Light review: Standing in shadow

Light, from developer Just A Pixel and published by Worms studio Team17, is a top-down, minimalist stealth game that calls to mind the likes of Monaco, Mark of the Ninja and Hotline Miami. Unfortunately, it never hits its notes as expertly as those games do. Neither great nor particularly bad, it is the definition of "middle-tier." Light succeeds where it needs to, but never exceeds expectations.

For some, that will be enough. For most, Light is the flickering bulb of a dying flashlight.

Light begins with as minimal an amount of detail regarding its story as it does rendering its graphics. You wake up in a facility managed – or at least tied to – a shadowy corporation, unsure of how you got there or even who you are. As you progress through the game's 12 levels, you uncover the conspiracy that put you there, and seek to right what went wrong.

Stealth is your ally in this quest, and almost all of Light's systems revolve around making yourself unseen. Unfortunately, very little of the game makes these systems feel important.

The lighting system, for instance, throws shadows around to light up everything within your line of sight. However, you can also tell where enemies and objectives are even when they're not within your character's field of vision, rendering the effect little more than a visual novelty. A cute novelty, but one that has no meaningful impact.

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You can assess a guard or camera's range of vision by the length of a cone that sweeps the area in front of them, and there is some fun to be had in ducking behind an object that casts a shadow to avoid detection. It's like returning to the grade-school mentality of "They can't see me if I can't see them."

Even if a guard does spot you, however, the situation is far from hopeless. Guards will fire if given a second to line up their shot, prompting you to restart the level from the beginning. However, by dodging and moving quickly behind cover or around a corner, it's possible to ambush a pursuing enemy and kill them before they can take you out. That may sound exciting, but everything in Light moves at a comfortable pace, so accomplishing this feat isn't exactly challenging. You never feel the rush of "oh man am I gonna get him before he takes me out," because it's never in doubt.

Guard AI is likewise non-threatening. If a body is found or if a guard spots but then loses track of you, they'll go into a search mode, breaking away from their usual patrol route in an attempt to discern your location. These searches aren't exactly thorough however; I got spotted running into an enclosed room with no escape only to have the guard wander back and forth outside the door, wondering where I'd disappeared to.

Each level requires you to steal, plant or sabotage bits of information, but it's never more complicated than heading to a highlighted area, then pressing or holding the E button. Hacking is also extremely simplistic, consisting entirely of "hold E, press Q, click an icon to unlock a door or turn off a camera." There's no complexity here, no challenge, so it also feels like there's no reward. It's just another on your list of to-dos, somewhere between picking up the milk and unclogging the sink.

Each of Light's individual elements function well, but they never function in an interesting way. The lighting system is naught but eye candy, hacking and stealing are bereft of effort, and the story is told entirely via in-game notes that fail to excite or even tease much of a mystery. Light reaches for greatness, but ends up merely serviceable; nothing breaks or falls apart within its mechanically sound design, but nothing inspires the game to step out from the shadows of better games.

This review is based on a Steam download of Light, provided by Team17. Images: Team17.

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