This game was reviewed on Xbox 360
Zombies are bad monsters. Alone, they are slow and literally fall apart before you shoot your first bullet. In a group, they are unstoppable, and it doesn’t matter how many bullets you fire. The undead are either too weak or too powerful to make a good monster. I prefer to look at zombies as a disaster, much like an earthquake or the end of the world. They are yet another obstacle in the way of your goal.
Video games use this philosophy often. Left 4 Dead’s goal is to reach an extraction point and in Dead Rising by Capcom, the goals are similar. Destroying the undead, while fun, isn’t the driving force of your actions.
Tequila Works’ Deadlight also uses this idea. Zombies (called Shadows in-game) are obstacles you need to get past, not opponents you need to kill, and the story and gameplay reflect that.
The game begins with a striking cinematic that’s reminiscent of Frank Miller. The opening, all black and white, with starkly pronounced lines, looks spectacular. Our main character, Randall Wayne, has just killed Karla (we don’t get any other introduction to that character, just a name) because she has been bitten by Shadows. He offers little to no sympathy to Karla’s sister, Stella, and instead insists she shouldn’t have gone outside in a gravelly voice. The group is attacked by Shadows, separating Randall from the others.
Because this introduction takes no more than forty-five seconds we never become well acquainted with Randall’s friends. The biggest take away from the short exchange is he’s pretty much a jerk. The story feels slightly disjointed, and while not difficult to follow, requires some logical leaps. The game’s narrative centres on Randall looking for his missing family, who we haven’t seen yet, and looking for his friends with whom we’ve had the briefest of introductions.
It’s assumed his wife, child, and friends have reached a safe point and to get there, Randall must traverse a destroyed Seattle. Jumping across rooftops, climbing precarious ledges and crawling through holes are the preferred methods of travel, but Shadows will always try and stop you. Zombies should be avoided at all costs, but if they cannot be circumvented, Randall can kill the undead with a limited number of bullets or his trusty fireman’s axe. This is the true focus of the game, but Randall’s reasons for doing this feel very out of place.
The voice acting is acceptable and Randall’s raspy voice and character design has him come across as homeless, which makes sense – he technically is a nomad roaming this destroyed world. However, the writing and sentence construction behind the voice acting is variable at best. Characters say things that feel grammatically awkward, and some of the sentences, while technically correct, don’t sound right.
A good example of this is when Wayne comes across a character who is filled with bullet holes, but not quite dead yet. Part of the exchange goes like this: “Good god, they shot me. I’m bleeding to death.” Wayne asks, “Where are the others?” The character retorts, “The whole world is dying…I’m dying Wayne.” Randall responds, uncaringly, “You were going to die anyway.” Maybe it’s that the character is explaining that he was shot, rather than just showing it. Maybe it’s how disjointed the conversation sounds. In any case, this scene is silly and bizarre rather than emotional.
Story notwithstanding, Deadlight’s greatest asset is its graphical design. Tequila Works was clearly inspired by Limbo’s aesthetics, and they use silhouettes very, very well. Light always seems to be shining out of the screen, so while the backgrounds are gorgeous, showing off the destroyed city or a dark and foreboding sewer, all characters on the screen appear black and white.
While striking, this aesthetic caused a few problems in gameplay. It is sometimes difficult to see where ledges or holes are, and you will find yourself dying because you couldn’t see through the glare. This problem came up only a few times, but controlling the game in general caused many more headaches.
Aside from the rare contrast problems, there are two reasons for multiple deaths. The first is control. Deadlight’s controls work well most of the time, but there were specific points when I wanted to do one thing, like jumping up, and my character did something else entirely, like jumping forward into a crowd of zombies, promptly getting devoured. When traversing levels and dodging zombies that run at you out of the shadows is the entire point of the game, fighting with controls can create a frustrating experience.
The second reason for deaths is a lack of foresight about what comes next. An example of this is in a sewer section, saw blades will cut your character down when you step on a hard-to-see pressure plate. After discovering the trap – most likely by getting killed – you realize you need to run past the point as quickly as possible, to avoid the blades. Yet when this trap is repeated, it requires an unexpected roll to avoid a blade rushing towards you.
Dying once is not an insurmountable obstacle because checkpoints are reasonably close together. Action is still interrupted with a long loading screen, which is then compounded with a journey to where you expired in the first place. If this had occurred occasionally, it wouldn’t have been a problem. However, dying time and time again from controller-fighting, or lack of foresight, adds up quickly. Looking at the loading screen and retracing steps between lives quickly becomes a familiar and irksome experience.
Problems of story, control and foresight are accentuated because these things are the focus of Deadlight. Zombies are treated like spiked pits – obstacles to overcome. The goal to save your family becomes slightly ridiculous when the main character is a jerk and the story feels disjointed. Having to run away from Shadows because fighting simply isn’t an option, then struggling with controls makes the fleeing an annoyance.
This game is Tequila Works’ first release, and what can be seen should give players hope. Despite flaws, Deadlight is still a gorgeous game. The design is absolutely striking, the core ideas in the game are solid, and it provides a good five hours of fun. True, it falls over here and there, but like any good zombie it gets up again and keeps on going.
Deadlight, part of Summer of Arcade, is available on Xbox for 1200 Microsoft Points.
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