Deadlight Review
Deadlight Box Art
System: Xbox 360
Dev: Tequila Works
Pub: Microsoft
Release: August 1, 2012
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Blood, Intense Violence, Language, Sexual Themes
Flashback To 1986
by Josh Wirtanen

If you were alive back in 1986, the year the game Deadlight is set in, then you might be old enough to remember Flashback, an exploration-based platformer that came out back in 1992. If you don't, well, that's sort of unfortunate. The good news is that now, twenty years later, you have a chance at redemption. You see, Deadlight features a very similar gameplay style, though it's been spit-shined and given a knockout visual aesthetic.

Oh yeah, and there are zombies too.

Deadlight Screenshot

But let's not get too hung up on that zombies thing. Deadlight has enough going for it that even if you're tired of shooting zombies in the head, the game manages to feel innovative. And also, it doesn't refer to its undead as zombies, instead calling them "shadows" (though, to be fair, these are exactly the sorts of shambling, moaning zombies that we're quite familiar with by now; a different name doesn't really change that.) That it takes so many cues from Flashback doesn't hinder the experience either; it only solidifies it.

Now, most retro throwback platformers these days focus on insanely punishing difficulties that are offset by super tight controls. But Deadlight isn't this type of game, and the controls are somewhat slower and more deliberate as a result. Which isn't a bad thing here, though there are a few quirks that made it somewhat awkward (using RB as a run button, then having to hit LT for a tuck-and-roll, for example). I'd be foolish to make the claim that the controls are anywhere near as responsive as something like, say, Super Meat Boy, but that's fine; they don't really need to be.

Deadlight isn't about meticulous platforming or split-second reflexes; it's about atmosphere. And this is where the game shines.

It tells the story of Randall Wayne, a man searching for his family (and some sort of mental/emotional reprieve) in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. He's heading for Seattle, which has been overrun by something even worse than the zombies, but I'll let you figure that one out for yourself.

The story is fairly simple, with a few twists and turns you might not see coming, but it's delivered with such style and panache that you probably won't be complaining too much. You see, Deadlight has this simplistic silhouette look for whatever's in the foreground (and this includes the game's protagonist), but the backgrounds are painfully detailed and done with a slightly exaggerated realism. The contrast between the silhouetted characters against the almost realistic backdrop is jarring, but in the best of ways. And the way the cross sections of buildings and houses light up as you explore them is pretty incredible. Deadlight is a visual treat that's simply fun to look at.

Deadlight Screenshot

To add to the vibe is a minimalistic soundtrack that only comes in when it needs to, but when it does, it tends to emphasize whatever is happening on the screen. Of course, this makes the little sound effects stand out a lot more, which is actually fine here, since they sound great. I'm a little less enthused about the voice acting, but at least the main character sounds pretty good. (Though he refers to himself in the third-person often enough that it starts to get a little creepy.)

I'm almost tempted to call the gameplay minimalistic too. As I mentioned earlier, there's not a lot of split-second, fast-thinking, precise button pressing here (there are a few segments that require such things, and they are easily the weakest parts of the game). There are simplistic puzzles, but they don't typically get much more complex than "push box, climb on box, shoot padlock, climb through window." I'd probably be more comfortable referring to them as "trial-and-error segments" than "puzzles" actually.

Deadlight Screenshot

There's combat as well, but it's definitely not the focus of the game. You'll get an axe early on, which is used as a tool as often as it's used for slaughtering zombies. You'll also get a pistol at some point, and you'll finally pick up a shotgun toward the end of the game. Like a true survival horror game, though, you'll spend more time running from the undead than engaging them in combat. You'll sometimes even be able to lure them into traps by yelling at them, or distract them by setting off a car alarm.

The game uses its checkpoints very liberally, so you won't feel like you're constantly having to redo lengthy sections of the game as a penalty for death (with the exception of the game's final act). This alleviates a lot of the potential frustration and keeps it from feeling like the length or difficulty has been artificially padded.

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