In 1986 a European zombie outbreak finally reaches North America, and 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 allies, lose old friends forever, and discover that the government he trusted all along might be an even bigger threat than the zombies themselves.
There are over a dozen films with the exact same plot. As zombie stories go, it would be hard for Tequila Work’s first game, Deadlight, to be any more generic.
Deadlight is a side-scrolling platformer akin to 1989’s Prince of Persia. 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 woefully mediocre as a result.
Nothing in Deadlight hits the way it was meant to. The voice acting is laughably bad, characters will incongruously change tone and volume midway through a scene. The dialogue is so simple and bizarre that it completely undermines the graphic novel aesthetic of the cutscenes. The sound design and music is completely forgettable, and the game frequently - unashamedly - cribs plot points from existing fiction, particularly The Walking Dead. There is a point around halfway through the game that is almost scene-for-scene identical to a major twist from the first graphic novel and first episode of the television show. It could be called homage at best, but plagiarism is probably more fitting. Either way, it is incredible that it made it into the game at all.
Combat is terribly flawed, combining poor design and banality into a single, impotent cocktail. Randall uses a fire axe and pistol to fight back against the shadows, and each swing costs a small amount of the player's 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.
If it sounds compelling on paper, it's ruined by poor implementation. Executing a successful power attack might as well be down to a coin flip, as the sluggish and imprecise controls make it much harder to execute successfully in a fight against more than one zombie. And despite being a 2D platformer, zombies will shamble into the battle from the background and the foreground. This is problematic as it's near-on impossible to determine if a zombie has entered the correct plane to be attacked, leading to situations where Randall will attempt an attack on a zombie that is just out of range, only to be immediately attacked back. These are the kinds of design problems we faced 20 years ago playing Streets of Rage II; experiencing it all over again is incredibly frustrating.
However, the most damning fault comes from the simple design of the characters themselves. The shadows are inky black figures hiding in the background of scenes, often only discernible by their bright, glowing eyes. Randall, too, is a shadowy, dark figure, sliding through the rain-slicked backstreets of Seattle. When they come together in a battle, however, it's difficult to tell Randall from a group of zombies. The only way to identify where Randall is amongst the teeming horde is to attack, and this leaves him open to counter-attack from behind. The amount of deaths that this simple, inexcusable design error can cause is preposterous. It's a 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 it, but the game is bogged down by sluggish controls and a generic storyline. It's also awfully quick – a slightly more ponderous run through the game took just under four hours, which for 1200 Microsoft points, just isn’t worth the value.
Deadlight could have been something great. Unfortunately, it's as mindless as the zombies it features.