Deadlight is the first project by Madrid-based developers Tequila Works and very good opening project with an emphasis on running and surviving as opposed to running and gunning.
You might be thinking, “Oh excellent… another zombie game…” Or you like me, that last sentence hasn’t emerged from your lips with a sarcastic tone. Zombies seem like they’ve been done to death in video games (pun intended) and while there doesn’t seem to be any end to the list of games that are about zombies, let alone the ones that involve zombies (every fantasy game ever), I still get a happy kind of curious whenever a new zombie game comes out. And assuming that I will review more zombie-related games in the future, I’ve started… ZOMBIE ANALYSIS!
All that aside, Deadlight is a zombie, survival horror, side-scrolling platformer with puzzle elements… yes, all of that. One of the most interesting features is the 2.5D effect. It’s a platformer so you can only interact with objects and zombies along the aligned path. But zombies often approach from door and around corners in the distance, or a helicopter attacks you from the background. Despite being a platformer, you don’t feel restricted. Nor does the background ever interfere with what you think you can climb on or which zombies you can avoid.
The game immediately thrusts you into a warehouse in Seattle where you’ve just killed one of the survivors of your rag-tag band after it’s apparent they’ve been bitten. It’s the 4th of July, 1986, approximately 6 months after the outbreak of the Zombie virus in Europe. You play a Canadian park ranger called Randall Wayne who’s searching for his wife and daughter, believing they’ve fled to a safe house located in Seattle. The game is plotted via a series of comic-style scenes with game chapter in between. There’s also flashbacks periodically, sometimes providing a brief tutorial, sometimes providing background story about Randall’s home town of Hope.
Throughout the chapters there’s plenty of secrets to find and more information about the world and while sometimes hidden well, it’s never counter-intuitive to find them. You move through the world by running, jumping, climbing, crawling, rolling, wading, shuffling, box-moving and sliding. And while this might sound like you’re a parkour master, the movements are relatively natural and Randall comes across being more fit than a ninja. All this moving around is done by using energy, a blue bar below your health that is also used for just about everything else, including swinging around the first weapon you acquire, the fire-axe. It doesn’t take much to deplete your energy, so you better hope all the zombies are dead by then or you’re in a relatively safe place, otherwise you’re zombie chow.
Games like this one that focus on narrative try to avoid breaking the flow of the story. Deadlight does well by having a checkpoint often. And be thankful for these checkpoints because you will die often. Whether it’s being eaten by a few too many zombies, falling from a height that was just too large or being shot by the so-called military, be prepared to die. Only several times did I finally get past that incredibly tough series of free-running only to jump into a group of zombies and have to restart from an all too distant checkpoint.
The game also had run sequences where you have to run over roof tops or along zombie-infested ground to make it to the next area. This kind of quick-thinking and acting sequences were nothing short of thrilling.
Of course, the game isn’t perfect. Randall seems to suffer from a complete inability to swim, which can make sewer chapters a lot harder than they should be. Which isn’t really an issue in itself, but some explanation as to why Randall can’t swim would be nice. Also, this game would have been a lot better on XBLA, or at least with a game pad. Unfortunately, I lack the required 8 fingers on one hand to be able to pull of some the manoeuvres, and had to temporary reconfigure the controls.
The game also puts emphasis on survivability as opposed to running and gunning, though you do get several guns. Bullets are sparse for your revolver and shotgun and only attracts more zombies. Though I got the feeling of I was using the shotgun wrong since it seemed no more effective than the revolver, only causing one zombie to die per head-shot.
For me, the story of the game lasted about 4 hours with most of the collectables under my belt. The game’s final chapters are a series of companion sequences which were surprisingly well-done. My aid to her felt natural and she didn’t just hinder my progress, though she certainly needed my help climbing up ledges. My only issue with the companion was that she’s Stella. Who in the hell is Stella? She not my wife or my daughter. Turns out she’s the twin sister of the girl I killed at the very start of the game, just before I got separated from the rest.
I’ll finish with a small note about the ending which wasn’t unexpected in the sense that it was a typical zombie movie ending. Some escape, most don’t. You see some of the worst of humanity, who are generally a bigger threat than the zombies. Though this ending isn’t left as open.