Thursday, 1 May 2014

Deadlight


Dark, foreboding, foggy. This is about as bright and promising at the game is going to get.
The platformer. An often overlooked genre of gaming these days with the big budget licenses out there seemingly opting for more and more use of the First Person Shooter, or that over-the-shoulder Third Person perspective given to games like Gears of War, Silent Hill, Resident Evil 4 (and onwards). Yet the platformer seems to be running in the background along its 2D plane and gathering focus from smaller developers that are taking it into this bullshit term "2.5D" which means nothing. The games are 3D in many cases but the control is suited to the 2D plane. Games of this ilk have been made ever since Quake was adapted and modifiable into a Total Conversion. Rather fittingly, it seems, that Deadlight has taken the Unreal Engine and done the same thing.


No... I didn't make this jump as I was too focused on taking the picture. Looks nice though.
Deadlight, takes the "2.5D" (sod it, it's a platformer, let's leave it at that) and gives us a back-story, a setting and a form of play not unlike Prince of Persia (the ORIGINAL) or Limbo. You're a survivor in 1986 where there's been an outbreak of a disease that causes blackening of the whole body and bright lights to appear in your eyes, while also removing higher brain function and has the patients wandering around infecting others with bites and clubbing/clawing them to death if they won't succumb to the munchies. So yes, it's a zombie affair.

Death, incidentally Randy has the amazing ability to drown faster than most people can hold their breath, let alone choke.
We're introduced to Randy, our husky-voiced protagonist while he's blowing out someone's brains and then telling his fellow survivors to run for it before the shadowy zombies turn up. Which they do, breaking the ladder on their way out, which nicely shoehorns us into the "lone survivor searching to reunite" story through a wrecked and bashed up Seattle. Add into this the dilemma of hallucinations, bad dreams and whether or not Randy will find his wife, daughter and friends, and we've got ourselves all our motivation and reasoning for running, jumping, rolling, shooting, axing and dying through the burning backdrops of Seattle, apparently, I cannot vouch for historical accuracy or landmarks and given it's an alternative history for 1986, it pretty much gives the level designers carte blanche on creativity.

Cutscenes are shown in a very impressive "moving comic" fashion. The design and execution fitting in aptly with the overall setting of the game.
But creativity is certainly the focus. The entirety of Deadlight looks wonderful with its dark and bleak tones, the sense of gloom and despair almost so thick you can cut it with an axe. Everything looks rancid, rotten and ruined from the warehouses and homes to the sewers, subways and hospitals. There is very little that looks positive in this game and when the flashbacks happen, showing times before the end of the world has happened, the game looks overly fake. Whether this is because it's trying to ham up the 1970's view of hot apple pie on windows and every man in a suit and hat returning home saying "Hi honey, I'm home" to the 2.4 children nuclear household, is up for debate.

Another wonderful use of the 3rd dimension interacting with this plane of existence. Namely by a helicopter and machinegun trying to add to your problems.
Deadlight plays very much like Prince of Persia, Flashback and Limbo. You've your main character, he can run, jump, climb, wall-jump, duck, roll, axe, pistol and slingshot (contextual puzzles, trust me) his way out of most difficulties while also having to navigate around and over most of the enemies. It's highly unlikely you'll kill everything, in fact in some situations there are infinite enemies hiding around the corner in the background waiting for you at key points. It's an odd situation, since some of the set pieces will require you to kill 2-3 enemies, some will require you to fend them off until you can escape and others are simply that you have to outrun, out-maneouveur and outwit the shadow zombies. This can be from summoning them to you and watching them go swan-dive off a cliff, drop things on them, have them walk through electrified flooring, push them into machine-gun fire coming from the background and a whole host of other ways to dispatch them.

Brief moments of quiet are often accompanied by rather exquisite detail showing the dilapidation of the surroundings and structures.
You've got your health, which can be upgraded, your stamina which also can be upgraded but there's no puzzle in this game that requires the use of more stamina. If anything it just gives you a little extra breathing time between one awkward jump and another, they're often hidden in very out of the way places that most people wouldn't consider or stop to explore given their hidden nature. Jumps need to be made to places that don't look like they'd support Randy landing upon them, or alternative routes found in the middle of speed puzzles that require fast dexterous reflexes and reactions or they'd die before reaching the end and have to start over.

The axe. Nothing really more needs to be said.
Speaking of which, the game is fairly forgiving. Dying at any point only really puts you back barely a screen's worth unless it's one of those ongoing, lots of things to avoid, puzzles. Like running away from helicopter gunships, or escaping from a collapsing building. Speaking of which...




It's not an easy thing to navigate through but by the time you're here, you'll have mastered most of the moves and can throw it all together almost flawlessly. Though what is a shame, is the fact that you won't have much time to master everything and use it, for the game is over in around 3 or so hours. Perhaps the sign of a good game, perhaps not, but when you're seeking to enjoy a game and it leaves you wanting more, you can always replay it but there's little scope for alternative solutions to situations.

There's often a way for players to kill the Shadows by using the environment.
Herein lies the problem. It's a lovely game, there's no two ways about that, it's very well thought out and fantastically executed in showcasing a dark and foreboding environment but there are, as almost always, issues with the game itself. In particular in this case the control system. There's something counter-intuitive about the layout of the buttons that leads you using the triggers and shoulder buttons in what isn't apparent to be a sensible manner at the time and the causes of death will be simply, hitting the wrong button at the wrong time or the right button but only after you ran a self-diagnostic check on your muscles and synapses. Occasionally there is the issue that the game won't let you jump a specific direction in time and combat with the shadows can be rather hit and miss where you'll be dependent upon scoring a knock-down but find yourself running out of stamina before it falls so you can run past it.

Though in some cases it's quicker to run past them by running through and jumping.

Rooms like this are often a puzzle in themselves. Here you can fight the Shadows and run the risk of death, or use the environment to skip around them.
In some cases the game also acts rather unfairly and expects you to play via trial and improvement. Deliberately goading the player into causes a mistake to happen, punishing them with death and then handing them back the controller as if to say "Go on, try again, next time you get a slap". Not exactly the most rewarding way of playing a game, while succeeding the first time through a trap or level will leave the player feeling unsatisfied at the prospect and idea that they've rushed through and likely missed something or some such trinket and item.
"Oi dead guys!" and watch them go haplessly to their deaths.
Thankfully, the game, for the 100% completionists, will let you replay previous chapters and scenes of the story in order to gain all of the diary pages, memories for Randy's stock book and even old-style LCD video game controllers with jokes taken aimed at Monkey Punch animes, Chthulu Mythos and Guitar Hero as if done via Tiger Handheld machines. It's a cute little throwback and nod to the older days of gaming and thankfully more fun than the actual handhelds were.... Except the Turtles one, that was quite fun.

If you can see a vent or alternative route to the one you're currently on, you can pretty much guess you'll be taking it at some point
Overall a fun romp, punctuated with comic-styled cut scenes between levels and scenes, marred by gameplay hiccups, brevity and a slight dependence upon trial-and-improvement development to passing through the levels and scenes. That aside, it's certainly a game worth playing at least once all the way through, particularly if, like me, you enjoy the scopes and imagination behind apocalyptic worlds and visualisations, in all their horrid splendour.

The hazards come thick and fast, numerous too in their approach. This helicopter providing the infamous "Scrolling wall of death" following you across the rooftops.
And you get a fire axe!