Deadlight is of the XBLA Summer of Arcade titles that has likely been getting the most attention. Its got a snazzy art style, some interesting looking gameplay, and zombies! What else could you ask for? Nothing! At least in theory, so how does it hold up in practice?
Audio & Visual
One of the major draws behind Deadlight is the art direction for both gameplay and cinematics. To put it plainly, the game is beautiful. If you’re a fan of the dark shaded world designs in games like Limbo, then you’ve come to the right place. Being that this is a sort of zombie survival platformer, the shadowy atmosphere really helps to create a tense mood. It also works great for setting up surprises and hidden locations in-game.
The cinematics are presented in a moving comic format. If you’ve never seen a moving comic, it consists of 2D images in the style you’d expect from a comic book, but with very limited animation. For instance the character might move by sliding across the screen but their bodies position or facial expressions won’t change. Or an animation might appear for a gun firing in the form of muzzle flash from a gun, but nothing else. It might take getting used to for those of you not familiar with this kind of storytelling, but it works very effectively.
The audio is also well done, with the music providing proper transitions that are context sensitive, making tense situations feel tenser. That said, there’s nothing memorable about the soundtrack either. However, the opposite can be said about some of the sound effects. Specifically, what happens when your character gets overwhelmed. The resultant sounds of struggle for life as he is slowly killed by enemies is actually quite disturbing.
It feels like it’s been some time since I’ve played a game with a story, and while Deadlight’s wasn’t the most complex or original, it was enjoyable nonetheless. The story begins in your more or less standard post apocalyptic survival horror scenario. A contagion of some sort has resulted in a worldwide catastrophe leaving most members of the human race as Shadow’s (zombies). You and a group of survivors are trying to make your way to safety after having been forced to kill one of the members of your group who was infected.
You play as a toughened old hardass by the name of Randall Wayne. As you all attempt to escape, you are separated from the group and forced to make your way through the Shadow infested wasteland, first to try to find your group and then to rescue them when your captured. Along the way, you’re also searching for your family, from whom you’ve been separated as well looking for pieces of your journal which help you piece together much of Randall’s past. You will also run into an interesting character in the form of the Rat Man, but I will hold off on expanding anymore to avoid spoilers.
Randall voices over the story, and his gruff voice works really well for the type of game you’re playing, as you can really believe he’s the callous hardass who could survive in this world. Despite being pretty dark in direction though, there’s a much lighter side to the world in the form of scattered Easter Eggs and references to other games, comics, and film scattered all over the world. Put together with the well made moving comic cinematics and Deadlight may not have the most original premise, but it has some compelling and enjoyable storytelling.
Deadlight is also a very solid title in the gameplay department. It plays as a fast paced platformer for the most part, but it also includes a variety of other gameplay to mix things up regularly and keep things fresh. Your primary weapon is an Axe, which you can use to attack and execute enemies, as well as open locks. You also gain guns later on, with a Shadow Complex style control scheme, but ammo is something to conserve and oftentimes gunning down enemies is not the best answer since you need to go for headshots to accomplish anything.
Most of the fun can be had not from combat, but from figuring out environmental puzzles, or ways to use the environment to kill enemies or get away from them. Many instances of free running also come up, with large groups of enemies coming after you, and you needing to think quickly and get away through quick platforming. Although this can be frustrating sometimes, as the art style can sometimes work against you. The game relies heavily on visual cues to prompt the correct action or route you need to take. However, the cues can often be too subtle to be seen when running for your life and other times seem to not show up at all. This can make some trial and error gameplay that is a bit annoying.
Deadlight is a great title and worth checking out. It has a beautiful art direction and the variety in gameplay keeps the experience fresh. The storytelling is fantastic even if the story itself is a bit cliché. The overall game is a bit short however, and there isn’t too much in the way of replay value. Even so, as a once through experience it’s a spooky and enjoyable experience.