This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Daylight and Child of Light.
Sometime last year I made an observation that between Alone in the Dark, Darksiders, Dark Souls, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, Darkest of Days, and Dark, video games are showing a bit of an obsession with keeping the lights turned off, like they brought a barfly home with them and sobered up too quick. But, as Newton taught us, "for every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction", as seen when the barfly compensates for their appearance by being amazingly good at table tennis.
So we've seen the army of darkness lining up, but I've noticed a growing army of opposition, containing such luminaries (no pun intended) as Torchlight, Deadlight, Faster Than Light, Metro: Last Light, and, er, Microsoft F-light Simulator. These ranks were recently bolstered by two new soldiers in the same week, both of which I would like to take a look at for ya now. Of course, it must be said that light doesn't seem to have done a lot to make these games cheer the fuck up!
So first of all, Daylight, a game characterized by a total absence of the thing it is named after, sort of like the McDonald's healthy choices menu. Daylight is a horror/exploration/smartphone inspection simulator that owes a certain amount to Slender and its eight-billion derivatives, as well as various other horror properties. In fact, if we started listing everything Daylight owes to, we'd certainly delay it long enough for the leg-breakers to arrive.
You are a young lady named Sarah who is trapped in an abandoned hospital, which is also an abandoned asylum, which is also an abandoned prison, and has to find the way out, all the while collecting pieces of paper onto which every single dead person that used to work here recorded every slightest thought which crossed their banal fucking minds, but who never used their eloquence to send out an order for a few thousand more light bulbs. So in all, it couldn't be more haunted if Jason Voorhees' mum had used it as a venue for her steak-'n'-stab luncheons. But while Daylight is riding cliché like a dirty pony, it helpfully avoids the usual sodding twist where the main character turns out to have a history with the place that they forgot about. Oh, sorry, I was thinking of Mario Golf; that doesn't happen in Mario Golf, but, of course, it fucking happens in Daylight!
Your task in each stage is to find six pages, whereupon an object spawns at Location A, which is used to open the gate at Location B to get to the next stage. The closer you are to opening the gate, the greater the chance of "shadows" showing up, which falls into the Silent Hill: Shattered Memories trap of removing all fucking ambiguity over whether or not you're in danger. But while Daylight is from the saturated school of indie gaming that thinks all a horror game needs is the odd scary noise and three feet of visibility, I do recall at once point making a little involuntary blubbering noise with my mouth, so it at least had some effect, until I realized the shadows can only harm you if you look at them, and whenever they're around a very unsubtle jibbering noise plays and an even-less-subtle tip pops up saying "Hey, you remember how the flares work, right? Just askin'!" So whenever those things happened I learnt to take a close interest in a nearby wall and basically got through the whole game unmolested. Didn't help with the shadows that just spawned directly in front of me going "blurgh", but those are the cheapest of the cheap scares; those are to horror what standing at the mic blowing raspberries is to stand-up comedy.
And look, that whole twist where the main character has a secret history with the horror? That only works if they have a character, besides a disembodied voice going "Is there anybody there?" or squeaking like a rusty hinge. We need to have some assumptions about a character before you can start subverting our assumptions! All I have to go on is that I'm a squeaky lady in a haunted house! So I turned to my brain and asked, "Why are we in this haunted house?", and my brain goes, "Well, presumably because we've got a secret history with the place." "Brain! Fucking spoiler warning!"
In short, can't recommend; maybe try Outlast instead.
Now let's move on from a game ironically named after something it has very little of, to something a bit more literal, namely Child of Light; the main character's a child (that's a tick) and the game's so sickeningly twee it makes me want to retract my legs into my body and puke shoeleather onto its face (two ticks, A+). You are a young princess who possibly died and woke up in a strange fantasy land that you must save, Neverending Story-style, by restoring the sun and the moon and the stars, all the while fighting off evil and bad poetry.
Child of Light follows my patented formula for instant critical acclaim on the indie circuit: small child, platformer, big scary world, a theme related to coming-of-age or loss-of-innocence, and an soundtrack reminiscent of the outro song from the Incredible Hulk TV series. Take my opinion for what it's worth, because I am fully aware that I am the opposite of the target audience on this one, but I found Child of Light very dull (ironically).
It's yet another game that tries to reinvent the wheel and add real-time elements to turn-based battles, in this case, shining a magic torch light at the enemies to slow them or yourself to heal, which really fucks with the pacing when I'm holding off selecting an attack from the menu to sit beaming myself blind! Now, you unlock the ability to fly very, very early, so fights are easy to avoid, but you have to level up somehow for the mandatory boss fights. Is it worse when a game batters me with the boring stick, or puts the boring stick on the floor and leaves me to batter myself? Also, I see a flaming spider in the overworld, wearing a flaming hat, spewing the words "I'm all about dat fire" in flaming letters, so I equip all my fire defence and water attack and start combat only to find that Earth Badger and Ice Dentist were hiding up his arse or something, so I have to fight them, too!
So combat was a chore, but it wasn't what made the game excruciating enough that I couldn't continue. And again, this criticism may be even more subjective than usual but, frankly, what truly killed it for me was that the poetry was so fucking awful! Every single line of dialogue is a rhyming couplet, which is a cute idea as gimmicks go, but several thousand couplets down the line, you can practically taste the blood running from the writers' eyeballs, as in the most utterly-tortured possible way / arranges the words of another sentence do they. With absolutely no understanding of rhythm, they probably think "iambic pentameter" is some kind of handheld device for measuring sunspots. And I know it doesn't sound like a big problem, but constant little niggles mount up to big ones.
You know when you're watching your granddad type and he's taking so fucking long that you're getting more and more frustrated until you want to shoo him away and do it yourself? It was like that! Whatever the game's merits, I had to stop, otherwise I would've bitten my controller in half and yelled, "You can't rhyme 'delicious' with 'ravenous'! Emphasis is on the wrong syllable!! You FUCK!!!"
- Obviously just hates women: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- If you ask me light and dark should only be in conflict in matters of cappuccinos
- You don't fuck around at my poetry slams mate