DEADLIGHT: DIRECTOR’S CUT Review
2012’s DEADLIGHT was the debut title for developer Tequila Works, and it was one of the last big XBLA titles to hit the Xbox 360 before the eighth generation of consoles launched. I played it for free a year after it released, but frankly, it wasn’t that memorable of an experience. The all new DEADLIGHT: DIRECTOR’S CUT just launched, however, promising a bevy of new features. But in a world filled with zombie shooters, is this enough to make the game stand out from the horde?
DEADLIGHT follows Randall, a crusty Canuck scavenging post-apocalyptic Seattle in an alternate 1980s. Randall needs to find his family, who he believes has taken shelter on the other side of the city, but first he must contend with a crazy militia and a legion of zomb-, I mean, shadows, because this is set in yet another universe where George Romero choked to death on a pretzel before he could get into film . DEADLIGHT is as cookie-cutter as zombie tales go, but is delivered via one of the most simultaneously obtuse and edgey plots in gaming. Obvious twists, “tough choices,” and some really cringey monologues are the norm, and calling the ending a disappointment would be understatement.
Cue the Drowning Pool
Thankfully, that final step won’t be necessary, as DEADLIGHT’s gameplay is brutal enough as it is. Even on easier difficulties, most players will have a tough time thanks to dangerous set pieces and even deadlier enemies. Randall can handle a lone zombie, but is shredded to bits with ease by gun-toting goons or undead mobs, so using the environment to your advantage is necessary to succeed. This leads to a lot of trial-and-error situations, but solving each of these gauntlets brings waves of fulfillment. Additionally, Randall handles with a satisfying amount of weight as he barrels through the fallen city, lending a momentum to the game that few platformers can equal.
And if DEADLIGHT plays great, it looks amazing. This is a 2.5D title, but unlike SHADOW COMPLEX, the backdrop is used entirely for mood, not gameplay. Zombies mill about in the rear while Randall moves about the front, but come rushing to the foreground when alerted. This creates a visual timer for certain stages that delivers incredible amounts of tension as the player tries to discover a way to safety.
The most impressive aspect of DEADLIGHT’s aesthetic, however, is the use of light. The entire world is lit from behind (and only from behind), meaning the profiles of every character and object facing the camera are wreathed in darkness. Unopened rooms are black voids until an opening is found, literally illuminating the space before your eyes. DEADLIGHT makes better use of lighting than just about any other game in the genre, and the effect is simply brilliant. The muted, but not drab, color palette and moody score supplements the grim aesthetic, and I don’t think it’s an empty boast to declare DEADLIGHT among the most atmospheric zombie game out there.
“Striking!” “No, strike that”
With all that being said, it sounds like DEADLIGHT would soar, but sadly, there are a few big hurdles it fails to overcome. The first would be the aforementioned story, abysmal even by platformer standards. The cutscenes utilize overly-expository comic book panels that betray the game’s clever aesthetic, as the mystique of our shrouded cast is ruined when brought into the light. But worst of all is the brief length. DEADLIGHT should take the average player six hours to complete, but since much of that time is padded with retries, the actual experience is closer to four hours. Though it isn’t good, so much emphasis is placed on the narrative that its brevity is especially crippling, and a lack of diversity in gameplay mechanics means that even such a short game is unlikely to be replayed.
DEADLIGHT: DIRECTOR’S CUT brings fresh content to the table, but it sadly feels like a waste. The main attraction is the newly added survival mode, but the true joy of DEADLIGHT’s gameplay is the platforming, not the combat. There isn’t any enjoyment to be had being relegated to static arenas, and even the expanded arsenal doesn’t improve the experience. Graphical fidelity has been bumped up, but DEADLIGHT’s beauty is driven by its style, not definition, so the facelift is barely noticeable. There’s bug fixes, a revamped control scheme, and some additional animations, but these fail to address DEADLIGHT’s main problems.
Enjoy your flat black in 1080p
DEADLIGHT: DIRECTOR’S CUT does nothing that will entice old players to give it a second run. Hell, its crippling flaws do little to draw new ones in as it is. Poor core design choices undermine what could easily have been an excellent zombie game, but leaves us instead with one that can be best described as half-baked. Zombies are a dime a dozen in gaming these days, and DEADLIGHT is braindead enough to get lost in the crowd.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
Reviewed on PC, also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.