With the current atmosphere of zombie-mania extending its roots and being more pervasive into the psyche of the general populous, a game like Deadlight was inevitable. With the success of things like The Walking Dead (both comics and TV), Left 4 Dead, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the undead have stepped out of the dark of the days of Night of the Living Dead and really come into their own as major players in pop culture. It was only a matter of time before a developer, in this case Tequila Works, designed an action-platformer around the end of humanity… and here we have Deadlight.
Deadlight tells the story of Randy Wayne, a survivor of the zombie apocalypse who is currently taking up residence outside of Seattle. The game kicks off with him being separated from his friends as he goes off in search of his wife and daughter. His journey takes him through the bowels of Seattle and puts him face-to-face with some of the most despicable humans left walking the earth. Randy’s journal entries (which can be found throughout the levels) and flashbacks (playable bookends to each act) help fill in the gaps of how a former park ranger from Canada has ended up in such a bad situation.
Anyone that has ever played the original Prince of Persia will feel right at home controlling Randy as he runs, jumps, pushes, and pulls his way to safety. In addition to his athletic abilities, Mr. Wayne will discover an assortment of weaponry throughout the game, from a slingshot to a shotgun, which will help him stay alive and find out where his family is. The majority of the gameplay actually centers on solving puzzles to escape the room that you’re trapped in, and can tend to strain your brain a bit. Whether you’re figuring out how to angle your jump to reach the pipe that is hanging from the ceiling, or what you need to shoot to release the window to reveal your exit, each area poses it’s own unique scenarios. Just don’t land in the water, because our hero can’t swim.
Deadlight does a really great job of painting Seattle as a pit of horrific post-apocalyptic suffering. Making creative use of 2.5D gameplay where Randy remains front and center, but the Shadows (a.k.a. zombies) can emerge from both the foreground and background. This means that no matter what, Randy is constantly in peril as the Shadows can appear from the shadows at any time and attack him. Deadlight is yet another game in a running list that helps prove that the Unreal Engine isn’t just for FPS games anymore, and it can be the cornerstone of a solid 2.5D game. However, even a great looking game like this can falter every now and then.
The game’s attempt to make a dark and shadowy environment repeatedly gets in the way of itself. A lot of the puzzles depend on spotting minor clues to help move the action along, but if the background is too dark, solving certain puzzles can actually be way more challenging than intended.
There are a few other issues that are likely to bubble up as well throughout the game. First of all, the game’s combat system can lead to some player frustration. Randy’s only constant weapon against attackers is the ability to push them down, which uses the same button as his melee weapon, the ax, meaning that pressing and holding the B button have varied effects depending on the specific scenario. Also, firing any of the guns that Randy finds can be a bit of a chore since you need to use the right analog stick to aim, and the right trigger to fire.
One of the other noticeable problems with Deadlight comes from the story, particularly the pacing. Randy needs to find his family, who are supposedly being held at a safe point somewhere near the city. In getting from point A to point B Randy somehow gets sidetracked navigating the booby-trapped sewer system to prove himself to an enigmatic veteran known only as The Rat – this is the entire second act of the game. The third, and significantly shorter, act takes place trying to take down the bad guys, otherwise known as The New Law at the safe point. After jumping though all of The Rat’s hoops in act 2, everything kind of seems to just peter out in act 3, as you fly through what should be the climax of the game. It’s a bit of a letdown after such a prolonged build-up.
At $15 Deadlight might be a bit of a tough sell to Xbox owners, even as a marquee Summer of Arcade release. While there isn’t much wrong with the fundamentals of the game, it feels like it could have used an extra few weeks of development time to polish off some of the rough edges. There are some gameplay and graphical highlights, but players might find themselves fighting with their controllers more than they’d like to be while trying to keep the shadows at bay. The game is worth a play through, but you might want to wait until it goes on sale at some point in the future.