Review - Deadlight


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XBLA gets its zombie on
Microsoft Studios
Tequila Works
Release Date:
XBox 360
Age Rating:
From Spanish developers Tequlia Works, Deadlight tells the story of a man named Randall trapped in a nightmarish vision of Seatlle in 1986 where the world has been overtaken by a shambling horde or ravenous, brainless ‘Shadows’. Separated from his group at the start of the game, Randall has to find his way back to a Safe Point to be reunited with his family, as flashbacks reveal the true horrors of the outbreak.

Shadows or not, Deadlight is a zombie game – just the latest in a genre which has had its bones picked clean in the movie and video game media in the last few decades. The set-up is pure cliché but in this case that really just means that establishing the world is effortless; you are one man against an insatiable, unstoppable horde. Survive.

Against this backdrop, Deadlight works hard to give itself a slightly different voice. The story, which unfolds via comic-book style panels does a decent job of adding some depth to Randall’s plight and spirals into some interesting territory in the final act. But the real atmosphere comes from the in-game visuals, which takes a dash of Limbo’s chiaroscuro aesthetic and the more complex graphics of something like Shadow Complex to create an impressive 2.5D world.

Randall flees through his world on a strictly limited plane but the developers use both the background and foreground to build up the detail of this shattered world as well as adding elements to gameplay. Shadows will frequently inch closer from further back in the frame to attack you, adding a marvellously tangible, creeping level of dread as you get closer to being outnumbered.

Deadlight is more focussed on survival than pyrotechnics, with the gameplay encouraging speed and quick reactions to avoid confrontations whenever possible. Randall is a fleet footed sort, able to run and jump and clamber around the environment like a trench coated prince of some middle eastern clime. The shadows lack the ability to climb, so there will often be a route above their decaying heads for you to navigate, but beware what happens if you fall.

Gunplay does feature, with a right stick shooting mechanic which works just fine, and you’ll also acquire a fire axe which becomes your main melee weapon. But tackling more than a couple of Shadows quickly spells death, especially as swinging away quickly leaches from your stamina bar, leaving you vulnerable. Other perils include water, which insta-kills Randall for some reason, and some more complex set pieces which involve escaping from collapsing buildings or the guns of a militant band of survivors.

It’s all engaging enough stuff, with the environment itself as a puzzle to overcome, often under considerable duress. But the experience is far from flawless, starting with Randall himself. While much of his animation is worthy of a 2012 title, some transitions are awkward, an issue which blights the melee combat in particular. This is compounded by the unfortunate appearance of pixel perfect jumps, many of which hover over some hungry enemies or mortal water. The fast paced set pieces are particularly troublesome, as you must mix speed with accuracy. Frustration quickly ensues.

The city based action of the opening half of the game soon gives way to some subterranean antics which are not only less visually interesting and limit the scale of the world but also introduce a puzzle heavy aspect which the game mechanics aren’t really up to supporting.

The atmospheric visuals and setting, along with some exciting survival horror gameplay, are enough to recommend Deadlight to the curious but some frustrating fundamentals mean it’s far from a faultless experience. Replay value is also limited, an issue that’s made more significant given the paltry three hour running time of the main campaign.

7 Stars
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