Set in 1986 in and around Seattle, Deadlight: Director’s Cut is another take on the zombie apocalypse genre. The premise may be nothing new, but the way it is presented and how it is delivered makes it worth your time. Remastered for the new generation of consoles, it features 1080p resolution, enhanced animations, Nightmare difficulty mode, and a Survival Arena where you try to survive as long as possible in a hospital. A wealth of bonus features are included, from concept art to behind the scenes videos, and some bonus items extend the life of an otherwise solid five hour game.
Having a compelling story is what can make or break a game set in the now-tired zombie apocalypse setting. While they swap out the name zombies for Shadows, they are effectively the same. Thankfully Deadlight features an emotional story that builds your attachment to the character’s plight. I don’t want to spoil it since the satisfaction comes from either catching hints or being surprised, but Deadlight’s narrative pays off in a satisfying way.
The perspective of the story shifts between present day, and flashbacks of life before and after the outbreak. You play as Randall Wayne, a man searching for his missing daughter and wife. You originally travel with a small group but are split from them at the very beginning. As you make your way towards the fabled “Safe Zone,” you will come across secrets and missing journal entries for Wayne’s diary. Most of the backstory for Wayne’s character is handled by this journal, however it introduces a strange discrepancy between narrative and gameplay. Randall hasn’t been here before, so why are ripped pages stored on random dead bodies? While this issue is nothing major, it is a small leap in logic that stood out to me.
Motion comics enact most of the major moments of the story. They feature bold outlines not unlike the work done in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker‘s cutscenes. Randall’s gruff voice provides narration, mostly with quips about the surrounding area and current situation. Most of his dialogue is pretty generic, which is disappointing given that his journal entries showcase a much more interesting character. The solemn man who yearns for the mountains is never glimpsed at during your time playing Deadlight. Instead you get a bearded action hero whose sole purpose is to move forward and find his family. It is compelling, but lacks depth.
Despite being a game revolving around the zombie apocalypse, a majority of what you will be doing in Deadlight is platforming. Zombies are tough and your health consists of merely three small bars. Instead of combat, you will want to focus on staying out of the zombie horde’s grasp. Whether you want to accomplish this with the help of surrounding objects or by sprinting past foes is up to you. You also have a stamina meter which determines how much longer you can hold onto a ledge. It doubles as a limitation to combat as each swing reduces the current amount.
Platformers live or die by their jumping mechanic and Deadlight’s hasn’t improved since its original release on Xbox 360. At the very beginning of my playthrough I encountered a jump that required sprinting. It took a few tries to succeed as I would constantly undershoot or overshoot when to press jump. It took much more time adjusting when to push jump than I’m used to for most platformers.
Combat is feasible and sometimes necessary, as this isn’t a walking simulator. It is broken between melee and ranged, the former being a much more viable option. Most encounters you rely on a fireman’s axe for melee damage. Once on the ground, you can engage in a finisher animation. For those who are more indirect, a common method is to drop objects on top of zombies or luring them into electrified floors by taunting.
Progression will often be blocked by a simple puzzle. Whether it be a button that needs pressing, a block that needs moving, or a sequence of actions it won’t get complex. No puzzle kept me stopped for very long and none were so clever that I felt satisfied when solving them. Instead I simply performed a menial task to continue onward.
Another strange decision was that Wayne, a park ranger, cannot swim in deep water. This lack of skill is never explained, and instead exists to create more hazards for the player to overcome. The sections containing water don’t break the pacing, but slow it down. I’m engaged with what is developing and want to see around the corner, but instead I have to watch Wayne dredge through chest-high water.
Thanks to a heavily leaned-on art style, Deadlight still holds up four years after its original release. While certain textures and buildings can reveal its age, a large majority of Deadlight: Director’s Cut looks great at a higher resolution. Wayne is nearly always entrenched in black, a reflection of the Shadows that tirelessly chase after him. Presented as a 2.5D sidescroller, the game offers depth of vision with roads leading off into the distance and impressive backdrops that increase the presence of a larger world.
A subtle score never overpowers the on-screen action, but is still a joy to listen to. The main menu music features a chorus that uses a “less-is-more” approach that I appreciated. Don’t expect the grandiose musical cues of Halo. Instead the music is used here, much like the art style, to simply enhance the story being told.
Remasters, remakes, and ports are nothing new, and Deadlight is one of the few games from last generation that deserves it. Releasing on Xbox 360’s Summer of Arcade in 2012, Deadlight later made its way to PC with little fanfare. Now, on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, Deadlight: Director’s Cut has a chance to impress new players with its take on a zombie apocalypse. The art style helps to mask the age, but it can’t stop certain gameplay mechanics from feeling rough on these consoles. Those complaints aren’t enough to keep me from recommending this solid experience, especially given the additional content and low launch pricing.