Deadlight, a 2.5D narrative driven zombie platformer, originally out in August on XBLA has finally been released on PC after an additional two months in development. Now on sale on steam will November 1st, does this downloadable title hold a big enough punch to make an impact in a market filled with darkly lit platformers?
The game opens with the main character, Randall Wayne, being left behind as his rag-tag group of survivors drive off as a group of “Shadows” close around the building they were held up in. Randall is left survive on his own as he plans to meet them further down the road, hoping to find his wife and child. The story is told through a series of short animated sequences that are very reminiscent of the “Walking Dead” comic style and the main character who sounds like a cement mixer gargling shingle.
The story is kept bare-bones within the course of the gameplay, giving the player the reason to push forward and that’s that. However collectables litter the environment giving the character more life. Journal pages fill out a sixty page tome that give a detailed account of Randall’s life before and during the Shadows appeared. This is along with ID cards found on human corpses and other miscellaneous objects that scatter the world to tell shorter tales of life and death within Zombified Seattle. One of the narratives greatest strengths is that it remains vague on the exact nature and origin of the Shadows, only offering vague clues and possibilities. This allows the story to focus on location of Seattle and Wayne as he struggles to find some glimmer of hope. This all adds towards a general sense of desperation in a slowly dying world that can be deeply engaging.
Sadly, while it is obvious great lengths were taken to keep the sense of tense hopelessness, the voice acting and script lets down the tone and impact the story may have otherwise had. While it conveys the necessary information and level of seriousness expected, some lines come off sounding rather either pointless or just odd. Many scenes while tense and sad, feel immature in their writing style, keeping it too simple or boring. Also some characters such as the Ratman feel like odd additions from a completely different game, filling an entire section of the game with a gauntlet of puzzles making Randall out to almost be a “chosen one” style figure as they scour an absurdly spacious sewer.
The main crux of Deadlight has the player clambering through wrecked buildings and streets, trying to stay away from the infested hordes as much as possible. The core mechanics are very similar to the original Prince of Persia games with the player running, jumping and grabbing ledges. Usually with an area a few Shadows will be present to try and bite bite the ankles of the player dangling above them on a telephone line or frantically clambering over the hood of a car and into an air duct. These moves are further augmented with the ability to sprint short distances that alters moves allowing for larger jumps or rolls that prevent fall damage. This is all tied to a stamina meter that empties as they cling to ledges or sprint to safety. However this only really comes into play during sprint heavy set-pieces that have the player run from various dangers, as it dwindles too slowly to really matter during the short climbing segments.
Combat is handled simply. The player is initially only has the option to run and throw zombies off. However over time the arsenal grows to include an axe, a pistol and later on a shotgun. While they all play into puzzle solving at some point, the actual zombie killing is rather lacklustre. The axe is far to unwieldy and sluggish for the controls and the guns only come is use at a distant as they aim to slowly to be of use up close, as Shadows usually are. This is rarely an issue though during the first two thirds of the game, where the levels are designed well enough as to offer a zombie free route to acrobatic players. These usually reward eagle eyed survivors extra ammo, along with stamina and health upgrades. Sadly though the design during the final segments caters for a far more combat heavy experience, giving no option but to get down and dirty with the hordes of ravenous chompers ready to bite an unwary neck. This sadly also means less exploration during the final chapters and makes the ending feel rushed in comparison.
Where Deadlight shines the most though is through the puzzles. These sections have the player use multiple parts of the environment to their advantage and are usually the most imaginative parts of the experience. However they are few and far between, and the ones that are there are over far to quickly and hampered by slow block pushing. If more time were spent creating puzzles that used the early elements of herding zombies and pressure sensitive areas instead of finding the correct place to shoot a padlock or object, then the game would feel much better paced between the lengthy sections of zombie combat and clambering around.
One other thing is that the game can often feel cheap, killing off the player in ways they would have no way to predict. This can be a suddenly collapsing building or attack helicopter gunning through a window. While the second time round will rarely be challenging, it is an aggravating way to temporarily halt player progression that occasionally stops the sense of exploration flat.
While the story and gameplay can be a lacking, what Deadlight doesn’t disappoint on is the look and feel of the world. The 2D perspective shows a great amount of detail and style as Randall is climbing over it. The use of shadow to reveal areas creates a sense of uneasiness as the players silhouette skulks across rooftops and highways. Randalls frame is always in shadows, giving stark contrast to the highly detailed backgrounds and allowing players to see the action.
The multiple settings all look gorgeous, including a lengthy sewer run. The games opening level gives a full run down of ruined buildings, enclosed sewers and expansive vistas across a gore covered highway. Over time the environment shifts to inner city rooftops covered in building materials, a trappers sewer and subway filled with spikes and emerald greens, and suburban back gardens. Each segment has equal parts beauty and horror, showing contrasting hues and shadows against the horror of a zombie onslaught and a failed bombing campaign.
While a fairly decent PC port, the graphical options are severely lacking, only allowing for changing resolutions with a slider for detail. However the game isn’t very resource intensive, and even on lower settings still manages to look good. However a few options to tweak specific graphical options would not go amiss.
While the game has it’s a great many good ideas such as avoidance over frontal assault and a gripping narrative, poor execution holds the game back from being all it aspires to be. While the visuals set it apart from the other grim and dark 2D platformers, a bad script, hammy voice acting and a lack in gameplay variation keep this average game, from becoming a great game. The game will take between 2-4 hours to complete and is currently on sale until November 1st for £8.49. Worth taking a chance if you want to experience a tale of hopelessness in 1980’s Seattle.