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Deadlight: Director's Cut / 30th of June 2016

Way back in 2012, during the Xbox Live “Summer of Arcade”, a little known Spanish developer, Tequila Works, took the once evergreen zombie apocalypse setting, sent it back in time to an alternate 1980’s and blended it all together with the popular puzzle-platformer genre to create one of the stand out titles of the period – Deadlight. Fast forward four years and Abstraction Games, along with publisher, Deep Silver, have brought the title back and given it a subtle layer of polish to ensure that game looks the part as it makes its debut on a PlayStation platform. Offering an upgraded resolution and frame rate, new animations and few other tweaks, Deadlight: Director’s Cut has obviously had some care and attention spent on it, but is it really enough to make this four-year-old game a viable purchase today?

Well, the answer is yes and no. Quite frankly, with it following in the footsteps of the recently released Dead Island: Definitive Edition, this remaster feels rather underwhelming, whereas Techland’s effort was rebuilt in an updated engine with an improved native resolution and frame rate, along with wholly recreated assets and new effects, this, by comparison offers very few upgrades. Sure, it runs at 1080p and at a solid 60fps along with some new animations that all in all, does make the game look significantly better than the original release, but in all honesty, it just doesn’t offer enough of a leap for me to warrant a second purchase. Contrarily, for those that didn’t pick it up first time around, there is surely no better time to give it a spin, because despite its diminutive proportions, at its heart, Deadlight is still a fairly enjoyable game.
In an alternative 1986, players take control of rugged protagonist Randall Wayne as his world crumbles around him, we enter the fray after the zombie apocalypse has already happened, and encounter Randall and his comrades in the aftermath of a very difficult decision. They are forced to scatter as their refuge is besieged by the living dead, which sees Randall left on his lonesome as he attempts to reunite with them at a designated spot in the city. On his journey, Randall encounters a couple of friendly faces but finds that the greatest threat of all isn’t the zombie horde, but rather the men who terrorise the other remaining survivors. Most of all though, his journey is a personal one into the past, to the start of it all, the outbreak, and his own emotional pain. And whilst the voice acting on the whole doesn’t do the premise justice, the final denouement is still a relatively moving one.

Zombies have become entirely mainstream and thoroughly passé thanks to the likes of The Walking Dead TV show and a plethora of other zombie slaughtering games (though I was delighted with the Dead Rising 4 announcement), yet Deadlight does things a little differently, and actually manages to keep the subject matter relatively fresh. It’s effectively a 2D puzzle-platformer with combat elements, there are guns and you get a fire axe, but ultimately, the game is centred on its narrative, and Randall’s ability to survive. Generally, this simply involves running, jumping and climbing to avoid enemies, whilst swinging the axe to knock back any foes who get a little too close for comfort. Randall is a fairly nimble character, wall running and leaping from building to building and such like, and these are skills that the player has to utilise efficiently, particularly as there are a number of sections of trial and error gameplay, where the player has to avoid a sudden influx of falling objects or death dealing helicopters out for his blood – well, the gunner and pilot are anyway. Personally, I’ve never liked this kind of game design, I find it to be rather cheap and annoying, and in this Director’s Cut edition, it’s worsened by one of the release’s “improved” features, its control scheme.
Quite frankly, the new controls puzzled me greatly, with climbing and mantling objects made to feel incredibly frustrating due to the general sensitivity of its movement – this left me seeing Randall switch from side to side at the precipice of an object when I was simply attempting to jump towards another platform, and ultimately led to several deaths. I attributed this to enhanced frame rate, rather foolishly, as conversely what I also discovered was that when attempting to jump, particularly a running jump, the controls suffered from the polar opposite problem, they were far too unresponsive. There were countless times when Randall would simply run off the edge of a platform to his death instead of performing the action that I had politely encouraged him to perform.

In terms of its visuals, Deadlight is a highly stylised effort, with the world appearing as dark as its setting, as though a veil of death blots out the sun, stripping the environment of any warmth or colour. Only in Randall’s past do we see a warmer colour palette enter the fray, yet this goes in the opposite direction and drenches everything in red, signifying the impending, and rather significant loss of life that is just about to happen, the blood on his hands. Cut-scenes play out as though frames ripped out of a graphic novel, and whilst they may not portray the grittiness of Deadlight’s world as effectively as they should, the whole package does hold together surprisingly well, though in part thanks to its running time.
There isn’t very much in the way of variation in its gameplay, but it doesn’t manage to overstay its welcome, but that isn’t particularly surprising given that the story mode takes just two to three hours to complete. There are collectibles to find, these unlock additional content, primarily artwork, trailers and making of videos, but there are also simple little LCD handhelds to uncover for the more distinguished gamer, these offer similarly diminutive experiences, but offer the kind of gaming that Tiger Electronics would have been proud of. Additionally, there is a survival mode that simply challenges players to enter into a zombie infested area with no gear, and simply survive as long as they possibly can. It’s certainly nice to see some additional content, but there really isn’t much to it and it’s highly unlikely to extend Deadlight’s lifespan by much.

Still, coming it at around £14, Deadlight: Director’s Cut isn’t too bad in terms of value, but it still remains a difficult beast to recommend to anyone that has already experienced it, whereas newcomers will surely want this to be the version that they play. Perhaps more importantly though, Tequila Works recently acquired the rights to their gorgeous looking new project Rime from Sony, so it’s rather likely that sales of this game will help in funding its continued development, and that is something that I am only too eager to see. So go on, do your bit for indie gaming, buy Deadlight, and help Tequila Works get back on track…for me, please.
James Paton
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