It's the summer of 1986 and a zombie plague has swept across the globe, destroying civilization and leaving few survivors in its wake. Randall Wayne is just an average Joe on a quest to find his family amidst the ruins of a devastated city.
Summer of Arcade battles zombies this week with Deadlight, a stylish 2-D platform-puzzle adventure, kind of a mixture of LIMBO and I Am Alive, with more than a nod to classic 16-bit platformers like Flashback and Out of This World thrown in. Developer Tequila Works callsDeadlight a "cinematic survival platformer," and that's a good description.
Add Deadlight to your download queue here (1200 Microsoft Points)
Life During Wartime
The environments themselves are one of the stars of the game – the crumbling backgrounds are stunning and gorgeously detailed. For the most part you're just a silhouette at the front of the screen, moving crates, flipping switches and avoiding the zombie "shadows" as you climb and jump through the ruins of Seattle. The camera rarely moves or pans slowly as you work your way through the levels. The rooms light up when you enter them and darken when you leave. It's almost like playing a graphic novel.
Adding to the pulp comic feel, the story plays out in cut scenes with a series of rough stylish animations, and there are diary pages to discover that provide lots of elaboration (they also reveal that the narrator may be a little nuts). The ethereal orchestral score underscores the cinematic presentation, and really adds a sense of danger during tense sequences.
Run to the Hills
The puzzles themselves aren't particularly difficult -- you can usually see what you need to do or where you need to go next. Climb ladders, jump to ledges, and move stuff around to get to the exit. There are also some cool action chase sequences, such as escaping from an attacking helicopter.
Although sometimes it's unavoidable, combat is rare in this game. Your best bet is usually to outwit and outrun the shambling shadows. You can lure the shadows into traps, or climb atop a car and jump over them to scramble for the next stage. You do have a fire-ax, and you pick up a couple of firearms later on, but bullets are rare. This is no Left 4 Dead blastathon -- you're a goner if more than one or two shadows get a hand on you.
The jumping takes a little getting used to, it's got a "deliberate" feel to it that reminded me of old-school platformers like Prince of Persia. You'll have more than one stupid death where you repeatedly jump into a pit of spikes or mis-time a jump and run off the edge of a building. Luckily, checkpoints are plentiful, so you never really get stuck playing the same difficult stretch over and over again.
There are collectibles scattered throughout the game, including three retro console mini-games that you can play from the main menu once you've discovered them. The game also sports a beefy 30 Achievements for 400 gamerscore. Check out the achievement list – they're all the names of songs from the eighties and early nineties, like "Land Down Under" and "Flirtin with Disaster."
Randall is pretty talkative, and I will admit his gruff rambling stream of consciousness narrating can get tiresome, especially because the dialog is rather corny and repetitive in places (yes, I know Randall, you "have to find your friends.") There's also a strange "stamina meter" that really only comes into play a couple of times in the entire game, so it's curious why it was even included.
There's also a glitch that popped up several times for me during the game, which I'll mention in case you start to panic (like I did). After a cutscene, I got an error message saying it couldn't save my progress because my storage device was full. I have plenty of space on my hard drive, so I knew it wasn't the case. But after backing out and restarting, it had saved fine. I got that message about four times, but I never lost any game progress and it had no effect on gameplay. Hopefully Tequila Works can take care of this with a patch.
Deadlight is an exciting cinematic adventure through some of the most amazing environments you've ever seen in a video game. If you're a fan of old-school games from the Golden Age of 2-D platformers, you'll have a blast with this one. Don't miss Deadlight now available on Xbox LIVE Arcade for 1200 Microsoft Points.