Available to download on Xbox Live Arcade
Deadlight comes almost depressingly close to greatness. It’s a zombie game, a retro-looking 2D platformer and a self-conscious homage to half-forgotten classics such as Flashback and Another World, yet it’s also more than these thanks to a brilliant aesthetic, a gripping story and some genuinely smart gameplay ideas. Unfortunately, while you can hardly say it squanders its potential, it doesn’t quite achieve it. As we said, almost depressingly close, but not quite close enough.
It’s the style that hits you first. Deadlight is a 2D platformer, but its cinematic presentation makes it closer to Prince of Persia, Flashback and Another World than Super Mario Bros, and it’s incredibly well executed. The world is a Walking Dead graphic novel-grade affair full of rusty browns and fading greys.
Figures are rendered almost in silhouette, while cut-scenes are rendered as punchy semi-animated comic-book panels. Your hero, Randall Wayne, looks like he’s been rotoscoped, just like they did in the good old days. You can’t say that his running and jumping acrobatics are exactly realistic, but they’re believable, and he comes across as a tired, hungry, desperate human being rather than a super hero. With his gritty, pessimistic tones and haggard look, you can’t help but will him to survive.
Don't Stop to Shoot
Of course, as Deadlight takes place in a post-apocalyptic world overrun with zombies and being wrecked further by an over-zealous military force, this might be a tall order. Deadlight’s best party trick is making you race from left to right, not simply to hit the exit, but because if you don’t you’ll be swarmed and munched by a mob of shambling corpses. At its most exciting, the game is tense, nerve-wracking and unforgiving, forcing you to run, jump and think your way past every obstacle, and do it fast.
And while Deadlight doesn’t go big on the physics-based puzzles of some other 2D platformers, there’s still more to it than just running and jumping. Using levers, raising cars and the sound of your voice you can trick zombie pursuers into makeshift traps, or lure them into a space where you can easily evade them.
Furniture can sometimes be moved to block or open doorways, while those good old crates lurking around often need to be shifted to allow you to clamber over fences or reach higher ground. Combat is possible but inadvisable. Using your main melee weapon – an axe – leaves you vulnerable to mass attacks, while handgun and shotgun ammo is terrifyingly scarce. It’s often better just to run. Deadlight can be a smart and atmospheric little game.