If ever there was a decade that was crying out for a zombie apocalypse, end of days scenario, it was the 80’s.
I lived through this dayglo, shoulder pad infested era and remember it with a shudder.
The charts were infested with a brand of big toothed, cheesy pop music that seemed to have been brewed by Satan himself, everybody loved good ‘Neighbours’, yuppies crawled from their penthouse flats, ‘loadsamoney’ was spawned and, even outside of Liverpool, men had permed hair.
Believe me, if a horde of flesh hungry zombies had come a scratching on my window panes I’d have flicked the catch and offered myself up, intestines and all.
And that brings us nicely to Tequila Works entrant into the Summer of Arcade promotion, Deadlight, a game that does unleash said flesh hungry zombies, or shadows as they’re known here, onto the 80’s world in a glorious, if slightly unimaginative, way……now, put all thoughts of big hair and legwarmers aside and read on.
Deadlight is a 2D action-platformer with a smattering of puzzles and a brooding atmosphere. It’s a game that appears to wear it’s influences proudly upon it’s sleeve in both gameplay and story.
The gameplay will bring images of Prince of Persia and more recently, Limbo, flooding in, while the story binding the experience together is the same zombie tale employed by so many other sources. Our hero, Randall, is searching for his wife and daughter amid the chaos and horror of the death-ridden world. The opening cut scene, played out in a comic book fashion, shows Randall become seperated from his little band of survivors as the ‘shadows’ claw and beat at the battered wooden door seperating them from their feast. He escapes their decaying, drooling jaws and the nightmare begins. Randall heads out in search of his family, friends and, the ever-present zombie staple of military run ‘the safe zone.’
28 Days Later and The Walking Dead tell the same tale but it doesn’t matter as, in my book, there’s always room at the table for another classic zombie apocalypse yarn to pull up a chair.
When putting together a game of this sort getting the right balance of a dark atmosphere and almost unbearable tension is paramount to it working. Deadlight has the mix spot on. The atmosphere throughout the game is so real you can almost taste it, the dark rain lashed landscape broken by burning buildings and occasional neon flickers is a thing of beauty. As Randall moves across the screen there are times when it’s impossible not to gape at the stunningly detailed and wonderfully bleak backdrops. Later as you leap from ramshackle house to ramshackle house, homes deserted, or worse, by fearful families the feeling of despair created is undeniable. It’s a masterclass in how to set perfect tone for the game ahead.
Unfortunately the script falls way short of delivering the same. The acting talent do their overblown best but with lines like, ‘the stories of the battle are written by those who survive the war’ it comes across like it’s trying to be deep and meaningful but ends up cheesy and ridiculous.
The characters themselves are very much ‘paint by numbers’ zombie b-movie fodder, our hero, Randall, is likeable and I felt for his plight and wanted him to succeed, but he’s also pretty much the same one-dimensional apocalypse hero we’ve met times before.
But fear not, Deadlight isn’t going to be a game that lives or dies on the strength of it’s story and characters, Deadlight is all about the atmosphere and the action. And the action is top notch!
Gameplay is a mix of Limbo style puzzles and Prince of Persia leaping and climbing with occasional brawling thrown in.
The basic way the game plays out is Randall enters the screen stage left and attempts to leave stage right. Each screen scrolls along and throws up all manner of obstacles and enemies to overcome, avoid or obliterate with a fire axe. The action is nothing you won’t have seen before but, when it’s delivered as stylishly and precisely as this you won’t be complaining. All the leaps and bounds are spot on and easy to pull off, I’ve heard complaints of the control system being sluggish, I saw none of this myself, instead I found it all to be a very fluid and natural experience. The combat sections are equally simple and whether hacking into your zombie foe with an axe or popping a bullet into their cranium it’s a straightforward and enjoyable action with little to gripe about.
Puzzles perhaps are a little too simple, you certainly won’t be visiting any walk-throughs on this journey, but at least it prevents the story from stalling. The middle section of the game, which see’s Randall enter the underground labyrinth of ‘The Rat’, a place full of fiendish traps is probably the weakest area of the game as you spend time in very drab sewer environment navigating fairly basic puzzles, but even that never became a chore.
Some sections simply invlove running for all your worth across the screen, avoiding the swipes from the undead, leaping over car bonnets and such-like until safety is reached. The tension these sections build is stunning and don’t be at all surprised to end Randall’s dash with your own heart pumping drum-like in your chest.
Along the way there are a number of collectable items ranging from ID cards to old photos to Randall’s own diary pages, if you let them these items can add layers of depth to the storyline and paint an ever bleaker picture of the state of the Deadlight world, it’s a nice way to challenge the player to let his imagination flow and really get caught up in the game.
The graphics as I mentioned are superb. Everything is rich in detail, the weather effects look outstanding, the lighting is fantastic, the comic book cut-scenes are superbly drawn and the world that has been created is exactly what you’d expect of a zombie infested hell on earth, clearly Tequila Works harbour some serious artistic talent.
The soundtrack is equally fitting. The music only really becomes apparent when necessary and does so to great effect. Environmental sounds are great and the ‘shadows’ moans are as scary as I’d hoped they would be.
Overall then, in a summer when Britain hosts the Olympics it’s good to see that it’s not just the athletes hitting gold. This Summer of Arcade release is truly outstanding. Of course it’s not without faults, the voice acting is a bit all over the place and the script is weak, also the middle sewer section is an obvious dip in the pace and quality of the story, but, the undead magic that thrives through the rest of this game over-rides all that. Deadlight is a joy to play, it has the sort of atmosphere other similar games would kill for, the tension is immediate throughout and the gameplay is fast, fluid and precise.
Deadlight seems to have divided opinion, many appear to have found problems with the controls or written it off as a zombie movie wannabe, but for me it’s been nothing but a dark, gritty pleasure playing through this bleak chapter in Randall’s life. I’d urge you to grab your axe, strap on the heart monitor and spend part of your summer in the undead 80’s. Wish you were here.