While growing up, my gaming system of choice was the Amiga. As a result, Team 17 was a name I grew to associate with top quality entertainment. Not only with the games they developed, such as the Alien Breed series and Superfrog, but with the ones they published too. Assassin and Super Stardust in particular stood out as enjoyable examples of their respective genres. Now after 20 odd years, Team 17 are once again stepping into the realm of publishing with developer Just A Pixel’s stealth action game, Light. Perhaps my expectations were too high going into Light after watching the trailer and with Team 17 being the publisher, but after my play through I can’t help but feel disappointed.
The premise behind Light is an interesting one. You find yourself thrown into the middle of shady dealings by an unscrupulous corporation with no notion of why or how, only discovering the answers to these questions over the course of the game. Unfortunately the story is poorly presented; being delivered primarily as a series of dialogue boxes at the start of each level. Further information is obtained either by picking up documents or from accessing terminals. These snippets of story simply stop half way through the game however, despite objectives to collect information, read newspapers, etc., still being specified in later stages.
This was disappointing as the whole concept of discovering what was going on by gathering information was intriguing. While I enjoyed uncovering the story, the actual writing used was bland overall. A lot of the story is merely a recap of your actions thus far and a basic outline of what you will do next. The story does attempt to introduce a bigger sinister plan of action by Synthesis Futuristics, but fails to expand on this or fully explain the potential ramifications. Overall, there is very little actual detail given. Such lack of information may work in some games to leave interpretation open, but that does not work here. Worst though, there is no closure upon completing Light. You are simply taken to the credits.
I may have been dissatisfied with the story, but I am wholly impressed with the unique visual style used. Viewed from a top-down perspective with a palette mainly consisting of shades of blue and white, the game world is presented to the player in a style reminiscent of building blueprints. Outside of blue and white, there is very little colour used. Red indicates a security presence or impassable obstacle, orange for interactive items and the odd splash of purple for key personnel.
An omnidirectional light emanating from the player indicates your current field of view with shadows being cast by the environment and the people populating the level. When within range, the respective fields of view of security guards and cameras are indicated in a similar fashion, as are their states of awareness regarding your presence. The addition of a scanline effect puts the final touches to the overall presentation which makes me feel as if the game is being viewed through a security monitor. If that wasn’t enough, go on a killing spree and not only do civilians scurry away in a rather satisfying manner, but the whole screen will gradually be drained of colour. This makes it slightly harder to see the positions and current field of views of others.
The chiptune-esque soundtrack complements both the visual style and the intended ambiance of Light. The main theme, which starts from the first splash screen and continues until you start a level, is one I could listen to all day. It reminds me in part of Portal 2’s soundtrack. Likewise, those used in the levels play their roles in building up adrenaline highs, or creating suspenseful tension extremely well. It is a shame that most levels are completed long before the level music is given a chance to be heard for any substantial length of time. This is probably Light’s biggest flaw; it is simply too short. There are twelve levels in total. The first two are basically tutorials used to introduce the gameplay. While three of the latter ones, centered around the same location, would probably have worked better as one larger level.
The time required to complete a stage is also a major point of contention for me. On average, I was spending around three to four minutes in each, with some being completable in as little as 46 seconds (not including the tutorial stages). The low number of levels would be acceptable if there was a comparable ramp up in difficulty. I did not, however, find Light to be a rewardingly challenging game. On the contrary, with the difficulty of any given level merely being to learn through trial and error with a splash of luck (hoping a civilian won’t get in the way), I just found it irritating. While any level can be replayed to earn a higher score, I had little desire to do so. Many of the game mechanics caused me more frustration than gave enjoyment, thus the thought of replaying a level I had successfully finished rarely crossed my mind.
Light bills itself as a game focusing on sneaking, hacking, and stealing. Yet, all three of these feel lackluster and leave the impression that they would benefit from being fleshed out more. Sneaking is little more than moving around the level. There are no options to reduce your speed, hug walls, or duck behind cover. Ultimately, it just encompasses viewing where guards are and trying to move past while they are looking elsewhere or attempting to avoid the gaze of a camera. Some locations may be populated by innocent civilians but any attempt to use them as cover results in failure as security guards and cameras will always be able to detect you.
