Despite traversing the well trodden wasteland that is a zombie apocalypse with an ambiguous origin, Deadlight intrigued from the very first trailer. The disjointed monologues, the depth and detail of the backgrounds and the dark and oppressive atmosphere all serve this 2.5D platformer well, but they just aren’t strong enough to prevent some of the less satisfying aspects dragging the game into the horde of mediocrity.
The backgrounds grant depth to more than the aesthetic. Watching as zombies shamble their way to the foreground is genuinely unnerving as you can’t attack them until they are in the same plane as you. You can also never be sure which of them will pursue you, reminding you that whilst you are often isolated the zombie epidemic is not. The fact that much of your time will be spent merely running away from them only heightens the few frantic times when you need to solve some sort of environmental puzzle before you can progress.
The foreground is similarly filled with signs of decay, and the aesthetic is cohesive and well composed. The decaying city crumbles around you, often ineffectual but nonetheless affecting. Much of the scenery will begin to feel familiar, but that is the reality of the urban environment you are in and this repetitiveness never gets to the point of annoyance.
Despite the fact that your path is clearly signposted and the platforming itself is, with very few exceptions, incredibly easy, it feels like a slight grind. Much of this comes from the quality of the animations. Seeing your survival-hardened protagonist pointlessly jump vertically with his arms outstretched as a result of missing the ledge above him by a pixel or two is incredibly frustrating, particularly when the animation itself feels sluggish. The pace is appropriate for the atmosphere and portrays the weariness of a long-time survivor perfectly, but the animations do not – they seem like someone moving slowly as opposed to someone struggling.
Stamina is an important aspect however, and melee combat is where it is allowed to shine. When your energy bar is almost depleted each swing of the axe looks like it is hurting you almost as much as the zombies. Your attacks go from powerful, two-handed movements of the arms to requiring your entire body for each shameful swing. Stamina does recharge rather quickly, but with limited life it is all too easy to fall at the hands of the horde when forced into melee situations.
It is a testament to the atmosphere of the game that even when I had a gun I was incredibly sparring with my ammo, it is just a shame that in reality I had no cause to be. Deadlight‘s approach to supplies is dramatically less restrictive than games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R and it suffers as a result. Handled with far more thought are some of the tactical options presented to you in the game. Shouting in order to attract zombies to your position can be used to lure them into traps or to make a leap over their heads a viable survival strategy, and having to finish a fallen enemy at the expense of stamina and the risk of being attacked makes for some enjoyably tense encounters.
At around 5 hours one would forgive a somewhat shallow plot, but a story this predictable is inexcusable. I could write a synopsis of the protagonist and his motivations and you would instantly know how the game was going to unfold. It tells its tale fairly well, with aesthetically appealing cutscenes and generally well delivered voice overs, but with next to no backstory most of the characters are entirely forgettable. It is only the sewer-dwelling ‘Rat’ that manages to distinguish himself. With his paranoid ramblings and persistent use of the third person he is far from a unique creation, but he is intriguing and inspires some rather refreshing philosophical thought.
The secrets in the game are well worth finding and from the playable hand-held games consoles to the IDs of famous serial killers and diary pages they add more to the experience than mere completion percentage. Combined with the leaderboards these secrets do their best to make another playthrough enticing, but the rest of the game ensures that most would rather survive elsewhere.
There may be shades of Shadow Complex within some of the gameplay and a slight provocation of the poignancy of LIMBO, but the game is too flawed and underdeveloped to come close to either of them. Stranded miles from anything even remotely resembling memorable, Deadlight is enjoyable at times but undeniably disappointing overall.