Arriving in 2013 as part of Xbox's Summer of Arcade, Deadlight reinvigorated the zombie horror genre with its classic 2D platforming and a uniquely bleak dreary tone. With the release of its next project RIME seemingly in development hell, Tequila Works has decided to revisit its esteemed debut to bring it glossier graphics, tighter controls, and an all new survival mode.
Similar to fellow Summer of Arcade title Limbo, Deadlight is a 2D puzzle-platformer with a chilling tone and a moody aesthetic. The title is set in an alternate 1986 Seattle, where the dwindling light of civilization has long been extinguished and the undead rule the streets. You take control of Randall Wayne, a husky survivor, who is hellbent on finding his wife and daughter after he is torn apart from his group. Its well-worn set-up may sound awfully familiar, but thankfully it's sincerely executed and backed by a cast of compelling characters.
Split into three main acts, the story unfolds across multiple districts of the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Seattle, requiring you to venture through trap-infested hideouts, industrial areas, and abandoned hospitals. While Deadlight's desolate setting offers plenty of variation with regard to its locations, its moody undertone is present throughout, creating a continual sense of hopelessness and unease. This well-executed sense of atmosphere drew us further into the experience, allowing us to empathise with Randall's circumstances on a deeper level.
An upgraded visual polish has allowed Deadlight's murky landscape to appear better than ever, adding an extra element of flair to its backdrop of rusted skyscrapers and dreary skies. The Director's Cut runs in a smooth 1080p and succeeds in making an already alluring game look much sharper. Accompanying cutscenes are presented in a crude comic book style and bear a strong resemblance to artist Tony Moore's work on The Walking Dead. While its grisly action does translate well into this particular style, cutscenes feel largely mismatched and don't transition that smoothly following gameplay.
Linearity may not necessarily be a bad thing, but Deadlight's restricted pathways are made all the more apparent as you're forced to repeat the same few tedious tasks. These include dashing over fences, climbing ladders, and moving boxes to reach distant ledges. There is some variation thrown in at later stages as you'll scurry across rooftops to avoid helicopter fire and turn hydrants to solve water-based puzzles, but these only last for a short period. The challenge of puzzles is also disappointingly dampened by a series of flashing arrow prompts, which signal the route that you need to take.
Although its Director's Cut does boast tighter controls over the original release, combat – particularly melee – feels incredibly sluggish. You're also limited to a total of three weapons which include a fireman's axe, a revolver, and a shotgun. It may be an understandable limitation as weapons tend to be scarce in apocalyptic settings, but the lack of available combat options leaves encounters feeling especially dull and arduous. It's also curious as to why throwable weapons aren't included within the game as they would have come in handy when clearing out attacking hordes.
Scattered across the ground and tightly clutched in the hands of the deceased are an assortment of collectibles, which range from ID cards to missing fragments of Randall's diary. As well as providing an incentive to revisit the experience, they also offer backstory to victims and work to reveal more about Randall as a character. But besides scouting for all of the collectibles and trying to beat stages in the quickest time possible there is little reason to return, which is especially disappointing for a game with such a linear structure
As previously mentioned, a new inclusion to the Director's Cut is an arcade-style survival mode, where you must fight to survive as long as possible and rack up the highest kill count in the process. Here Randall finds himself trapped inside the walls of an abandoned hospital while scavenging for supplies and is surrounded by droves of bloodthirsty attackers. While it can work to be an entertaining distraction in short bursts, you're likely to quickly lose interest, as understandably, it focuses heavily on the game's mainly unsatisfactory combat system.
While it fulfils its promise of delivering a much needed edge to the saturated zombie horror scene, Deadlight: Director's Cut is sadly hampered by its clunky combat system and recycled puzzles. Existing players may feel compelled to delve back into the experience as its visuals feel noticeably refined and its survival mode – although flawed – can be addictive in small doses. But although it's brimming with fresh ideas and possesses a compelling atmosphere, it isn't able to stand tall as it rests on a ground of flawed fundamentals.