Manage to kill anyone and you will have the option of changing into their clothing while you are dragging them. But again, this is of little use in avoiding security. Most of the time, even when dressed as one of them, they will spot you in short order. This will generally end in your death and the need to restart the level. Security cameras will always spot you regardless, but thankfully, they only appear to sound an alarm. Stealing is even less fleshed out than sneaking, being nothing more than picking up items left lying around the level. There is no need to plan the perfect robbery here.
That leaves hacking, which is the most disappointing of these game mechanics. In theory, this would see you remote accessing terminals to control security cameras and doors. Doing so to avoid your pursuers, by preventing detection or perhaps by trapping them behind locked doors. Unfortunately, none of this works as described in the game features. For example, players are told, “Can’t avoid a security camera? Simply hack it!”. However, several security cameras will have to be walked through long before you reach the terminal connected to them, and others have no connection to a terminal.
This leads to a point at which hacking a camera is pointless, as you will likely never go past it again. This is especially true in later levels where I had already given up trying to control them. I couldn’t see a reason to bother, having already been forced into tripping their connected alarms. In theory, it is possible to trap guards in rooms once you have found the terminal connected to the appropriate door. However, I could only identify one point during the entire game where this was realistically possible, and it wasn’t needed. In fact, attempting to trap the guard at that point only results in an increased risk of having to replay the level.
Being a stealth orientated game, I would have expected the locations visited throughout the game to have offered up multiple paths and opportunities to approach the situation from different angles. There was little of this present within Light. Most levels only have one path to all objectives. Several of these will require you to kill a guard that is in your way. Dispatching people in the levels though will subtract points from the score awarded at the end of the stage. You can attempt to drag a body and hide it, if there is a suitable cupboard nearby, to earn the subtracted score back.
However, forcing the player to kill in order to proceed feels at odds with the game being stealth-based. Further, the second you take someone’s life, a two minute timer until reinforcements arrive will start, regardless of whether anyone saw you. This time limit until the location is flooded with enemies throws stealth out the window. Trying to hide a body at this point, now just feels like wasting valuable time.
Controlling the player character in Light also feels a little cumbersome. While the basic movement, using WASD, is generally smooth, the character can become stuck to both the scenery and the people within the level. Holding down the right mouse button allows you to peek a little further in the direction of the mouse pointer. I ended up constantly holding down the right mouse button as the extra little view of the level layout was indispensable. Light comes across as a game that would be suited to a controller, using one thumbstick to move, the other to peek and the buttons to handle the various actions.
The user interface which is displayed around the player when interacting something is also laid out in the same manner as a controller’s buttons. As such, it is rather mystifying that there is no controller support. While basic movement is possible with a 360 pad plugged in, none of the other actions have been defined, making playing with one impossible. At least Light includes options to change the resolution and to toggle fullscreen as well as several of the visual options. There also three different V-sync settings; On (locked at 30 fps), On (locked at 60 fps), and Off. I played with V-sync locked at 60 fps which provided consistently smooth play sessions.
It also possible to alter various volume levels yet doing so will present you with one of several bugs that appear to be present in Light. Volume sliders are controlled with the mouse wheel, but this also scrolls the options list, making changing these settings unnecessarily annoying. I experienced several other bugs during gameplay as well.
Doors would become stuck in the open position when they should close automatically after civilians have passed through them. Civilians and guards can be become stuck in groups which can make navigating stages difficult. Finally, some interior walls have windows yet it seems that not all of these allow guards to view you if you are on the other side. I am unsure if this is just an inconsistency in level design or a bug. Amusingly, you can get a negative score, while this does cause the level summary screen to act strange when you press any key, it did bring a smile to my face.
Shortly after release, Just a Pixel announced plans to provide a free update in the future to add further content. No further details concerning what this will be have been announced. In addition to this, a selection from the soundtrack is now provided with all purchases of Light.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Just a Pixel clearly have potential as game developers and could likely create something truly worth playing. But they have fallen far short with Light. The many problems that Light has as an overall product cannot be redeemed by the few things it manages to do well. While it pains me to say so, I simply cannot recommend this game at the current price point of $13 (or local equivalent), as this is grossly at odds with the experience Light offers at present.