Initally released on Xbox 360 and PC back in 2012, Deadlight: Director's Cut is essentially an HD remaster of the original game. It's the creation of Spanish developer Tequila Works, and was designed as an homage to classic 80's and 90's cinematic side-scrolling platform games such as Prince of Persia and Another World.
The game is set in Seattle in 1986, 145 days after the outbreak of a virus that reanimates the recently deceased. In other words, Deadlight: Director's Cut is a zombie yarn – although in this game they're called "shadows". Regardless of their name, however, they're still your traditional, shuffling, pack-minded, not-very-intelligent undead.
The story follows Canadian Randall Wayne, who's become separated from his wife and daughter. After hearing reports of a last remaining safe point in Seattle, he heads to the city, believing he'll be able to locate his family there. The objective – at least at first – is to head towards this reported safe area, which involves working your way through the ruins of the city.
What transpires is a beautifully rendered and backlit 2.5D scrolling platformer, whose gorgeous 3D backgrounds are almost photo-realistic as Randall – pretty much a silhouette in this game – runs, jumps and climbs his way around the environment. The action starts in a warehouse, and there's a series of simple training puzzles to first solve that get you up to speed on the game's fairly complex controls. Although it's a simple platformer at heart, Randall is quite nimble, and capable of an impressive repertoire of moves, including pulling and pushing objects, leaping and mantling onto ledges, running and rolling through small gaps, and shoulder-charging his way through breakable doors and windows.
All these moves are used in conjunction with one another to solve puzzles that the game poses. These start out pretty straightforwardly, such as pushing a box around so that you can climb up to an inaccessible part of the interior of a warehouse. However, as the game progresses, puzzles become more sophisticated. Some are tests of reflexes that require you to string together moves fluidly – such as sprinting through a collapsing building – while others are more cerebral in nature, requiring you to figure out how to use pieces of machinery to climb out of a high window that you can't otherwise reach.
As you might expect from a zombie game, there is some combat, although it's used very sparingly. The thing is, there are few weapons in this game, and ammo is very rare, so you have to be very careful about exactly when you use them. Fortunately, most of the time you have a trusty fireman's axe that you can swing at shadows – although taking them out requires considerable effort. The problem is that you have a stamina bar that depletes every time you wield your axe, and it takes multiple accurate hits to take out a shadow. This means if you’re swarmed by more than three or four, it's very difficult to survive the encounter, so you have to be very judicious about when you stop and fight them. Most of the time it's better to figure out how to avoid shadows, rather than take them on.
This helps ensure that shadows are a constant menace – something deadly to be avoided at all costs, rather than just cannon fodder. It also means that Randall feels quite vulnerable, and this helps dial up the horror-survival aspect of the game. You just know that if you stop at any point where shadows are present, or perhaps even just trip up on a hazard, you can be swarmed and killed with ease. Indeed, death is a quite common occurrence in Deadlight: Director's Cut, although not always at the fetid hands of shadows. There are plenty of platforming hazards to avoid too, such as deadly drops, traps, fallen electrical cables, and water. Yeah, Randall can't swim, so anytime he enters water that's deeper than he is tall, he's a dead man.
However, despite the number of hazards present in the game, it's fairly straightforward to beat. Respawn points are generally exceptionally forgiving, and most of the time you're tackling single rooms at a time, working though a combination of trial and error to figure out how to get past them. That's not to say there aren't a few robust challenges here and there – but they are few and far between. There's a hectic helicopter chase where you have to run and jump across a series of rooftops to avoid getting shot, and, much later in the game, a section where you come up against a very different kind of enemy (no spoilers!) where again you have to execute moves flawlessly to be able to get through. These stand out as some of the game's most exciting aspects, but can also be frustrating too.
The trouble is that Deadlight: Director's Cut's controls can be awkward at times. Sometimes you have to be standing in just the right spot to be able to climb a ladder, for example. This is fine if you’re not under pressure, but when you’re being chased, this can be very frustrating as you attempt to maneuver into the correct position to make your leap. Climbing over fences is similarly fussy. Sometimes when you want to drop down, Randall instead climbs back over the fence to the other side. Again, this can have deadly consequences when you're racing against the clock.
There are also some rather cheap deaths that result simply from sloppy design decisions. Because the proceedings are so dark, sometimes it's difficult to make out exactly where Randall is, and that can make certain pixel-perfect jumps difficult to execute. There are also some blind traps that are pretty much impossible to avoid without foresight, which can also be a little frustrating.
Another area of the game that's weak is the voice acting. Indeed, it's a bit of a double-whammy, because not only is the dialog poorly voiced, it's also not very well written. A lot of the time the actors feel like they're just reading through the lines with little emotional investment, and it all sounds very flat. Sure, it gives the game a bit of a B-movie vibe, but much of the dialog is just not very compelling.
Finally, the biggest mark against the game is its length, or rather, its lack thereof. It's very short indeed, and I took about four hours to make my way through it – and I took my time and admired the scenery. For those who might be more adept than I, the game might take fewer than three hours to complete, which is a really quite brief experience.
All that said, though, I still really liked playing Deadlight: Director's Cut – while it lasted. Its story is a good one, with plenty of twists and turns that make for a quite gripping yarn. The game plays out over three acts, each of which has its own distinct feel, and the action builds slowly to a nice crescendo, with a really satisfying ending. It mightn't please everyone, but I thought the finale was classic zombie flick fare.
Despite a few design flaws here and there, and the occasional annoyance with the sometimes-clumsy controls, I really enjoyed the platforming. It's not particularly demanding, but it's still a lot of fun. There's plenty of variety in terms of things to do, and some of the puzzles are very entertaining to figure out. Indeed, that's what makes the occasionally poor design decisions I mentioned just now even more infuriating. Generally speaking, the game is mostly very nicely designed, but it's just let down by a few annoying quirks.
Were those issues ironed out, and if the game was a little longer in length, I think Deadlight: Director's Cut would be close to a five-star game for me. It's a tense and thrilling title that looks and sounds fantastic, and delivers some great moments. But unfortunately its short running time and its annoying niggles peg it back. Even with its additional features – survival arena, nightmare difficulty mode (accessible once you've finished the game) and in-game art book – it just feels too lean: a potentially great game stymied by lack of content and a few questionable design decisions.
Unfortunately, the game only takes a few hours to beat. Beyond that, there's always speedrunning through the game - or the one-life nightmare mode to challenge you.
The dialog and voice acting is rather flat, but the sound effects are generally very good.
They might be very dark, but the backgrounds look absolutely gorgeous.
Deadlight: Director's Cut looks fantastic and has a very intriguing storyline. Its platforming puzzles are also generally really enjoyable to solve. However, a few annoying gameplay flaws, occasionally awkward controls, and very short running time really take the edge off the experience, and ultimately the game falls short of its considerable potential.