Tequila Works brings its hit indie survival horror game Deadlight, to the PS4 and Xbox One with Deadlight: Director’s Cut, but the years haven’t been kind.
It has been about six years since the release of Limbo, so gamers will be forgiven for forgetting that in the couple of years after that game’s release, developers everywhere were trying their hand at creating a game with a similar aesthetic. The critical success of Limbo, however, was such that it was impossible to ignore, and so it was that indie gaming suddenly became characterized by somber, melancholic, and introspective titles looking to both tell an engaging story and present an unsettling experience.
The results of these experiments varied in their levels of success and polish, but a standout towards the end of that particular craze in indie gaming was Deadlight, a title produced by then-fledgling studio Tequila Works. First released in 2012 for the Xbox 360 with a later PC launch, Deadlight was a polarizing title that received mixed reviews but nonetheless found commercial success.
That was 2012, however, and this is 2016. Tequila Works has decided to re-release its spin on classic zombie survival in the form of Deadlight: Director‘s Cut for the Xbox One, PS4, and PC, complete with updated graphics and a new game mode. The studio clearly believes that Deadlight has what it takes to remain a compelling game years after its initial release, but unfortunately, it sees that faith may have been misplaced. Deadlight: Director’s Cut is a serviceable game, but one that feels out-dated and has retained the most frustrating elements of its first iteration while improving on qualities that were already some of the game’s strongest.
The first thing gamers will notice about Deadlight: Director’s Cut is unostensibly the best, as Tequila Works really has improved Deadlight‘s gorgeous graphics and visual premise, creating a revamped version that doesn’t look out of place on a current-gen console at all. The wonderful juxtaposition of foreground action being partially shadowed in favor of a dynamic, living background is still present here, and it’s just as effective now as it was in 2012. Deadlight‘s visual presentation always has something going on behind the scenes, and never feels as though the game world has paused just to observe the player character.
The player character, however, is still one of Deadlight: Director’s Cut‘s biggest flaws. Players take on the role of Randall Wayne, a park ranger from the western coast of Canada who has migrated down to Seattle in the hopes of finding his lost family post-zombie apocalypse. Wayne, however, is a walking action hero stereotype in the worst ways – he struggles to express emotion, and when he does, it’s through a journal system or cutscenes that both feel lifted from a “how to create character depth” beginner’s guidebook.
That lack of depth could be salvaged by a better, more interesting story, but Deadlight‘s narrative flatlines the same way much of its world’s population already has. Gamers will find old journal entries of Randall’s in bizarre places all over the world, even though it’s implied he’s never been in these areas for long, if ever, before, and the entries and character dialogue are all we have to go on to understand what’s happening in the world. Zombies are called “shadows”, Randall writes bad poetry into his journal, and a homeless man in a sewer called The Rat represents the only interesting character players will ever meet over Deadlight‘s narrative.
It’s a shame, too, because games like Salt and Sanctuary have recently showcased that very dreary trappings and a sparse story doesn’t have to mean the game that features them must be as depressing as the world it has created. Indeed, in playing through Deadlight: Director’s Cut‘s short three-to-four hour main game, it was impossible not to get the impression that in the years since the original game’s release, most of what made it stand out has now been done more frequently and with a more deft hand.
At its core, however, Deadlight: Director’s Cut is supposed to be a survival horror game that places players in side-scroller-esque environment and tasks them with running, jumping, and fighting their way through increasingly tense situations. For the most part, the gameplay is as interesting and fun as it was in 2012, with the game’s first, largely weaponless half representing a far stronger overall experience than the second, which feels more like an action movie and loses some of its edge as a result.
The biggest complaint in the original Deadlight was the game’s control scheme, which was considered sluggish and unresponsive for a title that was so dependent on completing simple actions to survive. Those control issues have returned to haunt Deadlight: Director’s Cut, as Randall will frequently find himself climbing up and down a ledge repeatedly while gamers attempt to get the game’s sensitive edge detection system to recognize they simply want to move forward. It’s frustrating to have a re-release that doesn’t address the original title’s biggest shortcomings, and Tequila Works really should have done better with this sticking point for fans.
The combat is difficult because Randall isn’t supposed to be an expert zombie slayer, and that works well, at times ramping up the tension that is supposed to define the game to exciting and memorable levels. One moment in particular, when a horde of zombies comes crashing through a door and Randall has no choice but to flee his way through a series of obstacles designed to hinder his progress, stands out as a wonderful few minutes of anxious survival. So too does a later segment when a helicopter is chasing Randall through derelict buildings and rooftops across a city – but these moments are too few and far between.
Instead, a lot of the game comes down to solving puzzles or simply jumping over the zombies from a safe, easy distance. Most conundrums directly involving zombies can be solved by simply standing somewhere Randall cannot be reached and taunting zombies into a hole in the floor, and these instances become annoying rather than nuanced and fun. In the few segments of the game where quick-thinking is required or there is a trap the player cannot possibly be aware of on their first playthrough, Randall will mutter to himself to warn gamers of the impending danger. When playing Deadlight: Director’s Cut at a brisk pace, however, Randall’s warnings come just in time for players to already be neck-deep in a pit of spikes or crushed by a swinging trap.
There’s a lot to be disappointed in when it comes to Deadlight: Director’s Cut, but the game also offers something brand new: the introduction of a Survival Arena. While remasters are quickly becoming plagued by these kinds of game modes, in Deadlight: Director’s Cut, an endurance test to see just how long gamers can last against hordes of the undead suits the overall philosophy behind the game. It’s a welcome addition that helps make Deadlight: Director’s Cut feel a little bit new, at least.
Overall, however, Deadlight: Director’s Cut is a game that hasn’t changed enough to justify an entirely new release, and looks dated in comparison to newer indie titles in the same genre, including the upcoming Inside. While the game is still beautiful and has some redeeming qualities to it, it’s hard to explicitly recommend Deadlight: Director’s Cut to anyone except the most dedicated fans of the original or of Limbo-style games.
Deadlight: Director’s Cut is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PS4 code for this review.