Giant Bomb Review

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Deadlight Review

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The zombie-survival setting fits nicely with its deliberate style of 2D action, but Deadlight sometimes plays too fast and loose for its own good.

Visual style is one thing Deadlight gets very right.

Xbox Live's vaunted Summer of Arcade program has been a hotbed of retro-styled 2D action since it began, with yearly offerings that have so far drawn inspiration from NES classics, scrolling beat-em-'ups, and the Metroidvania tradition. This year we get Deadlight, a zombie thriller that pays clear homage to the measured, deliberate action of classics like Prince of Persia and Out of This World. That is to say, when you jump while standing still, you give a little vertical hop, and jumping to the side produces a leap with a fixed distance. You also do a lot of grabbing onto ledges and hoisting yourself up. It's that kind of game, and it's a good one...up to a point.

Perhaps as ultimate tribute to its predecessors, Deadlight is itself set in the '80s, though you'd hardly know that based on the action that takes place over the course of the storyline. The only hints at the game's period setting come in the pages of your character's journal, which briefly reference Chernobyl and nuclear war, and in a couple of peripheral touches like a cassette-tape loading animation and some knockoff Tiger LCD handheld-game collectibles you can find. Otherwise, this is standard zombie-survival stuff, as you pick your way through the ruins of Seattle, avoiding the ubiquitous undead and brushing up against the crazed remnants of humanity and the fortresses they've built for themselves. The storytelling is weighed down by hammy voiceover and a lack of focus, and reaches for dramatic ambitions that lie far beyond its grasp, culminating in one of the more flabbergasting conclusions I've seen in quite some time.

Then again, the storyline could be complete garbage in this sort of game as long as the action is on point, and you'd still end up with a satisfying piece of entertainment. The first of Deadlight's three acts indeed offers exactly what you'd want from a game like this, requiring you to meticulously leap and climb your way through ruined urban environments to get from place to place. The game smoothly introduces new mechanics--a running leap and roll, a fire axe, a pistol and shotgun--and starts to integrate them into the increasingly intricate level designs, forcing you to use your full repertoire to navigate each obstacle. The game also admirably teaches you to avoid combat when you're facing too many zombies. Ammo is pretty scarce, and even with the axe at your disposal, taking on more than three or four zombies at once can quickly end with you being overrun, so you need to know when to just get the hell out of there instead. It's to the game's credit that a lot of the individual scenarios do let you choose flight over fight, especially since you can yell out to the zombies to get their attention and lure them one way before you deftly maneuver around them and continue on.

It's often better to avoid fighting and get the hell out of there.

Once that extended tutorial period was over and I had all the game's abilities at my disposal, I was really getting into Deadlight's groove and felt excited about digging into more elaborate trials later on. But the game takes a hard left turn after that first act, interspersing your journey with a number of hectic, demanding action scenes that feel completely at odds with the methodical nature of the gameplay and the protracted, unresponsive way your character's animations play out. Picking your way through a series of rickety platforms and ladders is fine when you can do it at your own pace; when the game forces you to run through that same sort of area at breakneck speed, while you're being chased by a machine-gunning helicopter and with absolutely no margin for error, you're likely to simply have to die a few times to learn the exact layout so you can run it again perfectly. Other areas of the game hit you with things like a collapsing building that doesn't make it clear it's going to collapse until it's too late for you to reverse course and get out of the way, or a series of booby traps that likewise will kill you before you can avoid them if you don't already know they're there. Fast-paced action is not what this sort of game excels at, so it's baffling that the designers wanted to force you through such sequences so frequently.

