Deadlight is a remarkably uneven experience. While the moody survival horror side-scroller has some gripping moments and platforming that serves as homage to the legacy of revered titles like Prince of Persia, it fizzles too fast in both its narrative and mechanics.
You're Randall Wayne, a father from British Columbia, Canada, searching for his wife and daughter in the cold northwest. A disease has turned the vast majority of the population into zombies (or "Shadows"), and the survivors all seek the safety of a purported Seattle stronghold. In his hunt, Randall intersects with various other characters who have found their own methods of survival.
The threat of zombies may be the impetus for the game, but it generally isn't focused on action. My main tool against the zombies was escape, or relying on their (literally) brain-dead intelligence to willingly walk off a ledge if I was waiting on the other side. Zombie games are generally known for taking down swaths of enemies, so it was interesting to feel powerless and vulnerable. The few weapons served as helpful ways to dispatch enemies when necessary, but mowing down the undead still wasn't a common occurrence. Much more of the game is focused on jumping across platforms and walls, avoiding the creatures, and solving simple environmental puzzles.
The platforming tropes peaked in the second act, however, with a chapter focused on devious traps and quick action. Once I had passed through that gauntlet, the rest of the game didn't iterate on its challenge enough to feel appropriately difficult. It was either rote exercise of obvious environmental navigation, or frustrating difficulty against far too many zombie hordes at once. The third act felt seriously lacking -- I needed more tools, or new ways to use existing tools, to feel engaged in the experience.
I was drawn in by the game's atmosphere, despite some cringe-inducing moments of voice acting. The moody northern setting of the mid-1980s was a creative choice, and the collectibles actually help reinforce rather than distract from the creepy environment. However, the narrative goes off the rails without a particular focus. I was introduced to several elements and character's stories that were never satisfactorily resolved. Worse yet, the ending betrays the emotional stakes of the major conflict in a way that just feels utterly nonsensical and overly melodramatic.
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Therein lies the major weakness of Deadlight. Each of the game's strengths hits a high note early, and then it fails to keep that momentum going. This is enough cause for reservation in any game, but its exacerbated since Deadlight is such a brief experience. Shorter games can potentially be focused and satisfying. In the case of Deadlight, the ideas seemed stretched thin even over three hours of game time.
Deadlight has a handful of great ideas, and it packs some clever ways of turning a tired trope on its head. But it expends most of those ideas too early and trips itself on the execution, creating a pacing problem that dims the entire experience.
This Deadlight review was based on a Xbox 360 digital version of the game provided by the publisher.