Impressions: Deadlight

By Adam Smith on October 26th, 2012 at 9:00 pm.

I’ve spent my Friday evening playing the first hour and a bit of Deadlight rather than gallivanting in a pub. It’s a side-scrolling zombie adventure that was previously a tenant of XBLA. Shades of Flashback, Oddworld and Limbo have helped to keep me here while the world drowns the week’s worries, but is this particular apocalypse anything more than a diversion?

It takes a lot to divert me from a drink but Deadlight has kind of managed it for the last three hours, with breaks for food and reading through the fifty tabs that have accumulated in my browser throughout the day. It’s also given me the sort of headache that I normally associate with a night of Tom Waits karaoke and Aventinus, but today’s ludicrous coffee intake may be to blame as much as the game.

Let me get this out of the way: every time I hit a zombie, or ‘shadow’, all movement ceases for a few tenths of a second. It looks intentional. I think it’s supposed to be dramatic. It makes my eyes crack like thin sheets of glass that have been inexplicably placed underneath a tired hippo’s descending rump.

Then there’s the method by which the game chooses to inform me that I’m running low on stamina, usually when I’m swinging an axe around, occasionally thwacking a zombie-shadow in the face and causing the screen to stutter. Exhaustion is shown by having the screen pulse like a migraine at a rave. It’s nauseating, especially when combined with the impact effect.

PULSE, PAUSE, PULSE, PULSE, PAUSE, PULSE PULSE, PAUSE, PULSE, PUKE.

It’s supposed to be jarring, of course, but…ugh. What’s doubly annoying is that apart from those issues, Deadlight is absolutely gorgeous. The world isn’t made of silhouettes, although darkness lends that style to the scenes, and locations look authentic. There’s a particular time and place being recreated – Seattle, 1986 – and although I couldn’t tell you how accurate the appearances are, there’s a griminess and level of detail that suggests familiarity.

It’s a fine-looking city, which is to say it’s a mess of rust, chainlink fences and ruined advertising. It’s the recreation that’s fine rather than the spectacle.

Controls fit the Flashback or Prince of Persia mould. Player character Randall Wayne can’t jump very high but he has remarkable upper body strength, capable of grabbing the smallest of ledges and dragging his body to new heights. Running toward a ledge and timing a leap sees him launched through the air, at the end of which he’ll often need those powerful arms again to grab some outcropping and prevent a nasty fall. It’s simple stuff, but smooth enough and with plenty of incidental detail to sell the physicality – dust and particles crumbling from brick walls, walkways sagging and creaking as a horde races across them.

Horde is an exaggeration. Maybe later there are masses of red-eyed shadowzombies to contend with but so far, I’ve only encountered small groups. They are intimidating scoundrels though, often approaching from the background, where I cannot go, being trapped on a 2 dimensional escape route. They can be killed but it takes time and when three or four have Randall cornered, it’s more sensible to head for higher ground.

Mysterious shadows-of-zombies are just as stupid as regular zombies and they’re quite content to run off the side of a building or into an electrical deathtrap if Randall shakes his tasty meat in their direction. Or whistles. He can whistle to get their attention too*.

The whole sorry story of how life became a sad struggle for survival, as well as a more personal hunt for family, is told through Randall’s diaries, pages of which are scattered all over Seattle for some reason. There are other collectables and I’ve been enjoying hunting for them, if only because I like exploring each area as fully as possible.

Oddly, although the game certainly does have elements of Oddworld and Limbo, it’s Flashback I’ll keep coming back to because the puzzles don’t seem as deadly or reliant on trial and error, and even when something goes wrong, it’s often possible to claw your way back out of the situation, even if ammo is always suitably scarce.

There are rapid, gauntlet sequences that’ll kill you quicker than that clown in your closet with the cut-throat razor, but mostly the tempo is more Prince of Persia than Canabalt, which the rooftop chases occasionally remind me of.

I’m probably a bit more than half way through, as the story is apparently very short, and I don’t think there are going to be any startling revelations. The events are more interesting than Randall, even though he stumbles around in weird dream sequences, which is the sign of a compelling protagonist.

