Zombies. To some these walking, shambling, moaning monsters have become an overused trope in media, particularly the video game industry. For others the perfectly placed headshot or dismemberment of the walking dead never tires. Whatever side of the fence you are on, it’s worth noting that Tequila Works’ Deadlight is actually a surprisingly refreshing take on the subject and a fun one at that.
Taking place in 1986, you play as Seattle resident Randall Wayne – your typical every day guy on a search for his daughter and wife who went missing during the beginning of a zombie (or shadows as they’re called here) outbreak. Left behind by his friends and suffering from a series of painful flashbacks, Randall sets out on his way to locate his lost comrades and hopefully uncover the whereabouts of his missing family. The story is told mainly through graphic novel-style stills that for the most part work really well. You’ll find yourself getting strangely drawn into the game’s tale thanks to a mixture of small twists and a general sense of mystery the game so excellently creates. Sadly the voice acting can let things down ranging from Randall’s decent commentary to the downright laughable at times chatter of side characters. It’s a shame as these moments break the immersion created by the game’s visuals and Randall himself. Speaking of the visuals…
Immediately you’ll find yourself drawn into the Limbo-esque look of the game with Randall no more than a silhouette traversing a darkened foreground and a crumbling, dilapidated Seattle in the back. One particular area on a highway had me pausing just for a second to admire my surroundings, the abandoned cars left in a clutter leading as far back as the eye could see. Deadlight is simply gorgeous (despite its depressing setting) and the music too only heightens the sense of dread and abandonment the game so successfully generates.
What’s so interesting about Deadlight is that it isn’t your typical first or third person shooter you’d expect that feature zombies. Instead it’s a side-scrolling puzzle platformer that focuses on exploration and using your environment to overcome obstacles. Even Randall, doesn’t fall into the standard ‘typical hero’ status with ridiculous strength and over the top acrobatic skills. Sure he can leap, climb, wall jump, hang and roll but all this feels very grounded in execution. He’ll leap to a nearby window, but do so in a sloppy manner rather than a graceful and skilled one. A good amount of your playthrough will be spent traversing these environments, from people homes to underground sewers and even a creepy hospital wing and they are often good fun.
The other chunk will focus on avoiding the walking shadows as they attempt to feast on your flesh any chance they can get. While dealing with one can be easily accomplished with a few axe blows to the noggin, taking on two or more becomes much more difficult usually resulting in the game over screen. Throughout your travels you’ll discover it’s usually a better idea to use your head and avoid conflict altogether therefore eliminating the possibility of being overrun. Whistling can taunt a shadow into an electrified floor or in line of a machine gunning helicopter, proving far more effective means of dispatching foes. You’ll even find points where the game forces you to run leaving you with no weapons and a hungry horde chasing from behind. It’s these moments where Deadlight truly shines and creates perhaps the most tense and “zombie-like” experience I’ve played in a game. Let’s be honest if you’re face to face with a group of the undead you’re not likely to tackle them head on. You’re going to make a run for it and try any way possible to put some sort of blockade between you and them. You’ll rarely find firearms like the revolver or shotgun in the game, and even when you do ammo is scarce. At times your meagre few shells or bullets will act as a last resort and once gone feel you leaving even more alone and vulnerable. That’s what Deadlight can often nail – that feeling of despair and desperation, from the lack of supplies, to the never ceasing enemy always hot on your heels.
However thanks to an over reliance on trial and error, your adventure is also littered with moments of frustration. On a number of occasions I would find myself stumped as to where I needed to go next which is the disadvantage of having such a stunning background like Deadlight’s – it can also at times be a little too busy. Backgrounds and foregrounds becoming one and ledges masked by the darkness of the surroundings – it can be tough to navigate. Instant kill areas also leave you annoyed as you die time and time again hoping you eventually find the correct way of accomplishing something. This isn’t helped by controls that don’t feel as tight as the platforming it requires. An example had me pushing a box to the end of a ledge in order to reach a platform ahead. I leaped and failed a number of times before giving up and trying to figure out another way. Turns out that was actually the correct way, I just hadn’t jumped how the game wanted me to jump. When the controls work they’re great, but when they falter, especially during some of the more heated moments they ruin the tension and overall experience.
At a mere two to three hours in length, Deadlight feels a little light in content for its hefty 1200 point price-tag. Once your adventure is over, you have the option to go back and collect a number of diary pages and secrets but chances are you’ll find a good percentage of them on your first playthrough. Other than leaderboards and a few throwaway mini game devices Deadlight sadly lacks in the longevity department.
Deadlight is a truly remarkable spectacle with a fantastically bleak atmosphere. While zombie games are hardly sparse at the moment, Deadlight manages to offer a unique adventure despite proving incredibly frustrating at times. A worthy addition to the Summer of Arcade.