Deadlight is not a very long game, and in that spirit I’d say don’t get it. That’s not to say that it being short is a failing, indeed, it’s one of the few virtues the game has. For some games the game mechanics are there to enable the story, for some games the story is there to give a vague context for the game mechanics, and Deadlight is the former. It’s therefore sad that the story is so banal.
In Zombie Apocalypse fiction – and make no mistake, while nobody says the Z word, this couldn’t be more of a cookie-cutter Zombie Apocalypse – there are basically four possible stories you can tell. They don’t end particularly well either – it’s mostly about the dissolving of society and how we’re all animals under the skin, etcetera. When you throw in the behaviour of a protaganist who hallucinates his beloved daughter and keeps finding ID cards around him with the names of famous murderers, you’re not so much telegraphing the punchline as you are watching it creep towards you frame by frame on live webcam. When I explained the story as it was being told to me to Fox, she said it was so obvious a twist that surely there was another one?
To lull the game into a false sense of security, it’s traditional to talk about it like maybe I have it in me to be kind about the game. The atmosphere and tone of the game is well-held by its aesthetic choices, and the gameplay is very well-varied between simple parkour puzzles, timing-based puzzles, and while I’m not fond of it, the way the enemies are so resilient conveys well a feeling of desperation. Also, the levels are decently designed, with very few moments of backtracking or of being lost. I also quite like how it well-constructs a 2D path on in a 3D setting to make a good, solid platforming experience.
Under its paper-thin story, it’s still got the core of a good game in it. Problem is, that good game is Prince of Persia, complete with its slightly-bad controls from 1988. Deadlight began its life on the XBLA, using the Unreal engine, and that seems to mean, as a hard fact, the controls are a pile of shit. Without going into point-by-point problems with the platform controls, one of the main prompts you get is ‘Press A.’ That doesn’t mean press the A key, but press the button mapped to an Xbox controller’s A button. Same thing with ‘Press X.’ When it says ‘Press E?’ Well, there’s no E on the Xbox controller, so… let’s go with that. It even shows you the icon for the left trigger as ‘ctrl’ for ‘crouch.’ Then you throw in the controls’ unresponsive nature in clutch situations, like turning around or starting a jump while sliding down a slope, you’re left with a setup that will make you plunge to your platforming death time and time again.
Don’t imagine that that’s the only reason you wind up dead though! Oh no, the game’s obtuse nature of problem solving and the highly limited toolset, you are going to die, and you are going to die a lot, and in many cases you’re going to die through no fault of your own. You’re going to die because the controls interepreted ‘drop’ as ‘flip over the rail’ and you’re going to get kicked back to the checkpoint just before the mouthy cutscene and you’re going to have to deal with hearing him say, over and over again in a voice that sounds like an asbestos miner, how the New Law are worse than the Shadows or whatever. Over. And Over. Again. Those reloads are going to take five to twelve seconds, too, with a judder just after they start. Several times you’re going to start a jumping puzzle as close to the edge as you can be, and you’ll bump a control and suddenly you’re in the plummeting pavement plaza and we’ll just reload again.
Finally, while the game tries to keep it mixed up, with some pure parkour puzzles, some trap avoiding puzzles, some wall-of-fire chase sequences and even a good old fashioned zombie shootathon, not one of these are well signposted. My advice would be to always assume you’re meant to run, rather than to fight, if my advice wasn’t really don’t buy this game.