Monday, March 24, 2014

Full Review: Deadlight (PC)

In-game time was 3h22m.
Play time was 7 hours, but I played about an hour of the first chapter again to show Emilie what the game was like.

I actually finished Deadlight about a month ago, shortly after posting my First Impressions, but have now finally gotten around to writing up everything that I want to say about the game.

Deadlight follows the character of Randall Wayne, a Canadian forest worker who is attempting to survive a zombie-like apocalyptic world set in 1986's Seattle, WA.  Raul Rubio, the CEO of Tequila Works, the company behind Deadlight, was quoted as saying that 1986 was specifically chosen because "if you think about it, 1986 was the year that had a lot of lunar events.  And if you put that with movies like First Blood and Day of the Dead, it's a strange mix and you can get a unique visual."  Other notable events that saw the light of day from 1986 was the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in January (which was mentioned in the game), Stephen King's IT was published, Halley's Comet is visible, the USSR launches the Mir space station, one of the reactors at Chernobyl "explodes," Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior) is released in Japan, Pan Am flight 73 is hijacked by terrorists, a 7.5 earthquake strikes El Salvador and kills 1500.  You get the idea, a lot of shit was happening which probably helped to "set the tone" for the game.

All of that aside, I didn't find the story overly original.  Randall is with a group of survivors and is searching for his missing/lost wife and daughter.  Don't get me wrong though, I was throughly engaged throughout the game, albeit a little confused at times as to how Randall knew where to go, but that is all explained by the end of the game.

The story is broken up into four chapters, the first is where most of the game mechanics and story elements are introduced.  It plays like a great traditional platformer.  The second chapter feels very different as it introduces a lot of puzzle elements that play a bit like Portal, but less fun.  This second chapter was where my fun level/interest took a bit of a dip as I was afraid that I was going to be playing this type of game the rest of the time, which I didn't want as I so much enjoyed the first chapter.  The third and forth chapters play more like the first chapter with some additional "actiony" elements as well as a lot of story elements that filled in blanks from earlier in the game.

One story element that I felt could have been done differently was Randall's journal.  When you start the game, you have Randall's journal which is a somewhat daunting 60 page book with some missing/torn out pages.  Throughout the game, you can find missing pages which don't seem to add too much in the way of critical character building information.  And the journal as a whole is, as previously stated, a bit daunting.  Each time I played, I would read a couple of pages then play the game.  I would have liked this element better if pages became readable throughout the course of the game either by letting Randall actually look at them (maybe because they were too emotionally difficult for him to read in the earlier stages) or by finding them as he finds the already missing/torn out pages.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed the story that was being told here.  While not entirely original as far as concepts go, the execution is what kept me engaged.

As previously stated, Deadlight plays like a traditional platformer with an Xbox360 controller.  The left joystick moves you, the A button jumps, the X button attacks, and so on and so forth.  All of the actions are fairly intuitive, but the game does go through brief context sensitive moments when you first learn to use those specific buttons, such as sprinting or diving through walls while sprinting.

As is the case with most games, the one difficulty I had was the jumping from wall-to-wall maneuver, which is something that I've had problems with since the days of Super Metroid.  Something about jumping from one wall to another and pressing the control pad in the opposite direction then jumping again at the right moment has never been one of my strong suits.

Another difficulty I had at two areas in the game was timing my jumps from the ground to a fence, flipping over and jumping off, all while being shot at or avoiding falling debris.  This happened at the end of Chapter 1 and the beginning of Chapter 3.  Failing at said tasks would always lead to dying, which is something that you will have to become very comfortable with as it will happen often; not quite as often as in Altaïr's Chronicles, but it will be fairly often.

The graphics for Deadlight are what sealed my interest with the game.  A zombie apocalypse platformer set in 1986 Seattle about a man searching for his wife and daughter aren't the things that initially grab my interest senses, but these kinds of visuals:

Running through a building with Shadows approaching from the background.

Leaping from a platform over a barbed wire fence to land on an adjacent roof.

Walking through a park in downtown Seattle, WA.
The graphics are gorgeous.  Randall is backlit for the majority of the game although there are some details that peek through when he is closer to the camera/foreground.

There were a couple of instances, two come to mind, where I was unsure as to what I was supposed to be doing because I could not recognize certain elements in the environment.  In both instances, I was supposed to grab on to a piece of ceiling in order to climb to the platform above my character.  While I did realize that jumping was the key, I did not know that I, for example, had to knock something loose in order to make the platform accessible, or something similar.  In one of these events I resorted to looking on youtube to find out how to access the next platform/area.  I could probably just blame myself as needing to take a break and over thinking either the game mechanics or the puzzle itself.

The music for Deadlight was composed by David García Díaz and is  very somewhat minimalistic, in that I cannot recall any memorable thematic elements.  There weren't any John Williams or Nobuo Uematsu type themes running through the game, so you're probably not going to be humming the music and you walk down the street.  Those themes are not for this kind of a game, even one set in 1986.  In another game, you might have bits of music from that era playing in the background or out of stereos or cassette decks.  The music in Deadlight is there to help set and maintain the mood of the world.  I didn't find the music obtrusive, even when the music became more dynamic when Randall was being attacked by Shadows.

The themes that are present in the game though are haunting and beautiful, but not heavy handed.  You can get a sense of both the hope that Randall will be successful in his quest and yet there is also the despair that he will find what it is that he fears most.  It's just well composed music that you might expect to find from a big budget movie studio that knows how to do a zombie apocalypse film.

In the end, I spent a total of six hours with the game although it only took me a total of three hours and twenty minutes, if you do not take into account all the dying and the three times I had to restart Chapter 3 because the game crashed (fell through the world), I turned the game off before reaching a mid-level checkpoint and my final run though.  After a single playthrough, achievement-wise, I completed 74% of the game, which I find is a testament to how much of the game I was able to complete/experience without (much) assistance.

There were only a couple of spots that I found to be difficult, but every game is going to have moments like that.  I did like that there were no bosses because that's not the kind of game this is trying to be.  I know some people will scoff at the short play time, but that's just the kind of game this is and if you also take into account that it's the first game from this studio, it's a damn fine game.

One last little tough, was that as you make your way through the game, you unlock artwork from both pre and post production.  Basically just a bunch of little tid-bits that I love about DVDs and something that I wish more video games would do for their audience.  There are even a couple documentaries that I have yet to watch, but there are a handful.  These are the little things that I really appreciate.


P.S.  Sorry I do not have any really actiony shots as I was too busy playing the game and Conklederp wasn't around to act as camerawoman while I was playing.  Just go and watch the trailer that sold the game to me and you'll get the idea.  I can also promise that everything in the trailer is actual game footage (except the blurbs from various gaming sites), even the occasional bits where the action slows down while you're jumping/falling.

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