The stealth game is quite simple at heart, when you think about it. Guards will patrol or wander around an area, while you have to try and stay out of sight and complete your objectives without being detected. In many ways, Light takes the genre right down to this core gameplay.
The instant hook for me was the wonderful visual style, with its distinct and rather unique look. The whole game looks like its playing out on the blueprints of buildings, stripping away all of the excess and unnecessary detail and just leaving the bare essentials.
There are some flourishes, with some nice scan lines and visual disruption at the edge of your vision, but from the thick lines of the walls to the top down outlines of desk chairs, filing cabinets and computers, you see only what you need. This extends right down to the characters in the game, with each person a square with a dot in the middle, the colour determining if it’s you, a guard, a character you need to meet or simply an average Joe going about their daily lives.
The gameplay also seems to be similarly pared back, but in truth has a fair amount of flexibility to it, with controls that would easily survive the jump to console. You naturally move around with ‘WASD’ and can push your view further in any direction by holding the right mouse button. As you approach interactive objects, a small wheel of options comes up, mapped to a few keys on the keyboard.
‘E’ will see you interact with an object, picking up a note or holding it for a few seconds to hack into a computer, which allows you to then tap ‘Q’ anywhere you want to enter a hacking mode, pause time and unlock doors and turn off cameras that the computer had control over.
A quick tap of the space bar will let you kill anyone you fancy. You’ll want to think about dragging their body away to hide them in a cupboard, as civilians will run away and guards start searching for you. You’ll also have a two minute countdown to try and complete the level before the cops show up.
Another thing you can do is grab the clothes off a body or from the occasional suitcase, which will allow you to blend in a bit better and not be spotted from quite so far away. Guards and cameras have their vision cones quite clearly displayed on screen, and you can cut these in half by wearing a different outfit, taking some of the pressures off the agile dance you go through to avoid detection. However, outside of that cone they are completely oblivious to you. There’s no need or ability to go slow and creep around and I was actually able to bump into guards without them noticing me.
The game starts off with you waking up in a house with no idea of who or where you are. It’s something of a cliché in fiction and especially when the story starts to take turns that you might expect from a thriller. Finding a note in the house that makes it clear that you’re being held against your will by Synthesis Futuristics, you go on the run but with the aim to uncover what it is that has been done to you.
All of the story is delivered by written text pop ups. Each level starts with an introduction that sets up where you are and what you’re meant to be doing, before setting you off into the mess of guards and cameras. A lot of the time, you’ll be trying to gather information, picking up notes that reveal another slice of the story and pushing your understanding of the plot forward.
The problems come from how easily dismissible they are, as I found myself getting sucked into retrying some levels several times and hastily dismissing the notes as they popped up. I had to go back and replay a couple of levels just to catch up on what I’d missed. That actually managed to unintentionally stretch out my game time.
The game is also very short. Replaying those handful of levels helped stretch out my game time, but it hit home just how quickly you can complete the game. Even with restarting and replaying levels, I was done within 90 minutes and with little real reason to go back. On the one hand, there’s an attraction to being able to quickly restart a level with a press of a button if you’re killed by the guards, but once I’d got a feel for the layout and guard patterns, I was always able to swing through most levels in just a minute or two.
It really feels like the game is only just getting into its stride at that point, too. The addition of a few new gameplay ideas, such as more complexity to the hacking and more ways to manipulate the levels, and featuring more sprawling maps that really keep you out of your comfort zone and for longer stretches of time could have pushed the game further. As it is, the plot comes to a close, and I’m disappointed that there isn’t more.
It’s such a shame that Light is so short. With some more levels – even just a level editor and Steam Workshop integration – and a few more gameplay elements to play with, this would have been something I’d have happily recommended. As it is, it feels like it’s over before it’s really begun.