights when my brother and I would sit down in front of the TV, fire up the PlayStation and proceed to play Resident Evil for hours on end. Those familiar with the game will know that much of the tension created in that game comes from the fixed camera angles and not-so-great controls leading to many reloads and undergarments in need of replacing. Long time readers will know that my recent forays into this genre haven’t been great with both of them failing to impress me. Deadlight looked like a fresh take on the survival horror genre and thus I was intrigued to see if the genre could redeem itself to me.
The year is 1986 and the world has been decimated by a virus that reanimates the dead into flesh craving zombies (or Shadows as they’re called in Deadlight). You play as Randall Wayne, one of the few survivors who’s been separated from his family and is searching to find them again. You’ve managed to team up with one of your friends, a police officer and a pair of sisters and were making your way to Safe Point, a rumoured safe zone set up by the military. The opening scenes show one of the sisters badly wounded by the Shadows and you are forced to do the right thing. The gun shot attracts a nearby hoard of shadows to you and in the commotion you get separated from the group. So begins your adventure to find them again and hopefully, your family.
Deadlight is quite visually impressive as when I first looked at some of the screenshots it looked like it had a kind of Trine feel to it with the 2.5D environments. If I’m honest they’re actually done a lot better than Trine as the environments are very detailed and even form part of the game play with things like Shadows lingering in the background shambling over to you. Also unlike most survival horror games which favour noire colouring or muted palettes Deadlight instead favours a more varied set of colours which helps greatly in not making it visually boring. Overall it’s done quite well, much better than what I expected when I first looking into playing Deadlight.
Deadlight is a platformer with the vast majority of the game play consisting of you getting from the left hand side of the screen to the right hand side. Of course it’s never quite that easy with many obstacles blocking your way requiring you to either take a specific path or wade your way through a trough of Shadows in order to make progress. Like many games of today Deadlight also makes heavy use of its physics engine to drive most of its puzzles with many of them requiring you to knock something down or move something in order to give yourself a leg up to the next ledge.
It’s usually at this point in the review of a platform where I’ll gripe about how the jump/grab mechanics are screwy in some particular way but for Deadlight I can’t really say that. Sure there were many moments when I pressed something and didn’t get the result I was expecting but there’s no one point where I couldn’t figure out what I did wrong in order to cause my untimely demise. For a platformer this is a pretty big achievement as pretty much all of them suffer from some kind of issue that makes the platforming sections tedious but in the case of Deadlight all the frustration was born simply out of me fat fingering the keys rather than some glitch in the code.
There’s also combat in the game taking the form of you either swinging an axe at your foes (which is limited by the blue stamina bar in the top left hand corner) or the tried and true zombie killer favourite of a couple different guns, all of which are lethal if aimed at the head. The axe is also quite capable of dispatching enemies however you either have to spend what feels like an eternity wailing on them or knock them down first and then finish them off on the ground. The guns are far more effective however, like any good survival horror, the ammunition is in pretty limited supply (unless you know where to look, of course).
If I’m honest the combat was one of my least favourite parts of Deadlight mostly because of how tedious and unnecessary it felt. The axe is the perfect example of this as it’s not particularly effective when you need it to be (I.E. surrounded by Shadows) and it’s much, much easier to just keep running and knock them down than to even bother attempting to take them out. The guns are pretty much a last resort apart from a couple sections where you’re forced to use them so again their inclusion feels like it was done “just because” rather than some burning need to have it as a core component of the game.
The story is quite compelling at times however I felt that it was let down heavily by the often lacklustre voice acting that backed it up. In the beginning I thought it was quite good however as the story went on it was clear that many of the lines were delivered flat without any emotion behind them. This becomes even more obvious towards the end when there’s some very emotionally charged scenes which lose pretty much all their impact thanks to this which kind of soured me on the story towards the end.
It’s a real shame because objectively the story is pretty good, combining the usual survival horror flair with a psychological thriller that leads you to question the main character’s motives. It’s not the most original plot to be sure but it’s definitely above what I was expecting which is always nice. I felt the ending was unsatisfying, probably due to the way it was presented, however I might have been swayed otherwise had I had a deeper emotional connection with the characters.
Deadlight was a nice surprise considering that I choose it based around the fact that it was short (I’m attempting to work on a couple longer game reviews and I’m constantly running out of time) and needed something for this week. The game plays well with no bugs and the platforming, something that usually brings games down a peg or two, was great. It’s let down by the pointless combat and lack of story delivery with emotion behind the voice acting which is a shame as it’s otherwise a great game. This is probably the first survival horror game that I could recommend playing which has renewed my faith in the survival horror genre.
Deadlight is available on Xbox360 and PC right now for 1200 points and $14.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 3.1 hours played and 68% of the achievements unlocked.