There is an early and expected HUMANS ARE THE REAL TERROR angle that made me roll my eyes around on the desk for a while, but the real draw is the setting though. The broken down city is stunning at times and style of platforming suits the lived-in believability of the world. Simple and based around something at least resembling actual human motion, it’s solid and grounded, with a recent cousin in the best parts of I Am Alive.

Even with an extra difficulty level added for the PC release and plenty of unlockables and collectibles, I don’t think there’s a huge amount of game here. However small the nugget might be, it is extremely well polished and quite comforting in that it achieves its aims with little fuss. You will run, you will jump, you will occasionally shoot, you will more often climb. Yeah, it’s zombies again, even if they’re not calling them that, but they do look kind of interesting from this angle.

Deadlight is available on Steam now for £8.49, reduced from £9.99 until November 1st.

*There isn’t actually any meat-shaking at all. Sometimes they just see him and want to eat him and I felt the need to make that sound rude. Sorry.

__________________

« | »

, , , .

48 Comments »

  1. ramirezfm says:

    Word of notice, if you have a non-English region settings the game will just crash to desktop. No, it will not do anything more. That’s 10 euro down the drain, I could’ve bought beer for that :( Patch is going to be released soon-ish, so probably some time in the future. Definitely maybe.
    So… either become English, US or UK your choice, if you’re not, or just save your money. If you want to spend that money anyway you can always buy me some beer.

    • Lekker Pain says:

      Indeed. I already filled a ticket and asked for refund. I do know how to get around this, however I refuse to bother, because when I pay for the game I expect it to launch at least.

      I hope I get the refund. M$ does not deserve even a penny for this.

      • Slinkyboy says:

        Right on brotha!

      • lhzr says:

        i hear changing the windows language to english might fix this. You can do this by going to control panel – regional and language – advanced (on xp). you might have to reboot afterwards.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        I hope you bought it directly from Steam, because your chances of getting a refund for a Steamworks title purchased via a third party are pretty much nil.

    • frank3n says:

      Thanks for the heads up. Pouring one out for you tonight as Hurricane Sandy fails to make Palm Beach County QQ.

    • mckertis says:

      So its the same as Gratuitous Tank Battles. Good to know.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Or change your regional settings, waiting for a patch, after reporting the issue? It’s not the first game having such problem, even if it’s unpleasant.

      You’re a PC gamer, show that you can tinker.

      More than half the games I play don’t account for my silly azerty french keyboard, and I have to circumvent that by switching layouts on the fly. Yes, that’s an inconvenience and shouldn’t be this way, but it’s easy to work around that.

      • ramirezfm says:

        It’s a bit hard to change regional settings on the fly as it requires rebooting the pc. Unfortunately only way to reboot my pc on the fly would require me to throw it out the window first. That sounds nice, especially on some Dark Souls boss fights, but still, not very covenient.

  2. Slinkyboy says:

    I want the wot I think so I can buy or pass. Thanks.

    • lhzr says:

      here’s my quick wot: if you liked flashback, another world, heart of darkness, the first two abes, bermuda syndrome or limbo, you’ll like this.

      also seeing how there’s just a handful of games in the cinematic platformer genre (says mobygames), there’s no reason not to get it, if you’re into this sort of thing.

      • AlwaysRight says:

        WHOA! Whoa, whoa… Lets calm down a bit. Deadlight is by no means a bad game but its far from as good as any of those games.

        • lhzr says:

          ok, yeah, it’s not as good as those, but it’s not far from them either, so my recommendation still stands.

          what i’d have liked is for it to be a bit longer and for the world to be more fantastical and the story less serious, but i can dig deadlight’s tone too.

        • Wreckdum says:

          I think if they added more of an inventory system and a few more puzzles and ways to interact with the environment it would have been a Flashback contender. Flashback just had that…. Damn that is still one of my favorite games. So good. But I can’t identify what about it made it so great.

        • f1x says:

          Man I loved Flashback, I think I played it on the Super Nes <3

          But yeah I can guess this game wont be as excellent, but maybe I'll pick it anyway, as someone said there are not many games like flashback (or Limbo which I already finished twice) out there at the moment

      • Gnoupi says:

        i miss the perfect mix between that was Heart of darkness with his annoying kid and his perfectly animated, gruesome deaths.

