Deadlight is all style, no substance, which results in a very cool-looking slice of perfunctory–and often clunky–2D action. A shame, really. Unfortunately, when it comes to playing videogames, looks only get you so far, and I found much of my so-far early goings with Deadlight frustrating and shrouded in obtuse darkness due to its shoddy controls, stilted voiceover work, and strange mix of gameplay styles. I’ll explain more shortly.
Deadlight is set in 1986, and a zombie plague has decimated the world. Or maybe it’s a shadow plague, since no one seems to like referring to them as anything other than shadows when clearly they are of the flesh-tearing, brain-munching zombie ilk. Just, y’know, wreathed in shadows. Anyways, you play as Randall Wayne, a grizzled survivor trying make his way through Seattle. Oh, and the way you know it’s the 1980s? Those cassette-tape loading animations and knockoff Tiger LCD handheld-game collectibles should clue you in. Otherwise, it’s just another dark, grim world. Your goal: reach the Safe Point.
Clearly inspired by literature works like Stephen King’s Cell, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, as well as taking cues from other side-scrolling games like Limbo and Out of This World, Deadlight, early on, feels really good. Like, really good. I still don’t mean control-wise, but Tequila Works really nails the atmosphere of a world gone to shit, especially in the first act, where all the focus is getting through one scenario to another in a single piece, which often meant avoiding fighting shadows and using other methods to get around. Mr. Wayne is no supersoldier, just a guy taking advantage of everything around him to stay alive, and whistling at a zombie so it walks towards you and right into the pool of electrified water is hilariously satisfying.
There’s a little bit of everything in Deadlight. From the beginning, it’s mostly about running, jumping, climbing, crawling, and moving through the environments while avoiding enemies. This is all well and good, except the jumping feels sluggish, and when you let go of the analog stick Mr. Wayne continues to run a step or two further, which inevitably leads to messed-up jumps and other problems. Limbo‘s jumping never felt amazing, but that game moved at a much slower pace, even when a giant spider was chasing you. Combat comes in two forms: your ax or your gun. Ammo is limited, and I think I’ve used the gun more for solving puzzles than popping the heads of shadows off. You can swing your ax pretty well, but you’re limited by a stamina meter; all in all, the vibe is constantly avoid combat, and so that’s what I did. Lastly, there’s puzzle-solving, and a lot of what I’ve seen involves hitting switches/pulling levers and hightailing it somewhere else; alas, because of the previously mentioned problematic running, this can be a challenge, and Mr. Wayne suffered many deaths before the timing of it all could be determined. Trial and error is okay when implemented sporadically, but it really feels like every room you go into in Deadlight is designed to kill you first, then teach you how to live.
Again, it’s a shame the game plays so poorly and is unfocused, as visually, it’s astounding. Shadow Complex helped bridge the gap between 2D planes and 2D.5, and Deadlight uses this trick to create some stunning images of shadows appearing in the background and walking towards you from the distance. There’s a good amount of zooming in and out, highlighting different parts of the area, and a lot of it is well detailed despite the fact that Mr. Wayne is going to run past it all in a few minutes. While I found a lot of the voicework to be hammy, the art used in the cutscenes is what you’d expect if The Walking Dead comics were colored and a webcomic, and while they are a stark contrast to the actual gameplay graphics, they help build a consistency nonetheless.
I don’t know how much more is left to see in Deadlight. Currently, I’m still inside the Rat’s test chamber of terrible ways to kill one’s self. It’s not very clear how I’m supposed to get Mr. Wayne from one side of the room to the other, and all it takes is a misplaced jump to die and give me enough pause to reconsidering how I’m spending my gaming time. Might have to end up looking for an online walkthrough as my Xbox 360’s hard-drive is nearly filled, and I want to download and play Dust: An Elysian Tale, but in order to do that, I need to beat Deadlight and feel done enough with it to hit “uninstall.” It seems like it’s a pretty straightforward experience from beginning to end, though I can guarantee I won’t 100% it as I’m positive I’ve missed a secret or two along the way.