Deadlight is at first glance, an 80’s inspired cross between Limbo and the Walking Dead. A rich, enveloping atmosphere grabs you from the outset in the post-apocalyptic Seattle setting, but fails to deliver on its early promised potential.
Tequila Works has developed a game that on the surface has every box checked when creating a side scrolling 2D platformer. It takes cues from previous greats (Limbo) and puts in a setting that is universally lauded by gamers (Zombies). A rich storyline is evident from the start, the cut scenes are done well with nice artwork and at times aspects of the game fuels the adrenal glands and sets the nerves on edge. The game’s one big failing is the spoon-fed hints that pervade everything from interacting with items and enemies, to pointing arrows at ledges where one needs to climb or drop down to.
Another glaring omission is the lack of 80’s pop culture references or indeed, any 80’s references at all. Apart from three collectable handhelds of the era – think Donkey Kong LCD type handhelds – there is no discernible difference from the 80’s ruined Seattle portrayed to a modern ruined Seattle. While this has little bearing and doesn’t affect the gameplay in any way, it’s a curious to promote the game as set in the 80’s but then not take advantage of what that era would provide.
You find yourself as Randall Wayne, a man in a desperate search for his missing family amongst the ruins of Seattle. Not only avoiding the plague infected dead that roam the streets, dangers of decaying buildings ready to collapse with the slightest weighting in the wrong place are also a source of untimely death as are the New Law – a ragtag militia that seemingly have access to all modern equipment, both ground and aerial.
As in Limbo you work your way from left to right and sometimes backtracking to collect, well, collectables. What differs most from that iconic title to Deadlight however are the overly simplistic puzzles. While the art direction, voice acting (mostly) and score are all bordering on sublime, the puzzle element is full of hand-holding even when they are at their most obvious. Targets that need to be hit with a slingshot are marked with a large X, items that require interaction will glow when nearby and it does really ruin the immersion.
Where Deadlight shines however, when allowed, is where the stage is set for truly nerve shredding moments. Dangling from a stable ladder one moment, seeing small grains of dust ache their way from the joints, feeling that it easily bears the weight of Randall until just as you decide your next route – BANG! It breaks away from the pitted concrete and only a millisecond later crashes to the burning furnace below, with you if didn’t see the tell-tale signs.
Rule by numbers
Enemies are slow and ponderous; the zombie rule here is the classic one – overwhelming numbers than aggression from individuals. Zombies will come out of the middle distance and stop feeding on carrion if they smell fresh meat and this sets up thrilling set plays where Randall has to sprint, jump, roll and blast his way out of danger – usually resulting in him bursting through boards into a new building. The camera will slow and zoom dramatically when needed – heightening a blockbuster effect that elevates the gameplay from good to infrequently great.
Zombies have been fashionable for decades, and like their namesakes as the fictional beings in films, games and other media they are always pondering in the background – ready for the next revolution of the undead cycle to become fashionable again. This time it’s been going for almost a decade and still shows no signs of abating. Deadlight captures the essence of 80’s zombies flicks and if it’s the only 80’s reference it makes, then at least Tequila Works picked well