Months ago I came across a small little booth in the middle of the Microsoft section of E3 and I got my first look at the platforming zombie survival game Deadlight. The demo there didn't have the narrative in it yet, but the art style was very enticing and so was the gameplay that focused on continually moving instead of killing every zombie in sight. Deadlight throws you into a 1980s war torn Seattle, Washington, that has a few survivors still milling about, but it is mostly overrun by the undead and it is very dangerous place to be. You control a man named Randall, who is stereo-typically looking for his family, but there are a great many obstacles in his way. You are taken through a two hour long story through the streets, sewers, rooftops and docks of Seattle. The game does a good job making survival a priority, not combat. You can easily be overrun by hordes of zombies, or even just a few few, and they are thankfully still a threat when you have firearms at your disposal. Deadlight does some interesting things for the genre and it does triumphantly conquer some aspects of gameplay, but let's find out if this short adventure is worth your time and money.
When I finished Deadlight for the first time all I could think about was the story and why parts of it are terrible when you actually stop to think about it. In the screenshot above you can see a helicopter flying by shooting at the undead and they spend a long time explaining how the military in Seattle is not friendly towards survivors. This game is not Telltales The Walking Dead, they don't give two sides to every story and they don't give the option to think about the consequences of your action. They present the military as hostile, but not overly aggressive like the narrative implies. There are times when you have to kill members of this military and it immediately broke my immersion when they gave my character the chance to lower his weapon. If this were a super aggressive, only cares about themselves, military as the narrative suggests then why would they ever give you warnings, especially when you have a gun in your hand. I understand why they give you warnings from a gameplay perspective, would be a bit harsh if they immediately shot you when they saw you and there are times when they do just that, but when the soldier who is trying to defend his position from zombies tells me to lower my weapon amidst chaos then it makes me think that this military isn't as bad as they say it is. They seemingly unintentionally humanize the military that they spend a chunk of the narrative dehumanizing.
The other main part of the narrative has to do with Randall finding his family and nearly everything about it is very predictable. The narrative feels strong and it is strongly delivered by the voice actor for Randall, so it still feels pretty good despite the predictable nature of it. Like I said before, when you are playing through the game the story feels pretty good, except for a few notable parts, and it carries you through some really exciting set pieces, but it is very short and doesn't hold up well when you start to pick it apart. Unfortunately, the end of the game feels like a bit of cop out and there are some serious implications to be had about what events take place at the end. There could have been some really interesting things done with the last section of the game, but they just don't go into at all. Despite all that, I would have loved for the story to be a bit longer than two hours it takes to get through it, especially since the narrative isn't continuous and only comes in intervals, and it would have been nice for them to focus more on other aspects of the world other than Randall's family. However, there is a backstory in the form of a diary, which you can find pages of throughout the game, and they do add a bit story wise and there are some interesting bits in there.
Tequila Works meshed platforming and zombies rather well in this linear adventure through hell. Running, diving, rolling and climbing is all done really well. All the controls are fairly intuitive and easy to master. The platforming is fairly basic, for better or worse, and there are very few sections of the game that have anything you might consider a puzzle. Platforming gets& complicated when it comes to dealing with zombies and figuring out who to get around them with as little contact as possible. There are some sections when you run through the streets at full sprint with zombies coming out of the woodworks to get you and it is pretty damn great, especially when you have to do something semi-complicated to get away from the horde. You tend to die a decent amount in this and thankfully it is not a result of the controls being difficult. Death isn't a problem either, it merely restarts you at the last checkpoint, which is usually fairly close by. There are a few sections of the game that can be a bit tough to get through and will likely get you killed a lot, but is not even close to the difficulty of something like Super Meat Boy.
One of the most enjoyable parts of gameplay has to do with survival. There are a few areas in the game were it is feasible to wipe out of all of the zombies and make the area safe, but anytime you are outside or in a overrun building it simply isn't a option. You get a fireaxe pretty early in the game and they did a great job making your stamina accurately reflect the difficulty of cutting down numerous zombies with it. You can cut off limbs or decapitate zombies, but it takes quite a bit of stamina to swing even once and trying to fight more than two zombies with an axe is a bad idea. Later on you get access to a pistol and a shotgun, both of which are very useful, but have very limited. Thankfully you have to conserve your ammo, most of the time, and you have to get good at headshotting zombies, which is pretty easy to do. Even with guns you still cannot face down a horde of enemies and you can quickly find yourself out of ammo. The combat and platforming are one of the more enjoyable parts of the game, but they don't get to do a whole ton with it since the game is so limited in length.
Graphically Deadlight is damn near perfect. The game is filled with really impressive scenes that have non-static environments. For instance, you can be running through a street and see a bunch of zombies in the background, seemingly just backdrop, but if you hit a car alarm or fire a gun shot you may see them all coming to the forefront and attacking you. The game looks like an ordinary side scrolling platformer, but they way they handled depth and layers is something that I would love to see in every platformer. The art style is pretty dark and gritty, with many enemies looking like dark silhouettes, but it fits the narrative well and the ruins of Seattle are a pleasure to explore. There are times when the lighting could use work, especially when you can differentiate your character from the zombies, but for the most part it is an artistic delight.
As you wander throughout the city of Seattle you can find collectibles all over. Some of these will be diaries, while others are id cards of the dead or pieces of memorabilia, like a Vietnam veterans medal of honor. All of these things give you a little bit of insight into the world and what has befallen it, especially the diary pages. There are also a few mini-games you can find, one in each of the three chapters. The collectibles give you a reason to go back and play through the game again, but it isn't a huge incentive. Some of the scenes are interesting to go through again, but many of the indoor ones are less enjoyable the second time through. Like I've said many times in this review, the game isn't very long. The story is only about one hour and a half long, even when you are looking for a few collectibles, but that doesn't account for deaths. When you restart from dying it doesn't record that time, so if you finish the game and it says you beat it in one hour and forty minutes you may be a bit confused. If you die a lot, like I did the first time through, then one playthrough will last somewhere between two to three hours.
Now are back to that question once again, is it worth it. For $15 I cannot recommend Deadlight. While the story is delivered in a cinematic and enticing manner it doesn't hold up well to replays or thoughtful discussion. The story is certainly better than any of Romero zombie movie, but it lacks the depth and introspection of what would constitute an excellent story. The replayability is rather low, especially if you took your time the first time through, but finding the mini-games or collectibles may be enough to draw you in for a second or third playthrough. Tequila Works created a game that I enjoyed, but it just wasn't long enough or continually interesting as other games that are short and worth the money, like PSN's Journey. If are fan of zombie games you may love it regardless of what I say, but for everyone else I would suggest waiting for it to be on sale. It is certainly a good game with some well done mechanics, impressive graphics and great voice acting, but it just isn't enough for the price.
Violent Score: 3.5 (out of 5)
Main website: http://deadlightgame.com/
-Written by Sean Cargle