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Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Team 17
Developer: Just A Pixel
Release Date: July 14, 2014

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PC Review - 'Light'

by Brian Dumlao on Nov. 6, 2014 @ 3:00 a.m. PST

You wake up in a strange room with no recollection of who you are or how you got there. Use stealth and cunning to navigate around the environment. Technology is your first option. Combat is your last. Can you evade capture and solve the mystery?

Generally, stealth is a very tricky mechanic to place in a game. Do it right, and you can create tense experiences where each victory, no matter how big or small, can feel invigorating. Do it wrong, and you have an experience that can drag down the game. Light is the latest title to take a crack at the stealth genre, and its focus on minimalism helps it gain an identity among the sea of other stealth offerings. Unfortunately, the minimalism also ends up being its biggest weakness.

The story tries to shoot for an intriguing premise. A victim of amnesia, you wake up in a facility with no knowledge of how you got there. You discover that you were given the code name of 6c, and you're the only survivor of a series of horrifying human experiments. With those as your only clues, you set out to discover the truth about the experiments and make things right.

If you've seen the likes of "The Bourne Identity," then you know exactly where the story is going. The tale's predictability isn't the problem, but there's an issue with the way the story is told and handled. The beginning of each level gives you a quick blurb on the story thus far while various newspaper clippings and other data files give you a better idea of the whole picture via anecdotes. The problem is that none of it is presented with any sort of importance, and none of it seems like it moves the story along. It does everything by the numbers, and any sense of intrigue fades the moment you read each blurb. The few times that you do get actual human interaction are marginalized by the fact that they deliver plenty of exposition but nothing significant to the story. It gets to the point where you don't care, and considering the sense of empathy that the tale initially invoked, that's a really bad sign.

As stated earlier, Light is very minimalist, and this is definitely apparent in the presentation. Presented in a top-down view, the world is in varying shades of blue, much like Frozen Synapse, complete with optional scan lines — but no bright CRT-like glow. Everyone is represented by boxes. You're a blue box, civilians are white boxes, and guards are red. All of the important elements are usually highlighted in line art of different colors. The graphical flourishes that break away from this style are restricted to kills, which make the screen shake and distort for a brief second. Light casts some really nice shadows when it hits and bends over corners. The sound follows the same pattern, as there are no voices at all, despite being so story-centric. The effects do their job and are themed to a cyber motif, and the music does the same, though it is a joy to listen to on its own.

As for the gameplay, it distills stealth into a very simple format: Don't be seen, and ensure that no one sees any corpses you may create. While civilians may not care about your presence, the guards will. When guards are near, you can see their cone of vision to determine your likelihood of being caught. Security cameras on the walls do the same, and once you're caught, the guard tries to chase you down and shoot you. If you get hit, you must restart the level. Whether you escape capture or a corpse is discovered, a countdown timer appears to let you know how much time you have before reinforcements arrive. The game doesn't end if you let the timer expire, but it does mean that the guards become more numerous and vigilant in their patrols.

On the offensive side, you can get close to someone and kill him instantly, with a lowered score being your only penalty for creating a fatality. From there, you can hide bodies in cabinets and dumpsters, and you can also don their clothes as a disguise. The disguises aren't foolproof, but they provide the benefit of reducing the vision cones of cameras and guards. Aside from this, you can reach computer terminals and hack them to open and close doors and turn off cameras.

Though each level takes place in completely different areas, the premise of each stage becomes the same: reach the designated intel spots, plant or take said intel, hack some terminals to create pathways, and get out. Reaching the exit rewards you with a score that is based on your time and objects found but minus anyone you've killed. One hit from enemies gets you killed, but you have infinite lives, and each death doesn't require a long loading sequence.

The nature of the stealth system has some benefits, particularly for those who aren't accustomed to the slow and methodical pacing of the genre. You don't have to worry about whether you're making lots of noise to attract attention, nor do you have to be concerned about pulling off advanced techniques, like hugging walls, crouching, or hanging from ceilings. Eliminating anyone in your way can be done with the press of a button, and dragging away someone or taking on their disguise can be done in a similar manner. Opening doors or hacking takes a longer hold on the button, but is still easy, and you don't have to complete any minigames. Though it doesn't support a controller, all of the keys are close by, and commands are easy enough to perform, so even those who aren't accustomed to gaming with a keyboard and mouse will get the hang of it in no time.

The simplicity of the stealth system, while it may be a plus for some, is also problematic as the game progresses. The lack of a hacking minigame makes hacking boring, since each level guarantees you'll hack at least one terminal to open doors and shut off cameras. It also doesn't help that the hacking process is a little cumbersome. You need to hack the PC first and then hit another button to bring up a menu of what needs to be compromised. Killing guards and innocent bystanders is so simple that the threat of the cavalry coming in is only slightly bothersome. You can easily run around killing everyone in your path, as long as you adeptly dodge their line of sight, further diminishing your need to use stealth. It doesn't help that the guard AI varies from very aware to being completely oblivious. The only consolation is that there aren't too many levels to worry about in the game.

This is probably Light's biggest problem. Each level is rather short, and first-time players can complete the title in about an hour with an average of five deaths per level. Even though there is a scoring system in place, the lack of leaderboards means there's a lack of motivation when it comes to replaying the levels to improve. The levels are static as far as item and guard locations are concerned, further derailing any need to replay them. Those looking to get all of the available Steam Achievements also won't need to replay the game, since the achievements are tied to level completion. The low level count is apparently being addressed by the developers as we speak, and as long as they keep their promise, there's a good shot that the game will be expanded a bit.

Light is a decent demonstration of stealth done on a smaller scale. The minimalist approach is novel, and the bare-bones stealth mechanic can be refreshing to those entering the genre for the first time. However, those who are more familiar with stealth titles will find the mechanics to be too simple, and the brevity of the entire game makes the $12.99 price tag seem absurd, especially when the levels and item locations are static. If the developer's promise of adding more levels for free pans out and there's a plethora to choose from, then it could be worth it. As it stands now, Light is a very hard game to recommend.

Score: 4.5/10

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