Developer: Tequila Works
Publisher: XBLA/Microsoft Studios
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: One
Words By:

Oh no, it’s yet another zombie apocalypse and this time we have to survive it in 1986 Seattle, the home of Frasier, the Space Needle and Bill Gates. Clearly inspired by 2D platform adventure classics such as Another World, Flashback, Prince of Persia and the first two Oddworld games, Deadlight brings ultra-violence and brain-craving flesh-eating undead to the genre. The main protagonist is a man named Randall ‘Randy’ Wayne, a Park Warden, who is living a contented life with his wife Shannon and daughter Lydia in a small town called Hope in South West Canada. All hell breaks loose in Europe in the form of an infectious virus that reanimates the dead into flesh-eating zombies, which spreads to the US mainland. Within weeks the virus reaches Hope and the town’s population are evacuated by the military. After an unsuccessful attempt to rid the town of zombies with the other menfolk, Randy returns home only to find that Shannon and Lydia have disappeared, and so Randy teams up with his friend Ben, an officer called Sam and sisters, Stella and Karla and sets out to find them, heading to Seattle to a government ‘Safe Point’ where it’s rumoured they may have been taken.

Scrolling mostly from left to right the game plays like a sequence of puzzles; how to get past ‘X’ number of zombies without getting overrun or wasting too much scarce and valuable ammo. The controls are mostly tight and logical (‘A’ to jump, ‘RB’ to sprint, L trigger to crouch/roll, aim weapons with the right stick and R Trigger to fire), Randall’s animation very good and the backdrops well drawn enough that they give a good, if false (as the game never strays from its 2D plane), depth to the game world, but I was only a few minutes in to Deadlight when I realised that there are too many certain deathtraps and time-critical chase sequences where one mistake means ‘death and return to the last checkpoint.’

Read this sentence: “Press any button to Reload from the last Checkpoint.” Play Deadlight and you’re going to be seeing these words a LOT. If you’re anything like me you’ll also frequently sit there staring zombie-like at this screen waiting for the game to automatically return you to the last checkpoint, being used as we are to games doing that these days. This has to be the most pointless screen in a game EVER, as you don’t actually have the option to do anything else anyway, so why is it there?!

In Deadlight the zombies are called Shadows, presumably because they like the dark and are usually only seen as silhouettes. Randall has to avoid or hack Shadows to bits with an axe initially, but eventually finds a pistol and a shotgun, although the game is, perhaps to its detriment, never about blasting hordes of undead. A slingshot also comes in handy, not for killing Shadows but for setting off car alarms to distract them, and you can also unblock various mechanisms with a well-aimed slingshot to allow further progress. Along the way you’ll find hidden secrets and pages from Randall’s diary, which, along with the cut-scenes, fill in the increasingly disturbing back story, which is told in the increasingly-popular comic book-style; static drawings with the occasional basic animation laid on top. This sort of thing used to be known as “placeholder” or “artist’s impressions”, and although it rather suits Deadlight’s style, it’s undeniably easy and cheap way of telling a game’s plot.

The combat is brutally tough and necessarily violent; it’s traditional that zombies can only be stopped by blowing their brains out, decapitating them or chopping them into small pieces, and that’s what you have to do. Randall can fight off two or three Shadows with just an axe, but there are so many Shadows in some areas—and so little ammo—that Deadlight is a struggle for survival from the start, and sadly becomes a chore before long. There are brief moments of fun when you find a decent stockpile of ammo for the shotgun, but if you do it’s usually at a point where the Shadows spawn relentlessly, so you gain nothing. The occasions where you can lure Shadows to their final destination by electrocution or off a ledge are few and far between, and there aren’t enough environmental kills (dropping things on them, blowing them up etc) to keep things interesting either. The fact is that Deadlight commits the cardinal sin of any game, it’s just not enough fun, and you never get enough ammo, even for a short time, to really have fun and cause some major zombie carnage.

There are lots of collectibles to find, and despite the limitations of a rigidly 2D world some are quite well hidden. You’ll keep finding IDs on dead bodies, many of whom were I realised, inexplicably, infamous real-world serial killers. There are also thee handheld collectible games to be found, and, as basic as they are (they’re 1986 vintage remember), you may well spend more time playing these than Deadlight itself.

The game has a few annoying flaws that shouldn’t really have made it through testing; once you start to search a body or object you can’t stop the animation, meaning if a Shadow appears nearby (and they have a habit of doing that) you can’t break out of the search to fight or flee. Another irritation is that Randall can’t flippin’ well swim. This isn’t too much of a problem for most of the game, but certain moments had me screaming “a park warden that can’t swim, in a zombie apocalypse? Give me a f@*%ing break! Randall also has no automatic reload, you have to hold ‘LB’ and he won’t automatically change weapons when one is empty either-along with the insta-death trap screens you can’t help coming to the conclusion that Tequila Works wanted you to die as often as possible, possibly to artificially extend Deadlight’s rather short lifespan.

Deadlight is a weird one; it oozes class and potential but lacks imagination and polish at the same time. Too many screens just have you doing the same thing over and over again (lure enemies to a point below you, jump over them and leg it as fast as you can to the next safe place). There’s none of the inventive use of physics puzzles seen in games like the excellent Limbo, and as violent as the combat is, the general gameplay feels rather old and staid. Late on there are a few ‘virtual co-op’ levels with Stella that add some variety but they don’t last long and don’t do anything that hasn’t been done better in games before. While I’m complaining there’s also a glaring typo in the instructions-a thing that always amazes me in these days where I can’t type anything without getting a wiggly red line underneath it if I speel it worng-and apart from that, didn’t anyone proof read the instructions? I also noticed that on a couple of occasions the script doesn’t tie up with the in-game action, like when a boy asks you why you didn’t shoot-and it’s because you haven’t actually got a flippin’ gun!—And yet Randall seems to have forgotten this fact. We also had an erroneous error message pop up that says ‘unable to update profile as the storage device is no longer available or is full’ this wasn’t correct on two counts; firstly we had 40Gb free on the hard drive, and secondly it had saved the checkpoint anyway.

A decent enough game for a price of 1200 MSP but a mildly disappointing and brief (3-4 hours) one at the same time, Deadlight will attract fans of Another World and Abe’s Oddysee due to the obvious similarities, but they may well remember those classics with rose tinted specs and think they’d rather be playing them, I know I did.

Best Bits

- Extremely atmospheric for a 2D game.
- One of the best looking XBLA games yet.
Worst Bits

- Too samey.
- Rather short for 1200 MSP.
- It's just not enough fun.
- A wasted opportunity for something greater.

by: 'Big Tony' Bolognese

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