My official period of state mourning for Deadlight has now passed. I can now slump towards you, eyes to the ground with gamepad plaintively proffered upwards, and mourn a great could-have-been. Oh Tequila Works, you got me in such a tizzy – and then cruelly snatched my dreams away.
We’ll skip over my eternal deaths – the plummets into pits, the reloading, the occasional poor signposting and my wailing and gnashing of teeth. This was, after all, a spiritual successor to Another World and Flashback and (much as our much abused minds try to block out the memory) these things come with the turf.
No, it’s the sodding Rat. Now don’t worry about spoilers (after all, I’m saving you money here) but partway through this beautiful, spooky 1980s apocalypse you meet an old gentleman. He’s the Rat Man, but he has few Rat fans – because he’s used the time it’s taken for a shroud of darkness to fall on society to construct a vast underground kingdom of levers, lifts, pulleys and spikes.
It’s like humanity turned into slouching creatures of darkness – and the Rat thought “You know what this stench of decay makes me feel like? Live-action Prince of Persia”. When I play an unutterably beautiful game like Deadlight, which it unquestionably is, I want to feel threatened, excited and endangered. I don’t want to piss around, bereft of weapons, with a child’s catapult in a dilapidated public transport system.
I can perhaps understand its inclusion, it’s a change of pace and makes use of various gameplay devices that would make even less sense above ground, but as a total non-sequitur to the game’s overall setting it’s sadly indicative of the rest of the game. Bad (and one suspects poorly translated) dialogue, dull diary fragments, irksome zombie battling and a drab hero sit as a direct counterpoint to the sumptuous animation and vistas of ruined Seattle.
The basic mechanics of the French Touch classics Deadlight wants to ape are here (albeit with very sharp edges), but none of the wit, the wonder or the charm. This failure to engage is fatal: without enough reward every rinse and repeat death through misadventure comes with an added degree of irritation. The game becomes a fun vacuum. The end-times become depressing.
Yes there are scares, yes the bit when you run through people’s houses is good and yes the way the load icon are cassette tape spool wheels is cute. But Deadlight… Deadlight I wanted so much more from you. Even now, in this not at all timely demolition of you, you make me a little sad inside. You got into a rat trap, Judy, and you got caught. As Bob Geldof would put it.