This is just a flashback.
What Deadlight Got Right
- + A new take on zombies
- + Great platforming
- + A diverse 2D world
- + Edge of your seat stuff
What Deadlight Got Wrong
- - It’s short
- - Some frustrating moments
- - The ending tries and fails to be important
- - Puzzles are lacking
A side-scrolling platformer with zombies. That’s all you need to know about Deadlight. Its underlying conventions will either be cause for immediate purchase, or signify that you should stay well clear.
Painful reoccurring memories whilst desperately searching for his missing wife and daughter. That’s the situation confronting protagonist Randall Wayne in 1986 Seattle. Finding someone in 1986 would have been challenging enough, I imagine, but in a sideways world overrun by zombies, it’s almost impossible, as he soon discovers.
Deadlight tackles the tried and very tested zombie formula without rehashing territory that anyone has explored in significant detail before, at least, in terms of gameplay. It’s not a Left 4 Dead style shooter, DayZ inspired survivalist adventure or even comedic zombie-basher in the wake of Dead Rising. It’s a puzzle-platformer, that just so happens to throw zombies at you as the enemy of choice in an utterly ruined world.
The narrative is surprisingly existent, for both an XBLA summer release and puzzle-platforming game, even if it’s not fantastic. The environments are littered with remnants of an abandoned world ravished by horrific events. It’s being traversed by a dysphoric survivor, desperate to reconnect with his family. If they’re still alive. Actually, Randall is more of a walking cliche than believable protagonist, but the world around him is about as immersive as they come in the 2D landscape.
Deadlight tackles the tried and very tested zombie formula without rehashing territory that anyone has explored in significant detail before.
Movement is basic, yet effective, as a straightforward side-scrolling platformer. You can jump and climb up things, avoid perilous objects and interact with a handful of objects to complete puzzles and open the elusive path ahead. All the while, you’ll need to avoid death by zombification.
That’s the curve-ball. As well as three bars of life -- death coming with the third hit -- you also have a limited energy bar. Every time you hack and slash a zombie with your axe or climb a wall it begins to drain away until you stop and recover. That’s problematic if you find yourself in a sea of zombies (I should point out that Deadlight calls them “shadows”, but they’re zombies), as the axe will knock the undead bastards off their rotting feet, but it takes quite a lot of chopping to finish them off. Firearms are available, but ammo is too scarce to make it a reliable option. Intuitively using the environment to finish them off from a distance and devising impromptu traps are the best options. Other than running.
The diverse nature of each level, ranging from shady motels to a bland sewer and desolate highways, along with the constant threat of zombies and even attack helicopters on a last-ditch effort to salvage the situation makes for an adrenaline-fueled experience. While it mightn’t offer many terrifying scares, the combination of challenging platforming and relentless zombies will keep you on the edge of your seat.
While it is an XBLA game, Deadlight suffers from a serious lack of longevity. The whole thing clocks in at around three-four hours, and if the trial and error gameplay is mostly devoid of the latter, it could probably be done in two. If it weren’t for occupational heath and safety insisting we take a break every hour, that would be a one session job, especially seeing how the puzzles aren’t all that challenging. As a platformer it delivers, but the puzzles are too simple for it to be considered a genuine puzzle game.
The Final Verdict
Xbox Live Arcade flourishes with a must-have exclusive about this time every year. While it’s not quite of the pedigree of those of yesteryear, Deadlight is the must have winter hit on XBLA this year. The story may be cliched, but the unique take on zombie gameplay will entice anyone looking for a quick, yet challenging platformer with some basic puzzle elements.
By Ben Salter