Deadlight review: A beautiful-looking platformer, hobbled by frustrations
30th Jul 2012 | 16:00
What would you do if, like in
Deadlight's Randall Wayne is neither, and there aren't many iPhones knocking about his 80's Seattle turf when walkers invade stadiums and city centres, suburbs and parks, bedrooms and bathrooms. He's an average man with average moves: he can't jump far, can barely swing an axe without feeling the burn, and with a heavy grunt drags crates to solve pressure pad puzzles.
Apart from the odd filmic sprint from a chasing chopper or the introduction of military pantomime villains this is a grounded adventure - an infectious outbreak, a decimated city, and a desperate father trying to find his little girl. The game's part of a platformer lineage dating back decades, ledge-grabbing sibling of Flashback, Prince of Persia and Another World. Randall ('Randy' to his friends, detailed in sunny memories doubling as tutorials) shares the same philosophy of movement.
It's less about double-jumping on enemy heads and more about working your way, cat-like, through environments: sidling a ledge here, hanging off an electrical box there, easing onto drainpipes, leaping across litter-strewn alleys - and then barely latching onto the windowsill opposite with finger tips and slamming with a thud into the brick. In areas requiring precision, however, the approach quite literally falls down.
RATMAN AND ROBBINS
Early on you'll meet the Ratman, a demented survivor with a scrawny frame. Think Tim Robbins in War of the Worlds dressed in the wardrobe of Russell Brand. Under an ordinary picket-fence home he's built a fiendish maze of pressure pad traps, fetid water and spiked pits, a post-apocalyptic Home Alone-style rat-run that makes a good change of pace from surface zombie-dodging but requires platforming accuracy Deadlight just doesn't have.
One section saw us dragging a box to an edge to clear a gap. We stood on the box and jumped - but not far enough. We tried a second time - same again. We tried a third time, using identical technique, and Randall's jump inexplicably grew by several feet. This was a simple section ruined by inconsistency, and, above all, consistency - of rules, of movement, of overall design - is paramount in games.
And this inconsistency spreads elsewhere: you can push crates off some ledges but not others, grab a wire here but not there. Most set-pieces are solid (sprinting from a growing horde as the music swells recalls 28 Weeks Later's opener), but some are almost ruined by a lack of polish.
When a helicopter strafes the building you're in, bullets sometimes tag you through scenery and sometimes they don't. Busy backgrounds and poor signposting are easily-fixable faults, but here they work to confuse players and ruin puzzles that shouldn't take longer than a few head-scratching seconds.
Ironically, detailed environments are what make Deadlight so appealing elsewhere. Its lonely, linear West Coast doesn't offer the same open-route thrills of
While these ancillary details enliven levels, hidden tapes and diary entries thicken the plot. You can flick through Randy's scrawlings on burnt off-white pages and it does well to characterise a stoic, centred man who doesn't say much at the best of times.
A man with no need to speak and, indeed, no-one to speak to. It's a wonderful workaround to having him broadcast thoughts like an exposition machine, even if you have to enable soundbites then stay on the screen to hear as they play out rather than them giving you something to listen to as you move along, like the audio diaries from
When these details combine, Deadlight comes alive. There's merit in the mere act of movement, thrills even when there's nothing in particular to do. In fact, the game's best when there isn't anything to do but walk down a silent suburban street or deserted highway that stretches miles to the horizon; better still, when you're finding routes through a smouldering Seattle skyline and picking your way through a charred America. Quiet moments of reflection easily beat out the bombast for weight and impact.
This is big-budget fiction on a 2D plane, a blockbuster adventure sliced vertically.