Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade is in full swing and Deadlight is the third game to be released of the bunch. From developer Tequila Works, Deadlight is a zombie-apocalypse platformer played from a two-dimensional perspective. If you’ve seen or played Shadow Complex, imagine the same game with more running and jumping in the midst of a zombie holocaust. Also, bear in mind that Deadlight has far less combat than Shadow Complex. The developers spent a lot of time implementing parkour gameplay to provide thrills rather than non-stop gun blasting combat.
Aesthetically, Deadlight looks similar two other notable XBLA titles, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare and Limbo. There are lots of shadows, grays, and end-of-the-world gloominess to behold. While having a palette like two of the more well-regarded games on Xbox Live isn’t a bad thing, Deadlight looks like some of the best of XBLA but fails to play nearly as well. That’s really where I was let down.
Before delving deeply into my problems with Deadlight, it’s only right to talk about the good parts of the game. The game has an interesting story that borrows heavily from pop-culture’s modern obsession with zombies and the end of the world. Fans of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” will see plenty of similarities to these works. While it would be easy to say the story in Deadlight is derivative, I found there to be enough original ideas to avoid writing the story off. That said, the voice-acting is decent, but not as good as some of the better games on the market. It’s on par with some of the less intense episodes of The Walking Dead TV series.
For the most part, the graphics in this game are above average for an XBLA game. I appreciated the comic-book style cutscenes. They definitely feel like something ripped from the Walking Dead comic and present the story well. The levels have some gorgeous backgrounds that provide something worth looking at. Unfortunately, the design of the foregrounds can be incredibly small and hard to identify minute important triggers and details. This was not helpful when dealing with the problematic controls and gameplay.
All pleasantries aside, Deadlight is not an enjoyable game to play. While serviceable as a diversion while waiting for a new season of The Walking Dead, the controls make this game so frustrating that on several occasions I almost walked away completely. It became apparent after the first thirty minutes of the game that all of the development time was spent on the graphics and very little was spent on making sure the game played correctly.
Issue #1: The controls are way too complex for such a simple concept.
Deadlight is designed to be played at a fast clip for much of the game. Instead of borrowing the simplistic but enjoyable one-button gameplay of titles like Cannabalt, Tequila Works has thrown far too many buttons into the game.
Issue #2: The RB button should not be an essential button in any game.
The RB button is used to sprint in Deadlight. It is an essential tool to traverse zombie-filled hallways and helicopter traps (I could spend another 1000 words talking about the epic failure of the RB-button on Xbox controllers). The problem with this decision is that RB buttons are notoriously unresponsive. I’d be pressing this button 30-40 times during a sprint and a strafing helicopter would cut me down because the button would not respond. Players should always be able to assign buttons when possible and this is perfect example of why.
Issue #3: The gameplay is slow to respond but wants players to react instantaneously.
Much like in games such as Limbo and Mirror’s Edge, Deadlight demands for players to traverse physical puzzles with very time sensitive button presses. This is the central parkour element of the gameplay. Unfortunately, the gameplay and needlessly complex button system makes things immensely frustrating. Constantly, I would get stuck on a ledge or a wall pressing the correct button to climb or jump, but the animation would take too long and I’d be impaled to my death. My button-presses were on time but the gameplay was so poorly designed (or tested) that I’d be forced to play through the same stage 30-40 times.
There are several other minor gameplay issues that also contributed to me dreading to play this game, but I won’t go into them since I’m trying to keep this review trucking along at a steady pace. But I will leave you with this: just as offensive as the poor gameplay was the short length of the game. My time clocked in at under three hours. Most of the times on the early leaderboard show the average times at two and a half hours. Considering that much of my three hours was spent playing several sections of a stage 30-40 times because the gameplay was broken, Deadlight is absolutely not worth your time or your investment of $15. That’s practically obscene!
In the end, Deadlight is a decent story that looks pretty enough but provides very un-polished gameplay and a game that is far too short. I hope to never play this game again and recommend that you try something better with your $15.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline received one copy of Deadlight for the Xbox 360. Before starting our review, we played through the entire single player story.