I was recently sitting in a coffee shop with a friend of mine, sipping one of the best coffees I've had in a long time, when the conversation shifted towards whether or not any of us would survive a zombie apocalypse. It didn't take long to realise that my odds of survival were probably slim. It's not because I'd be worthless with a firearm, or that I have zero survival skills. But, if the living dead were to rise this week, I'd be toast and it's all because my cardio is rubbish. I've never been a jogger, and while the cartilage in my knees are probably as pristine as they can be, I'm well aware that eventually the undead would catch up to me, and devour my brains. I imagine this will probably happen while I'm panting and leaning against a wall, after a dismally short run.
All this talk of zombies, of course, is due to an intriguing new Xbox LIVE Arcade title by developer Tequila Works, called Deadlight. In Deadlight, you play as Randall Wayne, a middle-aged man desperate to survive during a zombie apocalypse (in what remains of the city of Seattle). Although technically, Deadlight doesn't specify that it's zombies you're facing. Instead, the mindless and bloodthirsty undead are called shadows. Adventures into semantics aside, Deadlight is a zombie survival game, where the core elements of the zombie survival genre have been squeezed into the mould of a platformer.
Gameplay is focused on crawling through tight spaces, jumping or climbing on ledges and even evading the odd life-threatening trap. All of which occurs in a stunning 2D landscape that features city backdrops and beautiful interiors. Randall Wayne is surprisingly nimble for his age, which even made me wonder whether he wasn't inspired by a certain Bat-obsessed, billionaire playboy, Bruce Wayne. The Undead can be evaded either by making use of the environment (and Randall's ability to call or whistle), or you can opt for a more direct approach which involves swinging a fire axe. The latter features some gruesome and satisfying animation, however a depleting stamina bar means that evading the undead is usually a much better strategy. It's not just the herd of zombies Randall has to worry about: there are also other humans, and not all of them are friendly.
Plot wise, Deadlight wades through familiar waters. There are times where it feels like the game could easily have fallen within the Walking Dead universe, but it struggles to build the same emotional connection (which made both the graphic novels and TV-series of the Walking Dead series so memorable). I suppose the real difference is that the Walking Dead benefits from excellent writing and dialogue, whereas Deadlight struggles in this regard. For instance, the protagonist constantly spews nonsensical statements, and the fact that it's clearly intended to be profound zen-like statements of enlightenment baffles my mind.
Once you've reached the end credits (which doesn't take more than 4 hours), there's very little to entice you to replay it, unless you're desperate to get all the Achievements. However, the way Deadlight incorporates collectibles and uses them to flesh out the gameworld should leave a satisfying smile on your face. It might not be enough to lure you back to previous chapters, but the pages and other memorabilia you find for Randall's diary explains the backstory of how the world finds itself plagued by the undead.
Deadlight reminded me of another Xbox LIVE Arcade platformer that made excellent use of Epic's Unreal Engine. Much like Shadow Complex, the game looks stunning, however, unlike Chair Entertainment's creation, Deadlight is a confused beast. The basics are there, and the game has a brooding atmosphere that fits the zombie genre perfectly, but it finds itself faltering due to unresponsive controls, resulting in frustrating and unnecessary deaths.
At the end of the day, the real question is whether this zombie survival platformer is worth your precious MS Points. While the concept behind Deadlight is interesting, it could have benefited from a smidgen more polish. It's a game that feels undercooked and incomplete. This is especially true when you compare it to similar 2D platformers, like Shadow Complex and even Limbo. Deadlight throws a few good ideas around (and it certainly looks the part of a contender), but as a total package it's hard to recommend at full price.
- Marvellous atmosphere
- Fantastic environments
- Zombie survival
- Shockingly short
- Limited replay value
- Control hi-jinx
- Disappointing ending