Genre: Action Developer: Tequila Works Publisher: Microsoft Classification: M Release Date: 1st Aug 2012 Platforms:
Average of 3 Ratings
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Let’s get this out of the way first: I’m not a huge fan of platform games in general, especially of the “2.5D” variety. I love the parkour of Assassin’s Creed and inFAMOUS and even of Uncharted, but a game that looks 3D but only really exists in two dimensions only makes me wish I could turn away from the flat plane and explore the background... Any fans of the genre should read this review, consider my criticism, and then add a point to the score.
So, yes, Deadlight is a linear platformer built in the Unreal Engine by Tequila Works for XBox Live Arcade. Tequila Works is a Spanish outfit, with team members whose CVs boast work on Diablo 3, but then Clive Barker’s Jericho appears on many of the team’s profile. So a bit of a mixed bag.
Rather like Deadlight, then.
As a platformer, Deadlight contains the basic requirements of the genre: running, jumping, a little bit of climbing (pulling yourself up from ledges, hand-over-hand monkey bars style), moving crates, jumping on crates, shooting switches, breaking through barricades and whatnot. There is a sparse sprinkling of puzzles which require a bit of deduction to work out, but mostly just finding the objects to ‘activate’ will suffice.
For example, there are bookcases you slide to block doors, which you can then climb on top of. There are blocks of wood to be shot out of large window frames to cause them to swing down and become ladders. A couple times you are required to go backwards in order to climb higher and go forwards--nothing particularly cerebral.
The bag of tricks the world throws at you is fairly limited, even to someone who doesn’t play many platform games. I was surprised at how few of the “switch throwing” mechanics were used in levels after they were introduced. The second act is riddled with them, but after this, there are precious few.
Perhaps this is a result of the clunkiness of the player-character’s mechanics.
The player’s control over Randall Wayne is mediocre, and the jumping mechanic can be downright infuriating. Most of the time this isn’t a huge problem, because the game is generally slow-paced enough to allow for the tediously-slow transitions between actions. However, during the occasional “chase” sequences (sometimes outrunning a helicopter, other times getting through a collapsing building), any combination of running, climbing and jumping is almost always fatal the first time.
Like many of his colleagues (including Ezio of Assassin’s Creed, for example) Randall’s movements consist of many different animations chained together by your keypresses. This makes for some smooth and believable movements, obeying the general rules of a human body. However, it also means that it is impossible to quickly transition from, say, jumping forward to shooting backward in one quick motion--you must complete the “landing after a jump” animation as well as the “turning around” animation before you can activate the “drawing your gun” animation.
In a genre where jumping is so very important much more nuance is needed than Randall can deliver. Remember those animations I talked about above? There are 3 for jumping: jump up, jump left and jump right. This means you either jump vertically, or at about a 45 degree angle left or right.
You can enhance the distance of the left and right jumps by sprinting into them, so perhaps that brings the total to five. The problem is that once the jump button is pressed, Randall is out of the player’s control. You can’t quickly reverse your joystick’s direction to slow Randall down and shorten the jump--try this in other platformers, even early Mario has this feature.
A couple more mechanics round out the player-character. Stamina meters how much Randall can sprint or climb hand-over-hand while hanging from power lines. Combat exists in the form of a fireman’s axe, a .38 revolver and shotgun. The axe is tied to stamina as well, so you can’t just wing it willy nilly at every zombie you see.
Sorry, did I say zombie? I meant shadows which are totally not zombies, okay?
The fiction all these platform mechanics are wrapped in is an “infection” style zombie apocalypse. So the environment that Randall is running, jumping and stumbling his way through is a post-apocalyptic Pacific Northwest (particularly Seattle).
Randall’s particular motivation is to get back to his wife and daughter, Shannon and Lydia. To do this, he is working to meet up with the friends he is separated from in the opening cinematic of the game, who he surmises will be able to help him find his family.
There is a lot about the story I’d like to talk about because it’s worth pointing out how poor the writing is. However, I’d have to spoil what story exists to do it, and we can’t have that, can we?
The plot is pretty well telegraphed from about the middle of act two. The first of the two major plot points is almost a give-away, and the final twist was pretty obvious as well. They aren’t exactly ‘bad’ but so incredibly cliche with regard to zombie stories that you can probably figure one of them out without even playing the game!
The dialog in the game is pretty horrendous. The Rat, who Randall encounters in the early in the game, is at least an addled old man, so his bizarre pseudo-philosophy is perhaps in character. But Randall is also prone to nonsensical attempts at profundity. Two of my favourites were: “The survivors of a war are always the ones who tell the stories of the battles,” and “Darkness doesn’t exist. What we call darkness is the light that we can’t see.”
I honestly don’t know what those mean.
At one point he gives an inspiring speech (or at least, it’s meant to be inspiring), but apparently lacks faith in his own convictions as he promptly does the opposite of what he advises. A case of “Do as I say, not as I do,” I suppose. Poor form, Randall!
So Deadlight isn’t going to win any awards for its narrative: the plot is pretty cliche, a little patchy and the dialog is down-right awful in many places. That the team is Spanish, meaning English is very likely their second language, goes some way to explain this, but does not really excuse it.
The platform mechanics are tight enough in most cases because the game world isn’t really that difficult--certainly anyone who has played Braid or Super Meat Boy successfully won’t find much challenge here.
The environments are actually quite beautiful, especially for a small-scale game like this. I do genuinely wish I could have just turned to my left and gone exploring... The environments and the reasonably compelling flashback atmosphere lend what would otherwise be a pretty poor game a glimmer of hope.
"I’m not a huge fan of platform games in general"
Well what's teh frikkin point reading this review? Biased from the start.
One of the freshest games in recent years is lost on you. I Pity the human race.