Deadlight Xbox 360
It seems even the Summer of Arcade can’t avoid the infestation of zombies that have plagued the games industry for the last few years. I don’t personally have any beef with zombies, but what I do have a problem with is how they are used time and time again in a familiar way that makes them just as exhausting to see as the modern war setting. Telltale Games brought some freshness to the use of the undead with their great take on The Walking Dead. Tequila Works is hoping to put its spin on the zombie formula with its first game, Deadlight, a side-scrolling, survival, cinematic platformer that’s enjoyable for the most part of the adventure.
Set in the middle of 1980s, Deadlight’s star is one ex-park ranger Randal Wayne who is on a quest to find his disappeared daughter and wife. Randal hasn’t seen his family since the shadows – these are the name of the zombies in Deadlight – overran his home town. He wants nothing more than to meet them again and that’s his inspiration to push through the dangerous streets of Seattle. The world of Deadlight is unsafe, and this is apparent from the start when Randal has to put a bullet in a young woman’s head because she was bitten. All the survivors flee as the bullet alerts the shadows, and Randal is now on his own to escape from the undead nightmare.
The way Deadlight portrays its narrative reminds me a lot of Alan Wake. Randal will speak out about the happenings around him and what’s on his mind. As I’ve learnt from Alan Wake, this is a good way to build up character, their personality and to keep the player engaged; except Randal doesn’t have much of an interesting past and the character isn’t as well written as Alan was in Remedy’s psychological thriller.
Deadlight plays similar to old school titles Prince of Persia and Flashback. This isn’t a Metroidvania game, as I’m sure people who don’t know much about Deadlight will get a Shadow Complex vibe from the screenshots. There’s no backtracking for starters. Deadlight keeps pushing players forward as you progress through the platforming and arrive to a puzzle that will stop you from continuing. The platforming is the game’s best feature when it’s set up correctly because most of the time it moves at a fast pace, creating an adrenaline rush as you run to safety. Randal runs on a linear 2D path, but to add tension to the game the shadows can climb from the background or fall down from roofs to land on Randal’s plane. This trick creates scenarios that go from calm and slow-paced to frantic high speed running as Randal, for example, parkours over roofs of abandoned houses while shouting out “Run, RUN!” and – surprisingly for me as I wasn’t expecting to be affected by a 2D horror platformer – creates some tense moments.
Platforming isn’t always great though. During Act 2, where you go underground and have to traverse a certain character’s deadly maze of traps, progression becomes too trial and error (think Limbo), which changes up from the brilliant, fast gameplay that appears whenever you’re above ground. These challenging traps can activate in the blink of an eye, and you won’t even know they were there because the mechanisms are often hidden so well, with death making sure you know for next time. This part of the game also shows Deadlight’s weakness, the controls. I’ll be honest, the animation of the character and the controls aren’t as responsive as you’d like them to be, and in situations like this the controls let you down, they just don’t cope well with Act 2’s devilish, precise jumping. Due to that, my enjoyment for the middle part of the game went down a slope. Thankfully, once you’re out of that area you won’t run into many parts that are heavily reliant on knowing what’s coming up.
Randal will normally be able to avoid the shadows by running or jumping past them. Occasionally, he will have to defend himself. To do this, Randal finds a fire axe and a few guns during his travels. He doesn’t always have weapons available and ammo is limited, mainly given to you from an ammo chest if a gun is needed to solve a puzzle. Aiming with a gun is done with the right stick and the right trigger shoots. Using the fire axe is a simple press of the B button, but the fire axe is slow and sluggish. If you use it too much it drains your stamina metre, causing Randal to become tired, making his swings weaker. Taking down one of the shadows requires multiple swings, and once on the ground you need to finish them so they cannot get back up. When it comes to the fire axe, it’s frustrating when you find yourself surrounded by three plus zombies as it will usually end in failure as you run out of stamina. I also hate how the screen pulsates and blurs with a strange effect when Randal runs low on stamina. It’s extremely off-putting.
If there is one thing Deadlight does exceptionally well, it’s the presentation. A vibe of Limbo comes from the visuals because there’s a high use of dark colours, with reduced saturation making some areas seem dull and grey. Randal’s model is usually covered in black, so it looks more of a silhouette traversing the gloomy, moody tone of the art. Environments and backgrounds are simply gorgeous. Even though the game is on a 2D plane, the backgrounds have a massive sense of depth. You can see right into the distance, with cities and villages showing off the destruction that the zombie apocalypse has brought – looking mighty nice too I might add.
Deadlight will take you around 3-4 hours to finish. It’s not the longest of games, and there’s a big chance you probably won’t want to play it through again. That said, it must be noted that Tequila Works should be commended for trying to spice up the use of zombies, and while that doesn’t make this game great – silly things like that dumb underground lair spoil it – Deadlight is still an enjoyable title to play. When it’s at its best, the game is a thrilling experience that tickles nostalgia for the genre it represents.