Deadlight has been the jewel in the eyes of many for this year’s Summer of Arcade titles and after finally spending some time with it I understand why. This dark and gritty title is tastefully done with gorgeous graphics, a great story, and some killer gameplay. Literally the gameplay is killer – I died a lot. Thankfully I had a lot of fun doing so.
Deadlight is essentially an adult version of Limbo in many ways. Both are side-scrolling adventure titles, and in a way, also survival based. Players control the protagonist Randall Wayne, who many call Randy throughout the game. Randall is a resident of a small town in Canada named Hope in the mid-1980’s. He has a mostly idyllic life as a forest ranger with a family, though he does suffer from some serious nightmares and other issues. Issues that are mostly dwarfed by the spread of a pandemic that mimics rabies and causes those infected to try and lash out and eat others. But you know, he’s got some issues. Being that I’m a fan of zombies in almost any game or movie, Deadlight caught my attention quickly. Even if they don’t directly say “OH MER GAWD ZOMBIES!,” it’s plain as day to see what those shambling horrors they call “Shadows” are.
The game drops you right into the action having Randall escape from a desperate situation after his friends have to leave him there. Using his prowess, he will climb, jump, and smash obstacles to progress further in the game. Randall can even wall jump, which is actually really impressive when you see some of them. Those are the key focuses of the game though – maneuverability. Sure, there are weapons in the game like a pistol and fireman’s axe, but shooting is loud and draws unwanted attention and the fireman’s axe will quickly drain Randall’s stamina. Thus it’s better to flight instead of fight.
The whole flight thing in this game is actually pretty fun though. And since it’s a preferable alternative to the fighting, it makes sense to be the focus. It’s very easy for Randall to become overrun by Shadows and quickly be mauled. If they manage to grab a hold of you, expect a short QTE with the B button to shake them back and keep yourself alive. That doesn’t necessarily stop you from taking damage though, and generally if they touch you you seem to take damage. When you have only a few hits before death, this is a bit frustrating at times, and seeing as they can still attack you WHILE you’re being damaged, getting swarmed is a death sentence.
Players can also use the environment to take down Shadows. Cars on lifts can be dropped onto the unsuspecting creatures, smashing them into oblivion. Creating a hole in the ground (after solving a puzzle) will leave that gaping maw for them to fall into, and with a little taunting, they’ll come running to their doom. Even the occasional live wire (or traps in later areas) can be used against them in much of the same fashion. Just be careful to not fall prey to the same obstacles – Randall will die just as fast as the undead. It’s actually really easy to die in this game, and in some parts, expect to die over and over until you find the way out.
Along Randall’s journey, keep your eyes out for collectibles within the environment. They can include pages from Randall’s journal, IDs of the deceased, or even other piece that pertain to the world at large, like a quarantine flyer. These are nifty pickups that players should definitely keep watch for – especially the journal pages. While it doesn’t act like the pages from Alan Wake’s manuscript, Randall’s journal gives interesting background and insight to some of the things happening within the game or into the man himself. And let’s just say Randall has got some issues. He���s part Max Payne, part Solid Snake, and all sorts of cool. Finding these items isn’t generally hard as it only takes a little extra exploration on the player’s part and usually whatever contains the item will gain a faint outline when Randall is close. Just be careful when you stop to grab them – enemies can still attack.
Speaking of Randall, not only do you hear him voice his issues and other concerns through the dialogue in the game (he has some cool lines), but also in the stylish comic-like cutscenes. These play out a little randomly at times, but they are well done and reminded me, at times, of The Walking Dead’s graphic novel series. They’re accompanied with even more awesome dialogue that help progress the game’s story. A later character in the game, The Rat, was very convincing in his insanity. The one voice actor that really got under my skin was “The Kid” though, whose lines sounded forced and difficult. Thankfully he’s hardly seen and heard even less.
While players won’t be seeing a lot of other humans within the game, they’ll most certainly be feasting their eyes on the beautifully rendered game in all of its 3D glory. The world of Deadlight may be played like a 2D side-scroller, but there is so much happening in the background (and foreground even) that it’s easy to forget you’re traveling in a straight line. The city of Seattle sprawls out behind you for much the game in all of its destroyed glory. The background holds broken vehicles and a destroyed cityscape, sewers that stretch on in their darkness, and offices and houses. Littering the background many times are Shadows that will actually proceed to come to the forefront and chase down Randall, so things happening in the background should not be ignored. Especially in the running sequences – there will large groups of Shadows in the background that will doggedly chance Randall, so being watchful for them while dodging around everything else is very important.
The game utilizes some very awesome lighting effects in a variety of situations, like the sun and its bright rays or when Randall begins to hallucinate and the screen reacts. On the opposite side of this though, the shadows and darkness within the game are fun and at times terrifying when you can see movement, but not see what it is. Speaking of the Shadows themselves, they are quite true to their namesake – they appear as darkened human with glowing red eyes. Seeing those smoking cinders chasing after you in the darkness will sometimes make you turn tail and run for dear life. But in all seriousness, taking the gameplay and story and everything else aside, my absolute favorite part of the game was how it looked. From the occasional blinding light in the background shrouding the foreground and obscuring your view to the city skyline stretching far back, I was enthralled by everything.
Deadlight is definitely #1 on the Summer of Arcade list for many reasons. It combines a number of gameplay elements that people love with amazing graphics and a pretty intriguing story. Considering this is set before the internet, picking up the details as you go and learning more about Randall and the others makes the game that much more interesting. I highly recommend giving it a shot, especially if you have a fond love of Limbo, but even if you don’t and want to try a game with zombies that isn’t a “kill them all!” type of experience, this game is for you.Note: Deadlight was reviewed on Xbox 360. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.