        I think i squished him on most pillars, when possible.

  3. aliksy says:

    Does it do anything a pretty flash game doesn’t? $10 is pretty steep.

  4. Slinkyboy says:

    RPS, let the developers know, you want Fez on PC with FFF when you reply everyday:

    http://polytroncorporation.com/update-is-live/comment-page-3#comment-56219

    This isn’t spam, it has purpose!!

    • Serpok says:

      No, thank you.

    • Wreckdum says:

      PC gaming has enough of an image problem already. We don’t need that douchebag jerkoff making things worse for us. Let him stick to his precious Xbox.

    • theleif says:

      He has opinions that doesn’t conform to mine, and he does not filter everything he says through a PR department, so he must be evil.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        He’s not evil, he’s just a top-class asshole with very little respect for his customers.

        • Brossacks says:

          Frankly he’s just a guy. He’s not really any more of an asshole than most people online, it’s just that he managed to learn to make games.

  5. pupsikaso says:

    $15 is quite pricy…. there are better games out there than this that I wouldn’t pay $15 for.

  6. Memph says:

    Picked this up on Steam and i’m also enjoying it, albeit not far in having not long aquired a gun. Problem-wise though, I didn’t experience any jarring juddery effects during attacking, some infrequent bumps in framerate, but nothing distracting from play. There was a black-screen on initial startup, but after verifying cache files it worked a treat, ‘graphics quality’ slider maxed, though sadly no anti-aliasing (forcing some FXAA should fix that a bit).

    In my reckoning, it’s a straight throwback to Prince of Persia / Flashback – complete with platforms that collapse shortly after you grab them and combat that’s often best avoided, thus anyone who enjoyed those, should similarly enjoy this. I found the controls responsive (360 pad) and there’s no fiddly positioning to grab ledges that plagued me in the similar games of old, having the character pogoing up and down with hands in the air, while I very much cared he was about to gets his legs shot or chopped off.

    Thus far, it’s not really difficult, but it’s a nice enough blast of polished-up PoP style gameplay nostalgia, sans frustration (save points being very frequent), for me to not regret the purchase. Gotta agree also that the backdrops, although a typical city in ruin, are beautifully detailed and carry the tone particularly well.

  7. ElVaquero says:

    *koff koff* staring eyes..

    • PleasingFungus says:

      For fuck’s sake, that tag does not need to be put on every article that features a picture of a human being!

      I swear to god, that joke got old about 2 articles in, and it’s only gotten progressively more irritating since.

      On a more positive note: I really enjoyed “…even though he stumbles around in weird dream sequences, which is the sign of a compelling protagonist.” Splendid writing.

      • MD says:

        I still think it’s a (potentially) good tag, it’s just that it’s been massively overused. It should be kept for those images that fix their eyes on you in a creepy way, but currently it’s just a flag that ‘this image contains eyes’.

  8. MrNash says:

    Nowadays I’m usually all, “Enough with the zombies already!” what with how they’re so prevalent in games (pretty much like nazis were 10 years ago), but this game actually does intrigue me. Really tempted to try it.

  9. Blackcompany says:

    I was kind of interested in trying this.

    Until the part about diary pieces scattered all over Seattle.

    That’s ridiculous even when its SOMEONE ELSE’s diary you are chasing down. When the owner is the same character you are playing as….it just defies words.

    Developers, please, please stop doing this.

    • SavageTech says:

      Agreed, I want all my plot delivered to me in stiltedly-contrived exposition during cutscenes. Reading things is for nerds and I HATE exploring to find more of the story when you could just place it all along a glowing golden line for me to follow straight to the ending.

      Wait, nevermind, all of that sounds godawful. Carry on, developers, carry on.

  10. Gap Gen says:

    How many game reviewers does it take to change a Deadlight?

  11. Kaese says:

    I have beaten and 100%ed the game in less than 5 hours and would like to inform everyone that the “NEW NIGHTMARE MODE!” isn’t a new mode. It is what other games like Limbo do by a simple achievement, an iron man mode. In NIGHTMARE MODE, there is nothing new, nothing harder, nothing nightmarer, all it does is turn checkpoints off and you have to beat exactly the same game again in one sitting without dying.

