Deadlight is also a game with an interesting world, with some nice twists and turns in the plot and a fabulous gritty feel. It’s not quite as dark or hard-edged as The Road – the film or the original Cormac McCarthy novel, but you can see that both have been an inspiration, as has The Walking Dead (both the comic-book and series). It’s action-packed, with some sterling breathless chase sequences, but clever enough to give time for you to breathe and for the tension to build all over again.
Unfortunately, there are long stretches and clusters of isolated moments where it simply doesn’t work as well as it should. At first, the reliance on trial and error gameplay – on dying horribly through a lack of close attention then working out how to fix your mistake – isn’t a problem; Deadlight is very generous with its checkpoints, and you rarely have to repeat more than a couple of minutes of play. Towards the end, however, a reliance on split-second timing and awkward wall-jumping controls – not to mention oddly sticky walls – starts making certain sections a real menace.
A mid-game section set in a madman’s trap-filled sewer home seems to go on for hours while forgetting what’s more interesting and fun about the game, and there just aren’t enough opportunities to trap zombies or use your noggin to find interesting ways past them. Deadlight doesn’t do emergent gameplay; it just wants you to follow the story to its conclusion.
It’s also a short game. While we’d take claims that you’ll finish it within the first two hours with a pinch of salt, you’ll certainly have it cracked within four or maybe five, and that’s including time taken collecting IDs from corpses and Randall’s lost memories. Nor is it the sort of game that demands repeat play.
Given the 1200 MSPoints price tag it’s hard to complain that Deadlight offers awful value, but after the likes of Fez, From Dust and Trials Evolution, we’re beginning to expect a little more from premium Xbox Live Arcade titles. Of course, Journey proves that brevity isn’t necessarily a barrier to brilliance, but that gave you a different experience every time you came back for more. In the more linear Deadlight, that just won’t be the case.
While Deadlight is the best Summer of Arcade title of 2012 so far, the patchy gameplay means it’s a solid game rather than a great one. Without its stylish, grim aesthetic and frantic chases it might even seem mediocre, but the great atmosphere takes it up a notch or two. At roughly £10 it’s still well worth getting if you have some patience and the will to survive, but much as we want to love Deadlight, it keeps throwing something in that puts us off.