Deadlight (Xbox360)

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Two things most people know about me are that I love the eighties and I love zombies. Deadlight is an Xbox LIVE Arcade title that happens to be set in the eighties and is about zombies. As far as I’m concerned, that’s ‘nuff said (or should that be ‘nuff Zed?) but as a diligent and well-meaning game reviewer I have put my personal predilections aside and taken Deadlight through its paces to bring to you a totally unbiased and thorough review of the game.

Two and a half frantic days later I can confidently say that Deadlight is a splendid survival horror platform game that breathes new life into the undead overrun of zombie games that have overtaken the gaming industry over the past few years.

Deadlight Screenshot 1

I (heart) the 80’s I (braaaaaaaains) the 80’s

Deadlight is set in the mid 1980’s in Seattle after an unexplained viral outbreak has decimated the planet and turned the dead into mindless ghouls called Shadows. Players take control of Randall Wayne, a grizzled park ranger and survivor of the initial outbreak trying to reunite with his family and find a safe place for them to hide until the outbreak is brought under control.

Through Randall’s wanderings across a desolate Seattle landscape he is regularly haunted by recurring dreams of incidents in the past and his overwhelming desire to find his family at any cost.

Inter-dimensional horror!

Deadlight plays out as a two-dimensional side-scrolling platformer within a three-dimensional environment. Players are only able to travel either left or right across a linear map and although the movement is restricted by only these two directions, within a level players can also climb up or down ladders and scale obstacles in their path.

Deadlight Screenshot 2

Despite the perception that the restricted movement is a limitation to the gaming experience, its simplicity actually translates into an effective method of control which grants players a fluid mechanism that doesn’t distract from the devastation of humanity constantly unfolding in the background – and the non-interactive background certainly plays a significant role in the overall success of Deadlight.

Zombies come with depth…

As with most zombie apocalypse themes, Deadlight places a good deal of emphasis on the underlying story and the pervasive sense of despair that accompanies any undead takeover. While players traverse the myriad levels as they work their way through a disintegrating Seattle, what often starts off as a simple mood backdrop evolves into a mini-story narrating its own tale of horror which ropes the player right into Randall’s situation.

From a barricaded door bowing to the relentless pressure of a horde of bloodthirsty Shadows to the deathly silent horror of Shadows devouring the remains of a doomed survivor in the narrow streets of a suburban neighbourhood, the background always recounts another chapter in the tale of humanity’s doom.

Deadlight Screenshot 3

This effective use of the background is not just show-and-tell either, in many situations activities going on in the third-dimension of depth (and out of the player’s reach) slowly draw into the plane of interaction that players can participate in leading to many surprise (and not to mention hairy) encounters.

This technique enhances the mood of helplessness prevalent during a zombie apocalypse by rendering the player unable to respond to the oncoming threat until it is almost too late and it gives a tangibly foreboding sense of doom to many moments in the game.

The zombies game: They gnawed, they conquered…

Gameplay-wise, Deadlight adopts a simple but very effective approach common with platforming games. The checkpoint system is practically continuous meaning that restarting after an unfortunate death (and there will be plenty of these) is not as infuriating as it could be. Of course, there will be the occasion when you’ll need to repeat the same challenge several times but the checkpoint placements are done well enough to make this an exception and no challenge feels impossible.

Deadlight Screenshot 4

In addition to the visual feast, Deadlight makes good use of music to stir up the mood and create moments of tension or apprehension. Unfortunately, the underlying storyline is hampered somewhat by the regularly cheesy voice-acting (and by cheesy I don’t mean standard eighties cheese, I mean it feels like you’re being narrated to by David Caruso as Lt. Horatio Caine from CSI) and the seemingly pointless eighties setting.

Granted, I am an eighties fanatic, but besides a rare reference to incidents in the eighties such as Chernobyl, the game could just as easily have been set in the nineties or early twenties without affecting the overall game or story.

Is Deadlight just another ‘Zed’-lite?

As a complete package, Deadlight does a lot right and as far as zombie games go, it’s certainly a breath of fresh air in the stagnant, repugnant odour of zombieland (not to mention it happens to be a decent platformer game too, albeit a more action-focused one than a puzzler).

Unfortunately, as is the case with many platformers, the game is incredibly brief. In the spirit of the Olympics currently going on in London, if we look at the world record for this game (that’s completing it with 100% progress, secrets and all), it is twenty-seven minutes. Think about that. That’s not even half an hour.

Deadlight Screenshot 5

Admittedly that is the world record but my time with Deadlight (and I was really trying to be thorough to unlock all of the secrets) was just over two and a half hours and some may argue that’s a rather disappointing bang-for-buck, time-wise, for a game priced at 1200 MSP. Nonetheless, if you are a fan of zombie apocalypses (can there really be more than one apocalypse?), platformers, or an aesthetically impressive game, you will find enough reason to enjoy Deadlight, which I would highly recommend!

The Good: Time for some zombie payback; Breathtaking visual style; Simple platforming made tense

The Bad: David Caruso voice-over experience; The game is a tad short!