Release Date: August 1, 2012
Developer: Tequila Works
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform(s): Xbox Live Arcade
Genre: Platformer, Sidescroller, Survival Horror, Puzzle, Post-Apocalyptic, Zombie
Price: 1200 Microsoft Points ($14.99)
This reminds me of that poster of the kitten in the tree. “Hang in there” indeed.
I know what you’re thinking: “ANOTHER fucking zombie game?!”. The zombie genre is over-saturated, and has been for probably a decade now. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get a few nuggets of awesomeness amidst all the undead filth—Shaun of the Dead, Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, Dead Snow, and Left 4 Dead(I know they’re technically “infected”, but you get my point) just to name a few. You can now add Deadlight to that list. Blending the zombie survival horror and “Metroidvania”-style platformer genres perfectly, this game offers an experience most of you didn’t even know you wanted—but trust me, you need it. However, this game will require a sharp wit and quick reflexes to survive your encounters with the zombie horde and even more dangerous living combatants.
Of course, lynch mobs are still a thing after the apocalypse. Apparently prejudice never dies.
The story of Deadlight begins in an alternate Seattle in 1986 and follows Randall Wayne, a Canadian husband and father who is separated from his family during a zombie-like apocalypse in which people have turned into undead “Shadows”. Randall has forged an alliance with a group of survivors in order to search for his family, but is abandoned by them at the beginning of the game. It’s now up to you to help navigate Wayne on his journey, and keep him from becoming zombie chow. The plot of the game is not complex or wholly original, but it never feels too familiar and offers some genuinely cool twists. Imagine if Limbo and Shadow Complex had a baby and when it was old enough to read they let it read nothing but The Walking Dead—this is that baby, all grown up. The cutscenes are presented in a comic book-style that even reminds of The Walking Dead, which I’m sure is on purpose. Despite it’s generic survivor story, Deadlight‘s plot does keep you interested, even if you can guess what might be coming next. But that’s when those twists I mentioned come into play, with most of your presumptions ending up wrong… dead wrong(that’s just tacky of me, I apologize).
This is one of the game’s many jaw-dropping “oh shit” moments.
Where Deadlight really excels is in it’s gameplay. I’m a huge fan of sidescrolling platformers like Castlevania and Mega Man, so I was excited to get my hands on this. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t disappoint, but the minor disappointing moments I had were all but drowned out by my excitement and enjoyment. As you take control of Randall, you’ll have to sprint, jump, climb, wall jump, crouch, roll, push, and distract your way to safety. Each action must be done with a varying amount of precision and/or timing, otherwise you’ll end up taking a dirt nap and reloading to one of the game’s generously numerous checkpoints. Players will not only navigate harsh terrain, but also have to solve clever environment-based puzzles in order to advance. However, due to the game’s dark art style, some objects, targets, and objectives can be incredibly difficult to see. For instance, at one point the game was telling me to look for loose objects to shoot with a slingshot to knock them down. I searched the small area for a few minutes and fired off many stray projectiles attempting to hit this phantom object. I eventually resorted to a YouTube video to see that it was a board on the ceiling—an object that was suppose to be highlighted. There’s also quite a few times where the control responses were registering just a little late(no, it was not just me), which resulted in countless deaths for Randall. Aside from these small-but-not-so-minor annoyances, Deadlight is a joy to play with increasing difficulty that never becomes too frustrating. Combat is preferably avoided in the game, but when you do have to defend yourself from up-close-and-personal attackers, Randall has a handful of useful weapons, including a revolver and his trusty fire ax. However in most situations, you’ll use your mind as a weapon and manipulate the environment to murder(or re-murder) your enemies.
It wouldn’t be a zombie story without a hospital as a setting at some point.
The visuals and audio of the game are another highlight, both working hand-in-hand to deliver an incredibly cinematic atmosphere. The art style is very dark, gloomy, and heavily shadowed, matching the story’s grim tone. Sometimes the game looks like it is devoid of all color, while at other times there seems to be a very broad but washed-out color spectrum, which is a neat and welcome change of scenery that keeps locales somewhat fresh. The visual style is truly amazing, but as I mentioned before, the darkness can sometimes make certain things difficult to see, even if you adjust the brightness of your TV. The ambient music is used as just that—ambiance—to let the creepy and foreboding sound effects take center stage. The music will shine through during cinematic moments though, and those pieces sounds fantastic. The voice acting, however, is not so great. While most of the blame rests of the subpar B-Movie dialogue, many of the actors deliver cringe-worthy performances. Not all of the performances are bad though, which did soften the blow to my eardrums, but even the protagonist, Randall, spewed some audible shit.
Randall is no Solid Snake, but he gets the job done. Damn it… now I want a ‘Metal Gear’ sidescroller.
Beyond progressing through the story, Deadlight does offer a few more challenges. You can collect hidden IDs throughout the game, all belonging to various real-life murderers that were operating around the 1980′s(for example, one ID I picked up belonged to a “J.W. Gacy”). This is your run of the mill “search every nook and cranny” task that will only reward you with an achievement. Perhaps more importantly—and definitely more fun—are the hidden handheld video games. Each of the three chapters has one handheld stashed somewhere within their levels and, once found, can be played to unlock some achievements. However to get the final achievement for the game, you must find 100% of the collectibles, so keep that in mind if you’re an achievement whore. If you just play through the story, you’ll end up finishing Deadlight in about 5 or 6 hours, depending on how much difficulty you have with the game’s puzzles. If you’re looking to get all the collectibles, you might clock in a little closer to 8 hours; either time frame isn’t bad at all for the $15 price tag. So if you’ve been looking for an awesome zombie-themed game that requires a bit more thinking than just “aim for the head”, then I suggest you turn the lights down and download this immediately.