The Zombie-Survival genre isn’t exactly a corner of the market that is looking for occupants. Browse through any game store, look through Xbox Live or Playstation Network and you’ll find yourself flooded with options, whether it be on TV, in films, books or comics – Zombies have started their invasion early! Even as someone who isn’t a particular fan I’ve negotiated my way through countless visions of the zombie apocalypse and just like the shuffling, brain dead antagonists themselves, it is a genre that seems indomitably bent on survival.
Deadlight is yet another in this catalogue, this time coming through Xbox Live Arcade. In flashes it shows why the zombie formula is so intoxicating. Cast as Randall Wayne you navigate this 2.5D side-scroller as a man just as indomitable in his quest to reunite with his wife and daughter. The immediate and overall most eye-poppingly impressive aspect of this game is the way it looks. The atmosphere is engrossing, aided hugely by those beautiful graphics and the art style, the detail in the environments is reason enough to give this a look. The animation in the game also adds wonderfully to the overall feel of desperation and impending doom that the graphics sell so well.
Gameplay however is not as impressive as the visuals. When the levels are designed well they are very fun, when they aren’t they are controller-breakingly frustrating. There are some satisfying moments even if the awkward platforming mechanics and controls threaten to outweigh them but one big problem comes with the numerous dead-ends the game presents. Of course this may have been my own problem and one that you won’t face so frequently, but a number of times I felt stranded with no clear way to progress. These situations are particularly infuriating when they happen in chase levels; you know something isn’t flowing as it should when the ‘tense’ chase music loops two or three times as you haplessly look for a way forward! However it’s not all frustration and the good moments are more than sufficient to keep you wanting more. The very short time you will spend with Deadlight (around 4, maybe 5 hours) offers considerable fun; finally finding the best way through an area rife with zombies, or ‘shadows’ as they are known here, provides a few genuine eureka moments. It’s a very welcome change of pace knowing that not every level insists that you kill all in front of you. Sometimes running and hiding is a viable option, adding nicely to the nerve jangling tension. It is also worth noting you will die a lot in this game, sometimes because the game did something wrong but also at times because you did something wrong. Deadlight is a game that encourages that you think about your situation and is perhaps at it’s best in those moments.
Despite the poor voice acting, the game remains visually striking
The story and specifically the voice acting are another mark against this title. At times both are inconsequential enough as to not be a problem, such is the excellent atmosphere. In fact the story is only really dressing. Randall Wayne’s journey is a tried and tested formula and is presented adequately, at best, here. There is also a backdrop of militant psychos and some suggestion of morality that never really grabs your attention. The story doesn’t ever take centre stage until the very end when it dramatically switches from generic to inspired just in time to make sure your final impression is a good one. The voice acting does however take centre stage more often. And not for good reason. The lead character is voiced so poorly at times that it threatens to diminish the world going on around him. The story could have been so much more engaging had Randall’s voice artist displayed more emotion. In both the action and the comic-book style cut-scenes there is a distinct feeling that all his lines are merely read rather than recited.
Tequila Works have come up with something of a mixed bag with Deadlight. It threatened to be as enthralling and action packed as 2009’s wonderful Shadow Complex or as moving and involving as 2010’s near-legendary Limbo. In the end it doesn’t come close to those heights. Deadlight is a game that felt like it wanted to be a full ‘triple-A’ blockbuster and was never quite comfortable in it’s scaled down package. We now live in a time where digital releases on XBL or PSN are forging their own identity and rivalling big money releases in terms of critical success. This effort doesn’t belong with those trailblazing title but despite it’s notable flaws it is worth playing. Just like zombies and the zombie genre itself this game will keep you interested despite nagging feelings that the novelty has worn off.