Arguably the most anticipated game in the whole of 2012's Summer of Arcade Microsoft promotion, Deadlight is finally here, but was it worth the wait?
You play as Randall Wayne, a gruff-voiced survivor of a horrible apocalypse. Now Shadows roam the streets and houses, zombies in all but name, killing and eating anything and everything that gets in their way. As Randall you'll have to make your way through Seattle to reach the legendary 'Safe Point' and find your missing family. To do this you will have to platform, puzzle and shoot your way through city streets, sewer mazes constructed by a madman, and infested office buildings.
First impressions of Tequila Works' Deadlight are excellent, with its highly stylised graphics at first recalling Limbo with its use of shadow and light, but it's the animation where they truly excel: every movement you make is beautifully re-created in Deadlight's 2D world, making everything just that touch more real. The soundtrack to the game is also a perfect fit, being melancholic during the times when are exploring, but swelling into something rather more epic when you hit one of the game's many set-pieces. Deadlight is, at its heart, a love letter to Prince of Persia, Flashback and Another World, and if you aren't an old fart like yours truly here, what this means is this: The game can be pretty damn brutal. Those of you expecting the next Shadow Complex are going to be disappointed, though there is some slight exploring to be had, mainly to find small collectables (including some spot-on, playable takes of the old game'n'watch handhelds), there are no alternative routes or paths to be had. Deadlight is all about the purity of its platforming and the timing of your movements.
What this means for you, dear reader, is that you will die, quite a lot unfortunately. Although this means that the frustration will be hanging quite heavily in the air at times, when you finally nail that jump, solve that puzzle, or realise that you have to make use of your whistle button (Y) to lure the Shadows towards you before you jump over their heads, you'll feel that good old gamers' elation of a job well done.
During your time in the game you won't always be totally defenceless however, you'll find a gun, shotgun, slingshot and an axe, though if more than one Shadow is close to you and you only have the latter, then you are in deep shit my friend. The projectile weapons work by pushing the stick in the direction you wish to shoot and pulling the trigger, and this feels quite natural and easy to do, even when you are running, jumping and clambering over walls, all of which are made easier by the controls being pretty much spot on. The difficulty curve of Deadlight is also very well judged, with it starting at the gentle platforming stage of an early Prince of Persia section, but ending up with Another World's pixel-perfect or death level of pain. Restarts on these sections will be frequent, but fortunately the checkpointing is nice and generous, and reload times are kept to a minimum.
So, now to the elephant in the room, what about Deadlight's length, is it too short? Well I finished the game with two hours and thirty minutes on the clock, but I know for a fact it took me at least two hours longer than that, I spent two hours finishing the last section off yesterday so I could get this review written. There are also collectables to go back and find, with each section having its own entry in the menus letting you know exactly where you have to start looking. It's not the longest game then, but I feel it's just the right length, and I certainly wouldn't feel short-changed after handing over my tenner. The voice acting is pretty terrible though, one character in particular almost made me turn my toes up into my shins, please, please Mr. Developers, start hiring voice directors for your games, poor acting can undo even the most well done cut-scenes, no matter how good the drawings are, and in this case they are very good.
Deadlight is one of the best platformers I have played for years, they just don't make 'em like this anymore, and if you are missing those old-school Prince of Persia thrills you could do worse than this. They do say the best things come in small packages, and here is some more proof to shore up that old adage. Highly recommended.