Outside of these isolated scenarios, the limitations of Deadlight's core gameplay also become apparent toward the end of the game in a number of minor ways that can add up to a major annoyance. Zombies have a habit of shambling slowly out of the background before snapping onto the game's active 2D plane, which looks really cool but makes it tough to gauge when you're actually able to hit them. Given how slow you are to move into and out of the attack animation, if you swing too early you can find yourself whiffing through thin air and then getting grabbed before you can get out of the way. One area in particular toward the end of the game wanted me to vault over a windowsill into a tiny space, pick up some ammo, reload my gun, shoot out a small target overhead, then vault back through the window--all while spawning infinite zombies into that tiny space. It's not that every minute of Deadlight's latter two-thirds is full of this kind of clumsy gameplay, but enough of it is--and enough of the quieter moments come with their own set of frustrations--to really detract from the overall quality of the gameplay, which otherwise feels pretty high. After such a strong start, it's disappointing the game doesn't fulfill more of its potential, and instead actively works against doing so in a lot of cases.

The game's attempts at storytelling mostly fall flat.

If there's one thing Deadlight nails with complete accuracy, it's presentation. The game establishes a credibly grim mood and visual tone from the very first scene, and--aside from the out-of-place voice acting--sticks with it through to the last shot. There's a fantastic amount of detail and tasteful distribution of light and shadow in each area, and the game uses to great effect the Shadow Complex trick of showing you a wide angle while you're outdoors and then zooming in close for interior scenes. Given how small everything often is--the characters often appear as faraway figurines, the camera is so pulled out--it's an impressive feat how cohesive the visual design remains throughout the entire game.

There aren't many action games in this particular mold to begin with these days, so those with fond memories of Deadlight's spiritual predecessors will likely have a reasonably fulfilling few hours here. Without an existing sense of nostalgia for the source material, though, you may find Deadlight's minor flaws collectively outweigh all the things it does right. It's one of those cases where Xbox Live Arcade's requirement to offer a free demo with every game is especially valuable.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+
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Edited by Demon_Slayer

Aww, that's disappointing. You seemed so positive on the game during the Quick Look.

Posted by BetonneTom

The quicklook was promising

Posted by Coafi

I have been hearing some bad stuff as well, the game's opening act is great, but the rest not so much. I'll wait for a XBLA sale to get this game.

Posted by BeachThunder

Oh well, I'll still be interested to see this come to PC - seems like it does have its good moments.

Posted by kindone

Man, that is absolutely disappointing. I have been looking forward to this game for a while and I generally sway the same way Brad does when it comes to games. I guess there's nothing else to do but try out the demo and hope it clicks with me.

Posted by JJOR64

That's a bummer. The Quick Look for the game looked great.

Posted by Sweep

I was pretty excited after the QL, but this sounds very disappointing. It almost seems as though they are attempting a goofy trial-and-error approach to gameplay, like the one in Limbo, which is at a harsh juxtaposition with the realistic setting.

Also, yeah, that voice acting was atrocious.

Guess I won't be buying this, then. Sucky.

Moderator
Posted by impartialgecko

Hearing the same sentiment from other critics. One thing everyone seems to say is that the game starts strong and then loses sight of what makes it good by the second act. And there was me hoping, dreaming of a exceptional Shadow Complex-meets-Out of the This World mashup.

Posted by CptBedlam

Eh, I guess I'll wait for this to be on sale.

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Posted by AssInAss

@Sweep said:

I was pretty excited after the QL, but this sounds very disappointing. It almost seems as though they are attempting a goofy trial-and-error approach to gameplay, like the one in Limbo, which is at a harsh juxtaposition with the realistic setting.

Also, yeah, that voice acting was atrocious.

Guess I won't be buying this, then. Sucky.

Trial and error is part and parcel of cinematic platformers (watch this documentary on the genre) as evident in War of the Worlds, Heart of Darkness and Limbo as you mentioned. It doesn't excuse it, but that's what you're dealing with in most of these type of games.

I'll try it out, difficulty in a game has never deterred me but hearing the story is disappointing by multiple sources is disheartening. Plus, not many of these kind of games are made.

Posted by bybeach

I with all the disappointment above me, was thinking about this game today...I'd wait for PC also but that doesn't sound like where it needs to step up for that needed improvement...

