They’re Zombies, dammit!
Let’s get something straight. Like many gamers, I am slightly tired of Zombies. The fact that every other game seems to be featuring Zombies in recent years not only shows a lack of imagination from the developers (I am still waiting on my Fairies), but I am also left feeling far too comfortable with the shambling hordes. At this rate, if a Zombie apocalypse really does kick off, I don’t think I would be bothered. Business as usual.
Tequila Works’ Deadlight, the third game in the XBLA Summer of Arcade, tries to pull the wool over our eyes by calling the undead masses “Shadows”. I will give them points for trying, but if it walks like a Zombie, moans like a Zombie and wants nothing more than to eat your brains – it’s a Zombie. But whatever title Tequila Works choose to bestow upon the recently departed and returned, and no matter how unoriginal the subject matter, Deadlight still manages to provide an entertaining platforming experience with an enjoyable style.
The story is one you may have heard before. The player takes on the role of Randall Wayne, your average guy who happens to be rather handy with a weapon and could easily have been a free-running expert in his spare time. The Zombie apocalypse has kicked off and Randall is left searching for his wife and daughter, as you do. The game begins with Randall separating from a team of survivors and things just go downhill for the guy from there. So far as stories go, again it is somewhat unoriginal, but does the job of stringing the action together. What is perhaps more interesting is the gruff-voiced character of Randall himself. Although the character is not expanded upon that much through the course of the gameplay, except revealing him as being particularly untrusting and moody, there is a rather extensive diary that is worth reading, as long as the player can find the missing pages which are littered throughout the levels (how did they get there?).
The gameplay takes the form of side-scrolling running and jumping for the most part. The game is fairly linear, offering up very little by way of exploration, but this keeps the action simple as the player moves from left to right, trying to solve various simple environmental puzzles and avoid the clutches of the undead. Randall uses his (imagined) free-running background to leap through windows, from rooftop to rooftop, slide down precarious slopes and clamber hand over hand across wires with Zombies grabbing at his feet.The execution is fairly well done, being fast and precise enough to feel tense without being unfair.
The puzzles in Deadlight are not exactly taxing, usually involving finding routes through blocked or dangerous areas, or activating switches/moving blocks to make areas accessible. A large number of these puzzles become necessary simply because the player is trying to avoid the large number of Zombies that happen to be floating around. Players are able to shout and distract Zombies if they happen to be blocking the way forward, making for some nice strategy.
Early in the game, the player will come across an axe which can be used to fight the Zombies. Other weapons will be found further down the line, including a couple of guns which the player can aim using the right stick, but as with the axe, these weapons do not last long. The game encourages the player to avoid conflict wherever possible. The fights are generally quite difficult and it is easy to become overwhelmed, with death happening quickly. There is also the stamina bar to consider – as you swing your axe, the bar quickly empties, leaving the player at the mercy of the undead. The combat works, but aside from a few instances when using a weapon is actually required, there is much more enjoyment in finding ways to quickly get past potentially violent situations.
Death comes quite quickly and easily in Deadlight, being electrocuted, cut in half by a trap, falling from a great height or simply having your brains eaten. Fortunately, the game is quite generous with its restart points, so the player won’t have to backtrack too much in order to progress. The frequent death has an impact on the length of the game. Playing through without any problems will see the main game completed in only a few hours, which raises a value for money question. Deadlight is available for 1200 MSPoints, which is a hefty chunk of cash for a game that can be finished so quickly. But there is a lot to bring the player back for further playthroughs. There are collectibles to be found for completionists, such as the diary pages and even some playable handheld LCD games. The game also tracks the players time through each area, enticing the player to beat their time.
Perhaps the most standout feature of the game are the visuals. Deadlight uses a silhouetted foreground, including the playable character, set upon a 3D background which is highly detailed and brings this post-apocalyptic world to life. It really is stunning and goes a long way to building the atmosphere of a world that has fallen apart. Even the animations of the characters in the game feel realistic, which is a mighty feat for a small silhouette.
Deadlight has it’s flaws – the game is too short by far and the gameplay does get repetitive too quickly. But Deadlight will appeal to that “just a couple more minutes” mentality that most gamers suffer with, ensuring that the first playthrough will probably take place in one sitting, and the desire to find everything or achieve a better time will keep them coming back. It is not especially ground-breaking, but it looks gorgeous and plays well. What more could you want from a Zombie apocalypse?