First released in 2012 during a phase of indie game developers favoring dark, melodramatic, monochromatic environments and deeper storytelling, Deadlight found middling success in its iconic design and tense gameplay.
Telling the story of Randall Wayne, the lone survivor seeking his companions in 1986 zombie aka Shadow-infested Seattle, this post-apocalyptic platformer has had a graphics overhaul and new game mode added.
Walking among the Shadows
Roaming from left to right and vice versa in deliciously decayed cityscapes in all its remastered glory is never a fully comfortable experience. Randall, while being a park ranger before the Shadows came, is not Action-Man. Generally, he's a weakened older guy just trying to find his family, and I don't think park rangers have much call for fighting off hordes of undead trying to bite your skin off.
Randall might come across as weak, fighting off Shadows with melee attacks for much of the first half of the game. Some people criticize this, but maybe it's just made that way to emphasize his failing strength, or maybe I'm reading too much into it.
He certainly doesn't seem weak once you've found a weapon and are laying heavy axe blows into a zombie's head so it doesn't get back up. Stamina depletes when Randall does anything other than walk — running, fighting, hanging from ledges will drain his stamina. Don't get caught hanging above an electrified floor should you run out!
There is no doubt that Deadlight's strengths come from its dynamic use of shadows, darkness, contrast and lighting. Zooming in from a long wide angle to a close up as Randall bashes through a door, for example, is just one of the small ways Deadlight has always set itself apart from other indie games of its ilk. It looks excellent remastered for Xbox One, and the Directors Cut has only added to this aspect of the game's charm.
Some parts of the game are more dynamic than others, with Randall racing to safety from one point to another, avoiding Shadows along the way. Deadlight's platforming mechanic comes from more than just jumping over abandoned burned out cars and hopping over chain link fences. The puzzle elements can be solved in a number of ways: the way the developers want you do solve them, which is usually answering the question, "How can I clear this room of Shadows so I can progress?" There's also, "Arming all these traps as quickly as possible without attracting attention and killing them all at once."
But this is the long-winded and much harder way when most often you can call Shadows into traps already on the ground while Randall is standing beyond reach, to just barging past them, or swing onto lines above them and out the exit on the other side. All ways are just as rewarding: as long as you get out of the room relatively unscathed, does it matter how you did it? Play it your way. I don't think it detracts from the intensity of the situation you're in at the time, as Deadlight sure had my heart pumping often. As mentioned previously, stamina depletes over time, so running away isn't a consistently viable option and you could get caught short and surrounded. Shadows skulk around, so dropping your guard and thinking you're alone is almost always a big mistake.
Couple this with the Directors Cut's 'updated graphics' and you may be looking at brown pants more often than you think. Where the finer controls of jumping and climbing and aiming weren't perfect before, the Directors Cut doesn't really seem to have solved the problem.
There are segments of the game that run fluidly, and some near perfectly. Racing a gauntlet of Shadows, for example, and barging through debris in your way, has a real swiftness to it that feels great to execute, but the action is brought quickly to its knees by needing to jump to something above you or across from you, particularly if you're not jumping toward or against anything already supported by a wall.
The moody atmosphere and sense of despair and decay aren't really portrayed very well through Randall, who seems to have the emotional range of a stale piece of bread. Most of his recollections are told periodically as you reach new areas, but the majority of the backstory is told through finding torn pages of his diary which have somehow gotten themselves lost in some really random places.
The platforming edge gets kicked into a whole new gear mid-game with a network of traps and puzzles to navigate in order to continue on Randall's journey. It was really enjoyable to feel like a sewer rat and work things out on the fly in order to not die a miserable death. Some parts are only jumping over spikes while sliding down a steep slope, but it's easy enough to mess up if you're not paying attention. If you die, you don't get taken back too far in order to try again.
With more precise controls, Deadlight: Directors Cut would be great, but at the moment it's still falling short of being better enough to warrant players of the original picking it up on improved controls and better graphics alone.
The inclusion of new difficulties may be enough to sway some, and perhaps the Survival Arena mode could be a drawing point — a mode where Randall has to survive for as long as possible starting with absolutely nothing. Exploring the local area for his weapons and caches of loot, the timer is ticking as Shadows pour in. Keeping Randall alive longer than ten minutes is definitely a brutally difficult experience, especially since the loot crates will expire and disappear if they're not collected in time. Shadows often appear in the most inconvenient areas, normally between you and some much-needed health or ammo, making odds of survival particularly low. But give it a try?
If Deadlight: Directors Cut is the first time you've played, go for it. This atmospheric action platformer is still a great game despite its couple of flaws, and the new modes make for a longer and more difficult game if you choose it.
- Addition of difficulty extends replayability
- New game mode Survival Arena
- Brilliant atmosphere and presentation
- Controls are still not perfect which is the biggest drawback
This review was conducted on an Xbox One with a physical disk provided by the developer.