Posted by plaintomato

Bummer. Seriously, just out with a Shadow Complex sequel or even a quality copycat already.

Posted by Phatmac

Man, this summer of arcade is disappointing. PSN is surprisingly delivering better games with sound shapes, papa y yo, and DYAD. Sad to hear that Deadlight is lost potential.

Posted by therealminime

Jeez this year's Summer of Arcade has been pretty meh so far. I really wanted this game to be good, visually it looked great. Hopefully Hybrid and Dust turn out okay.

Posted by Opus

I didn't have much hope for the story of the game from what I've seen in the quick look, in what I think was an attempt to make the main character gruff they pushed him too far into jerk territory.

Beautiful game though, it's easy to appreciate how it looks in motion.

Posted by BaconGames

Eh as much as I want to say I'm disappointed too, I can see how someone wouldn't mind it as much or would be willing to put up with it if they were hooked from the beginning. With that said I'm not that attached to the sources (although I would love to try out Out of This World for once) so whatever for me as well.

Posted by Ghost_Cat

Hmmm, surprised here. It looked great yesterday, but I don't have an Xbox to study Brad's arguments.

Posted by Drayco90

Damn, the Quick Look looked promising. I'm curious about how bad the ending could really be, but I'll wait until it's on sale before giving it a shot.

Posted by Rmack

If you're still looking for a game in this same vein, I can't recommend Rocketbirds for PSN enough.

Posted by bkbroiler

I would totally buy this despite what I hear about it (like I bought I Am Alive), but that the game seems to start much, much better than it ends is a deal breaker. I don't want to play a game and be bummed out the entire time that it gets worse.

Maybe it'll come to PC in a year and it'll be on sale for 2 bucks on Steam.

Edited by Klei

I'm still buying it. I usually never have the same opinion than Brad on games. Especially after the super-exciting QL, my guess is that the harder parts near the game got the best of Brad.

Posted by DefAde

Aahh man...... I was quite excited for this years Summer of Arcade.... Had my eyes on at least 3 games - Tony Hawk, Deadlight, & Dust...

Already two of those have hit the wall... Lost interest in Tony Hawk after the lack lustre map choice... and now Deadlight sounds like they messed it right up, and isn't the game that I (nor Brad by the sounds of it) was hoping for.

Bummer!

Posted by iAmJohn

Really distressing to see a lot of these comments talking as if the game is awful. You guys know a 3/5 is still a good score for a good game, right? (It's just not a great game.)

All that said, the kind of stuff Brad is describing with the gameplay reliant on pinpoint accuracy versus its loose feel sounds like the kind of stuff that would make me finish it under no circumstances.

Posted by MjHealy

Pretty gutted reading this. I was hanging my hat on this potentially being the stand-out game for Summer of Arcade '12. I might still pick it up anyhow but right now I will be pinning my hopes on Dust: An Elysian Tail.

Posted by TheGorilla

Summer of Arcade this year is so disappointing.

Posted by wrecks

The setting and style are enough for me to still give it a go. It has to be better than War of the Worlds... right?

Edited by Opus

@iAmJohn: you raise a perfectly valid point. People worked hard to produce this and it has to be crushing to see people dismissing it as "good not great".

On the other hand I can empathize with the consumer as well, this title is going for $15 on XBLA. When downloadable games release above the $10 price range I'm a bit more cautious about throwing my cash down. Is the game that much better than the competition that charges less?

People want to get what's best for their money. Can't fault them for that, even if they miss out on potential gems in the process.

Posted by Rabid619

Hm, too bad that this game seems to take a really sudden turn for the worst towards the end. I think I'll still pick it up, as the gameplay style, visuals and atmosphere look right up my alley, but I think I'll set my expectations down a bit.

Posted by DasUberOgre

Hm. Looks decent but I think I am going to see how Dust turns out before I make my XBLA Purchase. With 15 being the new 10 I can't really afford to be willy nilly with the XBLA purchases anymore.