  12. Stackler says:

    I’m really ashamed of people who say “Nah, 10$ is too much” and rather pay EA 70$ Dollars for their shitty games.

    • EPICTHEFAIL says:

      Yes, because their subjective opinion is wrong and they should be burnt at the stake for harboring it. Besides, why must every RPS comment thread eventually include an anti-EA rant? It was a good point the first few times, but now it`s becoming utterly asinine.

  13. alexrok says:

    I think I can confirm that the “impact effect” Adam experienced is a glitch, as it hasn’t happened to me in-game. Unless it *not* happening for me is the glitch. *terror*

  14. sgt. grumbles says:

    Bought this game on Steam yesterday, and probably 1/2 way or more through, and really enjoying it. The part in the sewers (don’t think that’s spoiling anything: there are sewers) is a bit lame….too game-y and unrealistic for me. All the other sets though feel very real, and the gameplay is very cinematic. The graphics are quite beautiful.

    This feels like one of those rare games I’d have no problem watching someone else play, just to see the protagonist narrowly escape the clutches of zombies, bust through rotten planks into another area, and jump through windows.

    Oh yeah: as with others posting here, I’ve no glitchy-ness in combat. Settings maxed. Not sure what that’s about, but definitely sounds annoying.

    I’m not a platformer guy, but have to say that in the past couple days I’ve been happy to find and play both this and Mark of the Ninja, another platformer.

  15. scaryeric says:

    i really enjoyed this game when i played it on my * wait for it* XBOX 360 booo hisss

  16. Miltrivd says:

    I want to add that the game does a terrific job getting you out if its own immersion.

    The character talks to you (the player) instead of being a monologue with himself, but is not constant, so when you are enjoying the sounds and the detailed landscape you are pulled out by “My friends! They are attacking my friends!” and some other overacted and weird sounding lines. The worst of all, is that at its core is a console downloadable game, with this I mean is aimed to be a time waster. It has the chance to be a bit challenging and mysterious but chooses to be crass and obvious. You don’t have the time to think about the puzzles before the game itself starts spouting the solutions like if you had some dangerously strong case of ADD and need to be remembered that the already flashing obvious solution needs some special extra remarks one second after you see it. This was with the hints options disabled.

    In the end, is a time waster, but a pretty one. The animations are almost all the time impressive and fluid, which makes it easy to get lost in the game… For the few seconds before the character speaks or the game tries to guide your hand for everything.

    • nasKo says:

      It’s exactly how I feel about it.

      It tells you what you’re seeing. “MY FWENDS…DEY ‘TACKIN MAH FRWENDS” when in is so obvious.
      All this ramble about the crazy old man…the Shadows basically showing you the solution to every C-class puzzle.

      Throwing solutions into your face.
      It’s not a challenging game at all. Entertaining nonetheless.

  17. wodin says:

    Amazing how lovely 2D games can look now..love the graphic design..also the pace is good for me aswell.

    Would have liked abit more game in there but again lovely to look at a good to play..BUT if your hankering for a 2D game Mark of a Ninja is the one to get..that game is double triple awesome.

  18. Alextended says:

    Does every sentence describing a feature or whatever really need a metaphor? Anyway, the game is okay, I’m annoyed by the flimsy collision detection (not just in actual collisions but also when you attempt to interact with things like doors you can kick down, where if you’re too close or too far it won’t work even though the icon shows up), and other such things making it feel quite unpolished. Probably because it’s not nearly fun enough to make me care less about those, unlike HOTLINE MIAMI.

  19. Totally heterosexual says:

    I found it really bad myself.

    Oh well.

  20. SavageTech says:

    For the record, from what I’ve seen of the game it looks exactly like Seattle and the suburban cities surrounding it. I’ve lived in the area for most of my life and it immediately came to mind when I saw the game. The real place is a mix of beautiful natural scenery and cold artifice; people build around existing trees more often than leveling the area and planting greenery afterwards. The view on the highway was much like that in ’86 and still similar today, albeit less forested in places thanks to 26 years of expansion.

    I’m impressed that the artists were able to recreate the feel of the city despite living halfway across the world in Spain, although I’m sure having Microsoft as their publisher helped them a lot in that regard.