Thursday, November 15, 2012

Game Review: Deadlight by Matthew W-A

Well, this was inevitable. 2.5D games (game with two dimensional gameplay that are rendered in 3D) have become popular on XBLA and SEAM as of late, and the zombie virus has been spreading through pop culture like, well, a plague. It was only inevitable that they would eventually meet. Deadlight from the studio Tequila Works is that meeting. The question is, is it any good?

That question is pretty hard to answer, because I don't think I have ever felt so neutral about a game. I played through the entire game start to finish (it took me about four hours according to STEAM), and I don't really have an opinion. Part of the problem is that the last 2.5D game I played (Mark of the Ninja) was a new benchmark for the format, but Deadlight just felt bland for lack of a better word.

The graphics are actually fairly pretty. The game uses the Unreal Engine 3, default shaders and all which makes the art style look a bit more generic, but everything is still pretty nice. The levels are detailed, the lighting effects look pretty nice, and the post processing effects add a bit of flair without looking intrusive. Unfortunately, the game has a few performance issues, and I encountered a few frame rate drops whenever a lot of stuff was happening on screen. That is just not acceptable. My laptop is not an all powerful good of computing, but it can run most current releases on low to medium settings at 1336x768 resolution just fine. I had the graphics slider on the second lowest setting and the game at 720p resolution and I was still having problems. Deadlight looks nice, but it doesn't look nearly nice enough for performance issues that it has on pc. Also, graphics slider? Yeah, I'll talk about some PC specific issues in a minute. 

The platforming works well, and feels balanced in the setting. You have an endurance meter that deplete when you run, jump, and hang on ledges, and you have a few moves like a roll and a basic wall jump, but nothing fancy. The platforming works pretty well, but at times it could feel a bit clunky, and there were a few sections (such as when you have to escape from a building that starts collapsing for no apparent reason, and you have zero margin for error) where the lack of precision became actively frustrating. Also, a problem with some 2.5D games these days is that it can be difficult to tell what is in the foreground and what is in the background. There were several times when I though I was jumping on to a platform only to fall to my death because that platform was actually just part of the scenery. I feel like the devs could have done a better job telling people what is a platform and what is not a platform.

Combat (or lack thereof) is something that is handled really well. For most of the game, you do not have a gun, and you just have to run from the Shadows whenever they show up (that's right, not using the zed word is in full effect here). When you do have a gun, ammo is limited, it takes time to reload, and you can only kill enemies with head shots. Even then, you still can't just blast your way through, because using a gun will often attract more zom- I mean Shadows from the background. This is a cool mechanic in theory, it adds tension and makes you act like a survivor and not rambo. You can even see the zombies in the background chilling or munching on a corpse until you alert them. Unfortunately, there is one major issue with this mechanic that drove me nuts: when alerted, zombies will approach you while still remaining in the background, and will often only pop into the two dimensional world that you inhabit when they are too close for you to actually shoot. This is made even worse by the fact that it can be quite hard to tell whether or not you and the Shadows are actually occupying the same plane, and you can end up wasting several rounds of precious ammunition figuring this out. Aside from that minor complaint, I quite liked the way enemies were handled.

Now we get to the story, where once again I find myself devoid of a real opinion. Cutscenes are told with static comic book-style images that look fairly nice. Unfortunately, the audio dropped out half the time during said cutscenes, forcing me to rely on subtitles. The characters are generic cardboard cutouts of zombi- Shadow, I mean Shadow apocalypse survivors, but each one is voice acted well, and comes across as more likeable than average. The main plot is good in some places, but trite and utterly predictable in others. The way the “New Law” and other human in the world are handled works well and kept me interested, but the the whole “man looking for his missing family” plot was handled rather poorly, and it takes all of fifteen minutes to work out that (spoiler) the main character's family is dead. It's treated as an epic revelation near the end of the game, but I saw it coming hours away. The story is handled well in some places, but poorly in others. It's just, average, for lack of a better word.

I played Deadlight on PC, where it came out several weeks after being released on Xbox Live Arcade. The port works, it doesn't have a lot of bugs or broken menus, but it still has issues. The performance was no where near as good as it should have been, and the graphics options were laughable. There was a slider. That was it. I didn't know what was being changed or anything. I actually had a hard time telling what the slider actually did, because I couldn't see much of a difference no matter where it was. I think it might have just messed a bi with post processing effects and anti-aliasing. Also, all controls were displayed with the mouse and keyboard option, and the 360 pad option side by side. Why? How hard is it to change control prompts based on input device? You don't even have to automate it. Just have a setting in the options menu to switch between control schemes. The Mouse and keyboard controls actually worked pretty well for the most part, unless you had to do a roll while running, in which case have fun pushing control and shit at the same time.

As I said, I feel pretty neutral about Deadlight. It has some issues, but it does some things right as well. The opening of the game is particularly tense, and I enjoyed playing a game where the zo-SHADOWS are an actual threat. I would recommend it, except for one thing. It's short game. It took me four hours to complete, and it costs $15 on STEAM, and 1600MS points on XBLA which basically amounts to the same thing. I don't know if there is actually enough content to justify the price. I guess I would say wait. Wait for the game to go on sale before you pick it up. It's worth playing if you can over look it's faults and enjoy 2.5D games and Shadows (YES!) but there just is not enough content or polish to justify purchasing the game at full price. This is an excellent title to pick up during a STEAM sale, but if you go and spend $15 on it right now, you will probably be disappointed. 

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