Posted by Brackynews

I could care less about the storytelling quality of a zombie apocalypse game. Will see where the demo cuts off and how the gameplay feels.

Genuinely surprised during the QL that I've never seen anyone do a simplified cassette-tape loading animation like that. So that's an extra star. :)

Edited by TudsGamol

Yet the undercooked mess of Diablo3 gets 5 stars. Its a shame Brad's reviewes are so persnally skewed by his level of excitement and hype. Despite being a personality driven site, there is room and need for a tuned critical eye somewhere between the "wacky hijinks" and stale news.

Posted by Stubee

Thats a bummer, in fact most of the summer of arcade seems to be a bummer.

Posted by Duxa

Quicklook made me interested.. but then what Brad said on ILoveMondays made me pass on it.... this Summer's summer of arcade sucks :(

Posted by Duxa

@BaconGames said:

Eh as much as I want to say I'm disappointed too, I can see how someone wouldn't mind it as much or would be willing to put up with it if they were hooked from the beginning. With that said I'm not that attached to the sources (although I would love to try out Out of This World for once) so whatever for me as well.

You can play Out of This world on iphone/ipad :) Its in the app store.

Posted by YummyTreeSap

I understand these criticisms, but games like Another World, Flashback, the Oddworld games: Don't they all to some extent have that trial-and-error aspect to them? It seems to be an inextricable part of these sorts of games. I can still see why someone wouldn't dig it, but perhaps the criticism should be taken with that in mind. Of course, I haven't played the game yet so I cannot say that they're totally similar in that regard, though.

Posted by Brad

@TudsGamol said:

Yet the undercooked mess of Diablo3 gets 5 stars. Its a shame Brad's reviewes are so persnally skewed by his level of excitement and hype. Despite being a personality driven site, there is room and need for a tuned critical eye somewhere between the "wacky hijinks" and stale news.

Excitement and hype? What about how much fun I had with the game, 60 hours' worth in Diablo's case? I was quite excited about Deadlight, as a matter of fact.

Posted by Xer0Signal

Shame. I still might at least check out the demo. 3 star reviews usually indicate for me that I could end up on either side of the fence of a game.

Any chance Dyad will get a GB review? I imagine it could use the publicity.

Posted by Shaka999

when the game forces you to run through that same sort of area at breakneck speed, while you're being chased by a machine-gunning helicopter and with absolutely no margin for error, you're likely to simply have to die a few times to learn the exact layout so you can run it again perfectly

Ugh, that's exactly why I stopped playing Splosion Man. I was really looking forwad to this too... but I still may give it a shot.

Posted by Humanity

I'll still give it a show down the road as my views usually differ from Brads.

Posted by felakuti4life

@Brad said:

@TudsGamol said:

Yet the undercooked mess of Diablo3 gets 5 stars. Its a shame Brad's reviewes are so persnally skewed by his level of excitement and hype. Despite being a personality driven site, there is room and need for a tuned critical eye somewhere between the "wacky hijinks" and stale news.

Excitement and hype? What about how much fun I had with the game, 60 hours' worth in Diablo's case? I was quite excited about Deadlight, as a matter of fact.

Also, how is any facet of Diablo 3 undercooked in any way, shape or form?

Posted by koolaid39

@TudsGamol said:

Yet the undercooked mess of Diablo3 gets 5 stars. Its a shame Brad's reviewes are so persnally skewed by his level of excitement and hype. Despite being a personality driven site, there is room and need for a tuned critical eye somewhere between the "wacky hijinks" and stale news.

Are you on the pot?

Posted by mrcraggle

@Duxa: It really is looking like it's going to be the worst one yet. There hasn't really been a single standout title in my eyes. SoA is meant to represent the best of what XBLA has to offer but we've already had Trials Evolution and from a sales perspective, nothing will come close to Minecraft.

