Deadlight: Directors Cut review
Unique take on zombies
Climbing and running sections
Platform(s) available: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Platform reviewed: PS4
Deadlight: Director’s Cut is easily one of the most unique takes on the zombie apocalypse available now. Whilst most zombie games focus on fantastical ways of killing your foes, Deadlight does the exact opposite. One of the biggest strengths of Deadlight is how it manages to make the unknown a genuine fear for the player. Too many games nowadays make zombies cannon fodder and focus their game on how to destroy them in wacky and creative ways. There’s nothing wrong with this but Deadlight purposefully separates itself from this and creates a realistic portrayal of the zombie apocalypse.
Deadlight is set in the 1980’s following a sudden and destructive zombie outbreak. We see the events of the game from Randall Wayne, a former park ranger and now full time survival expert. Wayne is fuelled to continue in his adventure by his visions of his past and the belief that his friends will be waiting for him in a designated safe area. Whilst playing, Wayne can pick up diary entries, notes from people and several hints as to what actually happened to the people of this world. This is one of the main drives to Deadlight; what happened here? The player never really gets all of the details unless they search out for the collectibles and the revelations that are present in the story are actually worth the journey.
It’s unfortunate that the characters of Deadlight are cliche’ and typical of a zombie story. Our protagonist is the typical tough and world-wearied survivalist who only has one goal in mind. We’ve seen this a dozen times and the performance of Wayne doesn’t help matters as most of his principal dialogue comes across as simply telling the players exactly what they are seeing. This eliminates some of the mystery that Deadlight works so hard to build up. The one upside to Wayne constantly narrating is that the player gets to understand a bit more of what happened to the world, although in a much less subtle way than intended. Wayne is especially disappointing because his story is actually interesting and fairly unique and by the end the player can’t help but want to know what happens to him. Tertiary characters aren’t much better than Wayne himself all being one-dimensional and unlikeable. It doesn’t help that Deadlight is so short that we only really get to spend a proper amount of time with Wayne, whilst other supposedly ‘important’ characters don’t get any development.
At the end of the day, the characters of Deadlight aren’t why you’re going to be playing the game. The real star of Deadlight is the world that the zombies inhabit. A unique colour scheme where the most visible things are the backgrounds, the environment and the red of the zombie’s eyes. The way that the world is presented to the player is truly unique and is honestly one of the best reasons for exploring the world and continuing on with the game. One of the strengths of Deadlight is a prevailing sense of mystery with the unknown cause of the outbreak and the countless number of dead people whose fate remains ambiguous. The sound is great too, save for some wonky voice acting, as each zombie growls in intense scenes and ambient music plays whenever there is downtime. The presentation in Deadlight is one of its greatest strengths and is the only zombie game out there to present its bleak world in such a beautiful way.
Arguably the core part of the gameplay of Deadlight is navigating the environment. Wayne is surprisingly agile, able to leap from rooftop to rooftop and scale whatever is in his way. Some of the best sections in the game involve running away from a threat, sprinting through abandoned streets whilst being chased by zombies. Even in quieter moments where Wayne is simply climbing a structure, the climbing and running sections in the game are easily its best. The comparison between the original Prince of Persia and Deadlight is surprisingly apt in this area of the game. Wayne moves in the same way as the Prince did and this is both a blessing and a curse. Whilst Wayne definitely can make almost any jump in the game and the stamina bar never really becomes an issue when climbing, Deadlight also inherits the stiff controls and movement that Prince of Persia had. Each jump feels fine but getting to that jump and then climbing around afterwards is often more of a chore than it needs to be. Other actions in the game also feel stiff such as crouching and attacking with weapons. This could be because the game is tailored to a slower experience than most players are used to but other slow paced games such as Limbo control perfectly- why couldn’t Deadlight? One of the purported changes made in this version of the game is better controls but the change is fairly minimal as they feel very stiff.
The rest of the gameplay focuses on light puzzle solving and dispatching the zombies with guns and the environment. The puzzles aren’t really engaging at all with none of them stopping Wayne in his tracks and instead merely slowing him down. Combat also seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity. Early in the game, it is made clear that the best way to kill the zombies is with the environment. Wayne can taunt the zombies in order to get them follow him and doing this often leads them to their death. This seems true to how it would be in a zombie apocalypse as bullets would presumably be scarce. The introduction of guns fairly early in the game ruins this part of the combat, as ammo is plentiful and made it easier to dispatch the zombies, making them more of a nuisance than anything else. Granted, if more than one zombie manages to get Wayne then there’s practically nothing that can be done. In this case it makes a lot of sense for the world as each zombie is legitimately a threat without a gun. If guns weren’t introduced into the game, the zombies would remain as one of the biggest threats and nothing would really have been lost from the puzzles.
The biggest complaint that can be made about Deadlight is the short length. In total, I managed to finish Deadlight within two to three hours, marking it as one of my shortest experiences on this generation so far. The Director’s Cut does add in an arena for players to go back to and test their skill but this doesn’t really make up for the game potentially being able to completed in one sitting. Most indie games like Journey are also brief but in Journey it felt like it had really given you all it had and come full circle. Deadlight feels like it is building up to something for the entire game but it ends before it truly expands upon some of its best features. Deadlight is being sold for an extremely reasonable price which does increase its value but it is still a tough pill to swallow for those expecting a reasonable length.
The exclusive content of Deadlight: Director’s Cut is what will probably draw in those who played the game in its original debut. In this version of Deadlight, the animations have been improved to be more fluid and the game is outputted at a full 1080p resolution. These features are key to improving the game from the original release but the main draw is the survival arena. In this extra mode players are able to try and survive for as long as possible against a horde in a large hospital setting. Whilst not the focus of the game, it feels like the combat is truly realised for its full potential in this mode. Ammo is scarce and the horde is overwhelming, leading to it being genuinely difficult at times and making it more than worth playing.
Overall, Deadlight: Director’s Cut expands upon the original version of the game in small but positive ways, delivering a more concise experience and polishing the standout presentation. The exploration is fun and the story and world of the game keep the player going to try and absorb even more of the atmosphere. The experience is marred by stiff controls and untapped potential and the length will certainly disappoint those who hope for a long experience. How unique Deadlight is and the presentation save it from mediocrity and make it well worth a visit for those who never experienced it.