Originally released back in 2012 as part of Xbox’s Summer of Arcade, Deadlight was that year’s 2D platformer. It gave the genre the now-too-familiar zombie apocalypse treatment, with fairly positive results, mixing the puzzle and platforming elements of Flashback (the original, not that awful remake) and the shadowy aesthetics and grim tone of fellow Summer of Arcade title Limbo.
With their next project (enchanting PS4 exclusive RIME) in need of a serious boost to cashflow, Tequila Works has decided to bring its well-received debut to Xbox One and PS4 (the first time on a Sony system) complete with glossier graphics, tighter controls, and an all-new survival mode, in hopes of using the remaster to help fund their next title’s development.
Set in an alternative 1986, civilization has come to an abrupt and bloody end as the result of a worldwide pandemic – one in which the dead have risen to feast on the living. Players take on the role of Randall Wayne, a gruff survivor type, desperately (and rather stupidly) seeking his wife and daughter in the desolate, bombed-out streets of Seattle, which is now an abandoned husk home only to the dead.
After he’s separated from the group he’s been travelling with, Randall decides it’s time to try and find his family, though everything is not as it seems. As he ventures through the desolate streets, stadiums and hospitals of Seattle, Randall begins to piece together the events that lead him there in the first place. Finding missing pieces of his diary, the IDs of serial killers and having haunting visions and dreams of his wife and daughter, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the story is heading. To say the entire thing is a massive lesson in wonky foreshadowing is an understatement. That said, there are two possible endings, with the alternative unlocked by completing the game in Nightmare Mode, which in turn is unlocked after completing the game in normal (originally only available on the PC version).
Told in three acts, Deadlight splits the action between several distinct districts of post-apocalyptic Seattle. Players venture through zombie-infested streets, booby-trapped sewers home to a madman known as the Rat, an abandoned hospital, and a stadium taken over by a fascistic military unit known as the New Law. While Deadlight‘s desolate setting offers plenty of variation in locales and puzzles, the grim narrative and oppressive tone is consistent throughout.
Deadlight‘s murky skylines and backdrops have a greater sense of place and depth thanks to the improved visual polish and native 1080p resolution. The enhanced lighting effects bring an odd ethereal charm to the shadowy proceedings, while the improved resolution makes an already beautiful game look that much sharper. Meanwhile, the animated cutscenes that bookend each area are presented in a crude comic book style that bears a striking resemblance to Tony Moore’s design work on The Walking Dead. While this style of artwork fits the general tone of the narrative, they do feel a little jarring and don’t transition that well when following gameplay.
Deadlight feels particularly linear, though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Your actions are generally limited to moving boxes to reach ledges, throwing yourself over fences and climbing ladders. Though the game does change this up with the occasional chase sequence at various points later on, and some interesting puzzles in which you have to call on the Rat to pull levers and move platforms in the sewer section, these moments don’t last very long. Deadlight’s puzzles and pathfinding lose some of their luster as the game quickly presents you with flashing arrow prompts that tell you exactly what to do and where to go.
The biggest improvement in the Director’s Cut has to be the tighter combat controls. Randall swings his axe quicker, aiming with the shotgun and revolver feels more accurate, and, on the whole, the controls feel more responsive. That being said, don’t expect to simply dispatch anything that comes near you, as combat is still a gruelling affair. Ammo is scarce, and the axe is more a means of creating an opportunity to escape than a reliable tool used to put down the undead for good.
As previously mentioned, scattered throughout the game world a little off the beaten track (though usually not that far) is a range of collectable items including ID cards and fragments from Randall’s journal. Each item helps to add a little to the story and give the player better insight into the protagonist’s tattered psyche. If you want to get the whole picture, it’s worth trying to track them all down, though it could be said that they potentially add a small amount of replay value to the admittedly brief campaign, I managed to find pretty much everything with the bare minimum of fuss on my second play through. And I’m not that sharp. If I were actively trying, I probably could have found everything first time around, as none of it is particularly well hidden.
Though nothing has been added to the slim main campaign, Tequilla Works saw fit to add an arcade-style survival mode to the Director’s Cut. In this mode, Randall is trapped in an abandoned hospital, beset by hordes of the undead. With no hope of escape, it’s up to players to see how long they can survive while trying to rack up the highest kill count possible. Bafflingly, it introduces new weapons not found in the campaign, such as molotovs, a sniper rifle, and a machine gun. It’s fun in short bursts, but I still don’t understand why they didn’t put their efforts into extending the game’s all-too brief campaign rather than giving us a sideshow that focuses on the game’s combat, admittedly still its weakest aspect.
While Deadlight: Director’s Cut does present a unique take on the woefully over-saturated zombie genre, it is sadly hampered by repetitive platforming and tedious ho-hum combat. Those that caught it the first time ’round and felt let down by its controls may feel the need to give it another look, as refined visuals and tighter controls do fix some of the issues present in the original Xbox 360 release. Meanwhile, survival mode, though admittedly flawed, is surprisingly addictive (at least in small doses). Ultimately though, Deadlight’s compelling atmosphere and delightfully bleak narrative don’t quite compensate for its flawed fundamentals and all-too-brief run time.
Deadlight: Director’s Cut was reviewed on PS4 with a copy provided by the publisher
Developer: Tequila Softworks | Publisher: Deep Silver | Genre: 2D Platformer/Survival Horror | Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One | PEGI/ESRB: 18+/M | Release Date: June 21, 2016