Posted by depecheload

@YummyTreeSap said:

I understand these criticisms, but games like Another World, Flashback, the Oddworld games: Don't they all to some extent have that trial-and-error aspect to them? It seems to be an inextricable part of these sorts of games. I can still see why someone wouldn't dig it, but perhaps the criticism should be taken with that in mind. Of course, I haven't played the game yet so I cannot say that they're totally similar in that regard, though.

I think it's that it's not puzzles that make it trial-and-error, it's bad gameplay and control. I've been hearing that across the board on all the reviews. You know what you have to do to make it past a screen, but the game won't let you because the controls suck.

Posted by MariachiMacabre

Sucks because this was the only game that I planned to buy from this years SoA. What will keep me occupied until Darksiders 2 now?

Posted by Napalm

@Brad said:

@TudsGamol said:

Yet the undercooked mess of Diablo3 gets 5 stars. Its a shame Brad's reviewes are so persnally skewed by his level of excitement and hype. Despite being a personality driven site, there is room and need for a tuned critical eye somewhere between the "wacky hijinks" and stale news.

Excitement and hype? What about how much fun I had with the game, 60 hours' worth in Diablo's case? I was quite excited about Deadlight, as a matter of fact.

To be fair, Brad is usually far more excitable about videogames when it comes to reviews. Not necessarily a bad thing, but one that could do with a grain of salt.

Posted by Humanity

@Brad said:

@TudsGamol said:

Yet the undercooked mess of Diablo3 gets 5 stars. Its a shame Brad's reviewes are so persnally skewed by his level of excitement and hype. Despite being a personality driven site, there is room and need for a tuned critical eye somewhere between the "wacky hijinks" and stale news.

Excitement and hype? What about how much fun I had with the game, 60 hours' worth in Diablo's case? I was quite excited about Deadlight, as a matter of fact.

Brad could you expand on what made the game worse after Act 1 a little more? I read the review after I Love Mondays hoping you got more in-depth about it but is it just the fact that there are some action sequences like the one from the end of the Quick Look? Cause that actually looked exciting and fun. Do the environments get worse or does the story take a nosedive or is it just that the puzzles get a lot more demanding?

Posted by l4wd0g

Thanks Brad. This game doesn't sound like it's for me.

Edited by kerse

@Brad said:

@TudsGamol said:

Yet the undercooked mess of Diablo3 gets 5 stars. Its a shame Brad's reviewes are so persnally skewed by his level of excitement and hype. Despite being a personality driven site, there is room and need for a tuned critical eye somewhere between the "wacky hijinks" and stale news.

Excitement and hype? What about how much fun I had with the game, 60 hours' worth in Diablo's case? I was quite excited about Deadlight, as a matter of fact.

Ignore him there's a small section of people on the internet that insist D3 is the worst thing to happen to video games, the majority of us loved it, they just love to be really vocal about it. They just need to realize that just because they didn't like it doesn't make it a bad game, games aren't made for everyone.

Posted by honkyjesus

It is a new studio, and they put their name on it? Why?

Posted by atomic_dumpling

@Humanity said:

@Brad said:

@TudsGamol said:

Yet the undercooked mess of Diablo3 gets 5 stars. Its a shame Brad's reviewes are so persnally skewed by his level of excitement and hype. Despite being a personality driven site, there is room and need for a tuned critical eye somewhere between the "wacky hijinks" and stale news.

Excitement and hype? What about how much fun I had with the game, 60 hours' worth in Diablo's case? I was quite excited about Deadlight, as a matter of fact.

Brad could you expand on what made the game worse after Act 1 a little more? I read the review after I Love Mondays hoping you got more in-depth about it but is it just the fact that there are some action sequences like the one from the end of the Quick Look? Cause that actually looked exciting and fun. Do the environments get worse or does the story take a nosedive or is it just that the puzzles get a lot more demanding?

I think it is quite clear from the review, actually. They go for quick-time style action jump'n'run sequences which is at complete odds with the deliberate "Another World / Prince of Persia" movement scheme. Also the story is apparently predictable to the extreme, according to several reports.

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