I finally succumbed to the Steam winter sales a few days ago, and decided to hit up some of the smaller titles in my Steam backlog while I was at it. First up was Deadlight, which I finished not 3 minutes ago.
Deadlight is a 2.5-D platformer reminiscent of XBLA game Shadow Complex, though it has a strictly linear path rather than Metroidvania-style exploration. In it, you play as Randall Wayne, a man who has lost his wife and daughter in a zombie break-out in Seattle. I’m honestly pretty worn out by zombie games, but it was on my list already so I figured I should give it an honest shot. It could have been a good game, if not for numerous poor design decisions.
My biggest complaint is the large amount of instant-death trial-and-error gameplay. There are several time-sensitive areas of the game where you are killed instantly for doing the wrong things or not completing in time, but the game gives you little or no warning as to what is expected of you. In one section, you are chased by a military helicopter that is shooting at you for reasons that are never explained. You must run across rooftops, avoiding obstacles before the gunfire hits you. However, among the fences you need to hop over, there is one fence that must instead be crawled under, indicated by a barely-visible hole in the fence. Trial-and-error gameplay is pretty annoying as it is, but being forced to completely restart a section on each failure is awful. I’d be willing to write that off as the one aggravating running section, except there are 5 or 6 of them throughout the game.
Another of my complaints is the combat. At first you are given no weapon, which is fine, because it helps establish the zombies as a threat. Then you are given a fireman’s ax, which can only be used to push zombies away or knock them over, because zombies are apparently impervious to bladed weapons. The real issue comes in that zombies take 3 to 5 hits to knock over, which becomes an issue when you have another horde of zombies you’re trying to escape and there’s no other way to get past. Add the fact that you have limited stamina giving you only a handful of swings in the first place and you get a frustrated player.
The story was my final disappointment. I couldn’t care less about any of the characters, the plot is cliche but tries to be dramatic, and too many things are left unexplained. The game tries to show some relationships between characters, but doesn’t take any time to explore them. You save a female friend from rape (because of course she’s getting raped. How else could you show a woman is in trouble besides BEING TRAPPED IN A ZOMBIE OUTBREAK), but I (as a player) don’t really know her and haven’t developed any connection to her. Near the end, she cries incessantly about too many zombies and wishing for death, and honestly I wanted to give it to her if it would shut her up. Throughout the game there is a paramilitary group taking advantage of the chaos and they are clearly involved in its creation, but what exactly their involvement is and what they’re trying to get out of it is never explained. If there was some kind of symbolism here, then you could at least argue that the interpretation is left to the player, but the game is pretty literal about everything.
The real tragedy is that Deadlight could have been a good game. I could see the potential and all of the parts were there. If the levels had a bit more polish, if the gameplay had a few tweaks, if the story had better writing. But it didn’t, and it suffered for it.