Deadlight is an alternate reality take on the typical post apocalyptic story. Instead of present day societal breakdown, Deadlight’s story takes place outside of Seattle in the 1980s, following a survivor named Randall as he searches for his missing family and friends.
As a fan of all things with zombies in them, Deadlight has been on my radar since it was announced. It is similar to previous Xbox Live Arcade titles, Limbo and Shadow Complex but never reaches the same level of greatness.
Deadlight borrows a trick from Limbo where the foreground, including the protagonist is presented as a silhouette where the background is a fully fleshed out, colorful world. Deadlight does benefit from terrific art direction with the city of Seattle appearing desolate with signs of a war that was lost. Empty vehicles litter the streets among broken down power lines and scarred pavement. Smoke can be seen billowing in the distance behind the shattered remains of corporate skyscrapers.
As a twist on the side scrolling formula, zombies that appear in the background can come into the foreground to try and eat our protagonist. If Randall stays in place for two long or makes too much noise, the zombies meandering around in the distance will take notice and shuffle their way towards the forefront of the screen. When you’re trying to make a precise jump or deal with a horde of zombies, seeing that you’ve gained the attention of additional zombies who will be at your throat in seconds, ups the tension dramatically.
The problem with zombies entering from the background is that Randall can still only hit enemies in the 2D space. Zombies that are very close to Randall, yet still in the background cannot be hit, even though they appear to be in the foreground. This lead to a few frustrating incidents where I used up stamina trying to attack a unhittable zombie only to be exhausted once the zombie made its way into the foreground.
The stamina mechanic that Tequila Works has implemented in Deadlight is a welcome feature that serves to make Randall feel like a vulnerable human as opposed to a superhuman zombie killing machine. Running for long periods of time, swinging an axe, and climbing a rope across a chasm deplete an upgradable stamina bar. Once depleted Randall has to catch his breath, which is the perfect time for a zombie to pounce. This discourages button mashing forcing the player to try and avoid zombies and pick the right time to strike.
There are a few mechanical issues that affect the game’s core platforming that severely detract from the great atmosphere of Deadlight. There are moments sprinkled throughout the game where the required jumps are so precise that they appear impossible. There is one instance in the second act where the jump looked straightforward and logical but I just could not make it. After several attempts I figured I must be missing something and spent the better part of forty minutes searching for alternative methods of crossing. The first jump I tried ended up being correct, even though I previously made the exact same jump several times. There are other sequences that require you to fail multiple times in order to learn when and where to move. These sequences would be nearly impossible on someone’s first attempt. While I try not to bash a game for being too hard, I should have the ability to succeed based upon my skill as opposed to trial and error.
During the sewer section of the second act, Deadlight devolves into this trial and error type of gameplay. The design of this portion of the game is jarringly unrealistic compared to the rest of the levels and serves to bring the player out of the experience. It noticeably throws plenty of platforming sections at you that can only be solved after dying multiple times. Unlike Limbo which instantly respawns you a few feet back, Deadlight makes you wait through a loading screen only to return to the last checkpoint. This area of the game gets tiresome quickly and lasts far longer than it should.
Setting the game in a post apocalyptic version of the past is interesting but the overall story does nothing unique and could very well take place today. None of the characters are fleshed out and the emotion impact of particular parts of the game was reduced because the audience had no time to begin to care for these characters. Without spoiling too much the ending of game suffers dramatically for this same reason. The voice acting also leaves a lot to be desired, which ultimately weakens the characters and their motivations.
The presentation and art direction of Deadlight is fantastic but the game ultimately falls short due to the story and some mechanical problems. As part of the zombie genre of games, Deadlight actually has deadly zombies that can be a lot of handle. If the game focused more on encounters with zombies as opposed to forceful platforming segments, Deadlight could have been the standout of this year’s summer of arcade.
This review is based on a downloadable copy of the 360 version of Deadlight.