As a kid, I was a big fan of games like Flashback, Oddworld, and Out of This World. Well, maybe not so much OoTW, due to the game’s insane difficulty and intro level that gave me nightmares for years… Anyway, I’ve always been a big fan of the more slow-paced platformers with a sort of “flow” to the movement of the character. Deadlight, the most recent entry in Xbox Live’s most recent Summer of Arcade event, shows many similarities to these classic platformers.
Going into Deadlight, I thought the game was going to either be very good or very bad. The platforming aspect looked tight, but could the game create an interesting enough story with the now well-overused zombie theme? In actuality, Deadlight sits in a sort of limbo between good and bad. The good aspects keeping the game from being an overall bad experience, but the bad aspects holding the game back from becoming another XBLA classic.
The best part about Deadlight is by far the platforming. While the movements may not be as exact or calculated as games like Flashback — and in reality reminds me of something more like a 2D Tomb Raider — it is still fun to leap from ledge to ledge. Grab-able ledges are highlighted with a white arrow, completely eliminating the guesswork found in some platformers like this, and despite the game’s Limbo-esque “world filled with shadow” aesthetic, Deadlight highlights any nearby usable items with a bluish glow.
While the platforming in Deadlight is its best feature, the story and combat elements keep it from being an incredible game. At first, there is no combat. You are forced to run away from any zombies you find, which is great. Early on you’ll find a Firefighter’s axe, which really makes you feel relieved that you’ll be able to fight back for once.
…Until you actually find a zombie. Sure, fighting one zombie is easy. Just a few swings and it goes down, simple enough. Against groups, however, you’re better off running. At first, I thought this was an excellent way of conveying to the player that although you may have a weapon, you are still very much outmatched by the zombies (or “shadows”, as the game calls them). However, every once in awhile the game will put a group of zombies directly in your path, as if saying “Fight these guys! You have a weapon!” when really, fighting them is almost useless. Thankfully, the game does a good job of helping you cleverly avoid combat as much as possible, until about the last third of the game which consists almost entirely of annoying combat sequences.
While the combat isn’t great (though is mostly avoidable), the story – to me at least – was a real disappointment. From the beginning, you are separated from your group, and taxed with trying to find them and your wife and child, who have been missing since the beginning of the outbreak. As you explore, you’ll find lost pages of your journal. Some of these pages are already in the journal, while others have been ripped out and must be found. Even without the missing pages, the journal is an interesting read, and finding the lost pages only adds more intrigue to what could have been a great zombie apocalypse story. Due to the content of the journal and a certain theme among the names found on various hidden I.D. cards throughout the game (I won’t spoil it), I was immediately hyped up for some kind of incredible twist at the end.
Unfortunately, that twist never quite comes. There is a twist at the end, but it’s such a cliche ending compared to other zombie apocalypse stories. Its like there were so many cool story elements thought up throughout the design process, but they instead decided to settle on the most predictable and boring ending out of them all. Deadlight’s story feels like a scrapbook of all sorts of different ideas, none of which are really referenced at any point other than when they are introduced.
Despite my frustration with the story and combat, I still found myself enjoying Deadlight. The game is littered with cool moments: the game’s title breaking through the cloudy background sky as you safely escape from a horde of zombies, or a red-blue lightning storm crackling in the background of an intense chase, or a long run through the windows, yards, and rooms of a zombie-infested neighborhood. Despite the combat sometimes glitching out or the story falling flat, Deadlight’s platforming is consistently tight and fun. I beat the game in about four hours, obtaining about 90% of the hidden collectables (including one of three fully-playable LCD handheld games), so people wanting a longer game to chew on might want to look elsewhere. However, anyone looking for a fun platforming experience — and don’t mind looking past the weak story and frustrating combat — should give Deadlight a look.