A disappointingly generic zombie romp.
The year is 1986. Following a medical outbreak in Europe a year earlier, the zombie threat has finally reached North America. Canadian Mountie, Randall Wayne, is on a quest to try and find his missing wife and daughter in Seattle before they are taken by “the shadows”. Along the way, Randall will find new friends, lose old ones forever and discover that the government he trusted all along might be an even bigger threat than the zombies themselves.
A quick Google search finds over a dozen films with the exact same plot. As far as Zombie stories go, it would be hard for Tequila Work’s first title, Deadlight, to be any more generic.
Deadlight is a side-scrolling platformer (akin to 1989’s Prince of Persia) set in a mid-80’s zombie apocalypse. As Randall Wayne, players will solve puzzles, kill zombies and try to piece together what has happened to the world. As simplistic as the gameplay loop may be, games like 2010’s Limbo show that well executed design and an intriguing story will excuse the lack of complexity. Unfortunately, Deadlight fails to meet either of these criteria, and is damningly mediocre as a result.
Nothing in Deadlight hits the way it was meant to. The voice acting is laughably bad, with characters wildly changing tone and volume midway through a scene. The dialogue is so simple and alien that it completely undercuts and ruins the unique, comic-panel art style of the cutscenes. The sound design and music choice is completely forgettable, and the game frequently and unashamedly cribs plot points from existing fiction, especially The Walking Dead. There is a point around halfway through the game which is almost scene-for-scene identical with a major twist from the first graphic novel and first episode of the television show. It could be classified as a homage at best, or blatant plagiarism at worst. Either way, it is incredible that it made it into the game in the first place.
Combat is perhaps the most egregious point of failure of them all, combining poor design and banality into a single, lethal cocktail. Randall uses a fire axe and pistol to fight back against the shadows, with each swing costing a small amount of the players stamina bar. An ordinary zombie will take upwards of a half dozen strikes to eliminate. Alternatively, if a Zombie gets knocked to the ground, Randall can use a power attack to put it out of its misery right away. While it is a simple combat scenario, it is ruined through poor gameplay design. Executing a successful power attack might as well be down to a coin flip, as the sluggish and imprecise controls make it far harder to execute successfully in a fight against more than one zombie. Further, despite Deadlight being a 2D platformer, zombies will shamble into the battle through the background and foreground, preparing to attack Randall. This creates a visual dilemma as it is near-on impossible to determine if it has entered the correct plane to be attacked, leading to situations where the player will execute an attack on a zombie that is just out of range, which then immediately attacks back. These are the kinds of problems we had 20 years ago playing Streets of Rage II, so experiencing it all over again is incredibly frustrating!
However, the most damning error comes from the simple design of the characters themselves. The Shadows are inky black figures hiding in the background of scenes, only visible by their bright, glowing eyes. Randall, too, is a shadowy, dark figure, sliding through the rain-slick backstreets of Seattle on his quest to find his family. When they both combine in a battle, however, it is impossible to tell Randall apart from a group of zombies. The only way to determine where Randall is compared to the teeming horde around him is to attack, which leaves him open to counter-attack from behind. Honestly, the amount of deaths that this simple, inexcusable design error is responsible for is preposterous. It is a truly mind-boggling lapse of judgement on Tequila Works’ behalf.
Deadlight is a disappointing mess of a game, a title worth less than the sum of its parts. There is a solid concept behind Deadlight, but it is bogged down by sluggish controls and a laughably generic storyline. Plus, it is awfully quick – a slightly longer-than-average run through the game took just under four hours, which for 1200 Microsoft points, just isn’t worth the value. Deadlight could have easily been something great, but instead is just as mindless as one of its zombies it portrays.