By – Callan MacKinlay
Deadlight is a 2.5D side-scrolling action-platformer survival horror zombie game from Tequila Works. That is quite the mouthful, I know. And really, I had great hopes for a game that looked to be in a similar style to a great game I played on 360, Shadow Complex (Yes, I have played games on consoles, shame on me). However, I had a hard time surviving through this game for numerous reasons, which I will go into in a moment. If you are afraid of spoilers and want to play this game then stop reading now.
In Deadlight, you play as Randall Wayne, an ex-Park Ranger who lived in a small town in the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia before the zombie apocalypse. As the game begins, you are in Seattle in the hopes of finding a safe place to hide from the “shadows,” read zombies. The game never refers to the zombies as “zombies”, just shadows, which seems arbitrary since we all know that they are supposed to be zombies, so why not just say so? You and some fellow survivors have been searching for a place called “Safe Point,” and also for your wife and daughter who went missing at some unspecified point in the past. The game begins just as you have been separated from the other survivors and your goal in the game is to find them and your family.
As Randall Wayne, Park Ranger extraordinaire, you have at your disposal the standard free-running mechanics of running, jumping, wall-jumping, rolling, and climbing, all of which help you traverse post-apocalyptic Seattle. For the most part, all of these mechanics work, although I did experience numerous instances where the game would do something I didn’t want it to do without any input from me. Strangely, there is a stamina bar that drains after about six or seven seconds of running and Randall can’t swim.
A Park Ranger who lives in the mountains and goes out on trips hunting for poachers can’t swim and can only run for six or seven seconds in a city at sea level? I submit that games should be allowed a certain amount of leeway when it comes to making our protagonists seem more human, but this is completely unbelievable. Also, how in God’s name Randall got the ability to free-run in a city environment while working as a Park Ranger is another question the game needs to answer for. Sure, free-running is a cool mechanic, but does every platforming game need it? No, especially when the backstory for the main character does not make any sense with it.
While traversing destroyed Seattle, you will obviously come across the zombie hordes that have infested it, and so it is likely that you will need to fight them in some way. Well, you get that chance, with a few weapons that are about as effective at killing zombies as Randall is at swimming. With limited stamina, the melee weapon is really only effective against groups of maybe two, possibly three zombies if you really know what you are doing. There are three attacks with the axe and two of them are dependent on your closeness to the zombies. You can push them away, you can swing at head height or you can slam your axe into the ground, killing any who have been knocked down and knocking down the rest.
Each of these attacks uses up different amounts of stamina, with the one that is the most effective using up almost half. This means that until you get a gun, you are useless against multiple zombies. When you do get that gun, it is a revolver and the aiming mechanic is really weird. It draws a short aiming line out about two feet from your character, and it will show a red crosshair on anything that is within range and worth shooting. Obviously, you only want to shoot zombies in the head, so accuracy is important, and while it is easy to be accurate from a safe location, the controls for aiming are swimmy, almost like someone turned mouse smoothing on for this one control in particular.
Deadlight has an artistic design that seems to be fighting with itself on numerous levels. The game’s colors have an ugly washed-out look to them that seems purposeful but quickly becomes unpleasant. At first you’ll see some nice vistas showing off the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, but quickly you’ll spend the majority of your time inside and even under the city. For some reason the sewers are filled with giant metallic cogs like a steam-punk enthusiast’s wet dream, although I can’t think for the life of me what they would be doing in a modern city’s sewage system. I am certain the reason the developers chose to make Randall incapable of swimming was so that they wouldn’t need to do animations for swimming or spend time on water effects, but then they went ahead and put you in a sewer with water-based puzzles.
Usually, these puzzles involved raising and lowering the water line so that you could get through an area, all of which could have been negated if Randall had ever learned more than the doggy paddle. There are also times where you are supposed to jump onto something in order to progress further, but that thing is literally a black smudge. No, my screen wasn’t dirty; this unknown object was actually just a blurry black bit that I was supposed to know I should jump onto. The only good part of this game’s design is the cutscenes. Pretty storyboard-style cutscenes mix up the art design and actually made me wish the whole game had had this comic book look. Of course, I would have liked the cutscenes more if the sound didn’t cut out half the time. As another note on sound, the voice acting in this game is terrible, especially Randall’s. Why they chose to hire someone who sounds like the deep voice guy from movie trailers as their main character is beyond me. If he had any ability to emote at all, I wouldn’t have had a problem but the actor is so wooden, his father must have been a tree.
Deadlight’s storyline is so blatantly nonsensical it borders on satire. Randall moves through the beginnings of the city running from zombies and looking for clues on his people’s whereabouts. He eventually comes across some of those clues but is forced to go into the sewers to avoid being killed by some of the living who are out hunting people. In the sewers he meets the cliché hermit who tests him with traps and then sends Randall after his son, who left the crazy coot. After finding the sewer hermit’s son, Randall forces him to return to his father in exchange for information on his fellow survivor’s whereabouts. The old man thanks Randall by telling him that the Stadium is where the crazy human-killing humans are and so he heads out to find his captured friends.
After arriving, he discovers that they have the driver of the RV you were traveling in, Ben. You free him, but he is injured for some unexplained reason so you have to get some medical supplies from the nearby hospital so he can fly the helicopter to rescue the others. While he sits in an open, unlocked helicopter in a parking lot without a working gate, you pop off to the hospital and grab the meds. When you return, he is still there, clutching his side and you clearly do a piss poor job of medicating him since ten seconds into the flight he passes out and crashes the helicopter. Randall is unscathed, of course, and also somehow made it to the place called “safe point.” Once there, he rescues one captive and murders the entire base by shutting off the generator which protects the people from the zombies. Then he dies by trying to fight a horde of zombies alone. Or at least you should assume he dies since fighting any more than two zombies is problematic, as noted previously. It would have been nice if you were given the chance to fight this horde of zombies before the credits, but with the amount of frustration I had with the combat system, I am totally content to have ended the game without doing so.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
While I had high hopes for Deadlight, it failed to deliver in almost every way. I have one note page that is jam-packed on both sides with almost entirely negative notes ranging from the ridiculous inaccuracy of a Maple Syrup Festival in the interior of British Columbia to various game-breaking bugs. There is no reason for anyone to play Deadlight, even if you take into account some of the things that it got right. So, unless you constantly require new zombie games to feed your addiction and will die without them, stay away from Deadlight.