In 2012 developer Tequila Works released Deadlight. This puzzle platformer takes place in a 1986 Seattle just a few months after a virus outbreak that has decimated the city by turning it's citizens into zombies referred to as "Shadows." The opening scene immediately sets a tone of violent desperation and the cold realities of the world's current state. It's driven home by it's stylish cinematics that feel like a graphic novel and a striking almost sepiatone color palate. It's held back by frequent framerate hitching but otherwise looks decent. Without diving too far into the narrative, the game's main character Randall Wayne is quickly separated from his group of fellow survivors and must then proceed to meet up with them at the Safe Point. This is where players take control and set out to make it through an apocalyptic cityscape.
Over the course of Randall's adventure I traveled a dilapidated and decaying city from the depths of the sewers to the top of it's skyscrapers. While the environments set the mood perfectly I felt the story was rather uninspired and retreads ground well trodden for zombie fiction, particularly in 2016. The central theme is centered around Randall's determination to reunite with his friends. A point that he espouses so many times to the player and the few characters he interacts with that it almost became comical. The other side of Randall's motivation to keep moving forward are the tortured flashbacks to his life right at the start of the outbreak and his need to find his family. Having never played the game upon original release it took me roughly 3 hours to get through the the main story and collect the majority of the secrets hidden in each level. Many of these were diary entries that helped flesh out the fiction of the world and does a good job of recording thoughts and experiences from Randall's point of view as the world descends into chaos. They manage to feel genuinely personal and paint a better picture of who Randall is than the gruff axe wielding cliche you see in gameplay needlessly spouting "I need to find my friends" more times than there are actual characters in the game. I'm not even sure who he was telling half the time. I certainly didn't need to be reminded and I suspect the other characters didn't either. Despite my problems with the way the story chugs at times it actually manages to pay off in a way i didn't expect and I genuinely appreciated the final moments before the credits rolled.
Once the story is completed you unlock a Nightmare mode that challenges you to make it through the game without dying. One mistake and it's game over. I was immediately turned off by the idea of making an attempt at this myself given the problems I had with the controls not reacting quite the way i intended and leading Randy to several deaths that I found frustrating. It's not that the game is very hard but there were a few platforming sections where Randy wouldn't quite jump to grab a ledge unless I was in exactly the right spot. This problem is only exacerbated by having multiple enemies chasing after me and creating a situation where I can't slow down for too long in order to line up the grapple point. This proved especially irritating in a couple of rooms where the enemies simply keep coming. It's not practical to try and fight a whole crowd of Shadows given the limited ammo and the stamina meter that governs how much you can use the fire axe to defend yourself you may only be able to buy yourself enough time to get up a ledge and out of harms way once before you inevitably run out of stamina. This would ideally create tension but failing to grab onto a ledge from a place I felt I should have been able to and instead had Randall jumping uselessly in place or to the off to the side. Always well past where i needed to be. These clunky control quirks were my biggest source of frustration in the game.
New to the Director's Cut release of the game is a Survival mode. In it you start off in a room without any weapons or ammo and you must venture out to find supplies. Once you leave the safety the timer starts and the shadows start coming. You'll have to use your limited abilities to last as long as you can against an ever increasing horde. I enjoyed the tension of narrow escape after being cornered with a dwindling supply of ammo. It's a nice addition to a game that would otherwise feel a bit wanting for content I think and adds a definite replayability for compulsive leaderboard climbers or those that just want to best their friends.
Deadlight Director's cut has a wonderful style to it but lacks the substance I would like to see in a puzzle platformer. When the platforming is at times imprecise or clunky and the puzzles are a little too easy to merit even being called puzzles in most cases I often found myself thinking I was just going through the motions in order to see the story through. The narrative pays off in the end in a way I didn't expect and I felt it made the short campaign worth the time I invested even if it doesn't exactly tackle new ground.