Release date: Out now
Publisher: Team 17
Developer: Just a Pixel
Review by Mikel Reparaz
The title of minimalist sneak-'em-up Light describes several things. First, there's Project: Light, the shadowy initiative that's left you stripped of your memories and in the custody of a sinister corporation, from which you must immediately escape. Then there's the central gameplay hook, in which the constant interplay of light and shadow establishes lines of sight and offers clues about where it's safe to hide from roving guards. More disappointingly, "light" also applies to its content: an anemic 12-level campaign that can easily be blown through in an hour or less.
That wouldn't be a deal-breaker if it were a fantastic hour, but Light doesn't really have much going for it beyond its slick aesthetics. It introduces unique concepts and goes nowhere with them, instead settling for bare-bones stealth that feels as generic as its cookie-cutter cyberpunk setup.
As an amnesiac blue square, you need to solve the mystery of Project: Light by collecting messages and memos left laying around wireframe office buildings, all while evading detection and capture at the hands of patrolling red squares. This is where Light's dynamic lighting effects come into play; duck behind an office chair or table, and the area in front of it goes dark, while the area behind it stays lit. Nobody can see you from the dark area, but you're (potentially) clearly visible to anyone standing in the light. It's impressive, but in practice it's more stylish than useful: avoiding detection really hinges on predicting the guards' repetitive movements and dodging their Metal Gear-esque cones of vision, which are clearly visible (unless you're separated by walls, in which case you can hold the right mouse button to "peek" into the near distance and reveal them).
If guards spot you, they'll chase and try to shoot you, at which point you can try to either run and hide, or dart in close for a kill. Murder is instantaneous, and lets you swap outfits with your target, which dramatically shortens the other guards' normally far-reaching fields of view (presumably to facial-recognition distance)—although you risk putting them on alert unless you drag and hide the body in a nearby closet. Further confounding your efforts are white civilian squares (who'll immediately call the cops if they see a body), as well as security cameras and locked doors. Some of the latter can be picked, while others have to be unlocked remotely by hacking specific terminals highlighted in gold.
Light's hacking mechanic is a great idea, but it's as austere as the visuals; holding down "E" hacks whatever computer you're standing next to, after which pressing "Q" displays every locked door or camera associated with it. Clicking their menu icons turns them off, and that's really the extent of it; you can re-activate locks and cameras, but there's never a clear reason to do so, and no other way to bend the security systems to your advantage.
As simple as it is, Light's stealth gameplay is still enjoyable, and even packs a few unexpectedly unique touches. It was a surprise the first time a guard shot through a wall to kill me, for example, until I realized the blue stripe he'd spotted and blasted me through was a window. There's also enough space to use different methods for sneaking past the same guards, whether by skirting precariously around their vision cones or by giving them a wide swath and cutting quickly through adjacent rooms.
Despite the fun of those individual moments, the entertaining-but-predictable action movie plot winds down just as the action starts to get interesting, and suddenly 'fun' turns into 'flimsy.' Light's 12 short maps—almost all of which I finished in five minutes or less, deaths included—end up feeling like a proof-of-concept demo, or a framework for cool ideas that might have been an easier sell if it came packaged with a way to build and share levels. (To be fair, developer Danny Goodayle recently promised to add more content in a free update, although there's no word as of this writing on what it'll include or when it will happen.)
Even adding more levels wouldn't fix Light's shallowness, though; as big as the maps get toward the end, sneaking through them never really evolves or changes as Light progresses. Sure, the terminals and the things they unlock might be on opposite sides of a building, or a public space might mix crowds of civilians with a few guards. But the terminals, guards, and security cameras always follow the same simple patterns, and once you know (or can guess) what those are, they're easy to overcome.
There's potential here. Light has a likeable aesthetic and exciting ideas, and if future updates can expand on them to create more complex levels and challenges, it could become something fascinating. As it stands, it's hard to recommend something that ends so quickly after making so little impact.