Gaming media is rife with food metaphors and similes, so here’s me jumping on the bandwagon. As an experience, Light is like nouvelle cuisine; excellent presentation, very tasty, but it leaves my stomach growling for more. I’ve played free flash games with a longer running time than Light. That said, it does so much so well that I can’t help but come away loving it.
At a glance, Light is a top down stealth game in a detached, digital world. The levels are populated by the harmless civilian white squares and patrolled by the watchful red squares, whilst you, the outsider, take on a cool blue square guise. The environment is almost blueprint in style, not only in its color but style too, even going so far as to have a grid of squares that the walls and furniture neatly fit onto. Minimalist it may be, but it must be argued the environment is damned effective. Light’s plot, about the ethics involved when a human being has become but a useful tool in the eyes of a corporation, is fairly interesting, although it is told almost exclusively through text dumps scattered through the levels. I felt I learnt far more about the world of Light in its design, not its plot. Reducing people to colored squares that are otherwise indistinguishable from one another, the world to a grid with walls and furniture neatly placed on top; I feel as if I’m in a corporate world where an individual has been replaced by a username and password. Light reminds me of what good art direction can accomplish.
Light breaks down into 12 levels, some relatively sprawling and others blink and you’ll miss them. Objectives are almost exclusively along the lines of interact (steal/place/sabotage) with object(s), then escape, but try not to get killed by red squares in the process. The tactics involved have elements of both Gunpoint and the Hitman games. From Gunpoint, Light employs a hacking element that, once a computer is hacked, allows you to control doors and cameras from anywhere in the level. There’s no reason you’d want to turn the cameras back on, but, hypothetically, if you were discovered, you could dash through a door then lock it behind you, leaving the red square guard impotently standing outside the door. In reality, I often found that hacking just unlocked the part of the level I needed to get to, but it’s a nice touch all the same. From Hitman, Light allows you to kill guards and civilians (docking points appropriately) and steal their clothes to use as a disguise, meaning guards only notice you when they’re up close, as well as the ability to stuff their bodies into cupboards to avoid detection. Do this however, and a timer begins warning of impending reinforcements, so if you’re the impatient killing type, you’d better finish up sharpish. Light thankfully allows for different play styles though, so you can kill the guards in your way to make your life easier, but satisfying no-detection pacifist runs are also a viable option. The mechanics and tactics are limited, but they’re used superbly.
Although excellent, Light isn’t flawless. I opened this review saying Light is a bit on the lean side, and by lean I mean incredibly short. At under an hour from start to finish, it’s the shortest paid game I’ve ever played. I sat down to play, finished it in the blink of an eye, then had to find something else to do with my evening. The scoring system at the end of each level suggests it’s meant to be replayed, weighing up the benefits of no kills versus pure speed for racking up points, but that can only take you so far, and certainly not more than two hours. Oddly for a game so short, I had time to feel impatient and frustrated. Light is like Hotline Miami in that, when you die, you hit a button and instantly restart. Except, when the level starts in Hotline Miami, you’ve already kicked open the door and cleared two rooms before the game’s even faded back in. Light is a stealth game, which not only requires planning and deliberate movement, but has the infuriating design that means guards aren’t in the right place to allow you to move as soon as the level starts. It may sound like no big deal, but if you’re doing a level for the tenth time and have to wait for eight seconds for a guard to move before you can start every time, I challenge you to keep your cool.
I can’t help but give Light a recommendation, but only a tentative one. It does so much so well, from the style of the levels, to the relaxed electro soundtrack, to the simple but effective mechanics, I just wish there was more of it. Much more of it. I can only hope there are some planned level packs in future or, even better, a user-friendly level editor to give it some longevity. Excellent quality, very little quantity.