Deadlight Review: Platforming, Zombies a Good Mix
Here’s something of an untapped emotion for the side-scrolling platforming genre: impending doom. Lots of platformers provide action, and some even get tension down, but it’s rare that skin-of-your-teeth survival is a major focus of a game set on a flat plane and built on precision jumping mechanics.
So it’s rather brilliant that Deadlight is constantly throwing situations at players in which their impending doom is a focus of the action. It does this with another brilliant idea — it mixes platforming with a serious zombie apocalypse (hey, it had to happen eventually, right?). You can fight your undead enemies, but much more often you’ll have to find a way to flee them using your environment, which leads to some harrowing situations and fun moments.
Deadlight has its flaws, among them the fact that some of these moments don’t work out exactly the way one might think they were supposed to, and its platforming puzzles aren’t the most inspired we’ve seen in the genre lately. Still, it’s a solid game that combines two known formulas to create something fresh for both of them. The issue, perhaps, is how long it lasts.
Platforms: Xbox 360, PC (reviewed)
Developer: Tequila Works
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: Oct. 30, 2012
Despite its 2.5-D style, Deadlight is a pretty straightforward platformer. Players take on the role of Randall, a guy separated from his band of survivors and also, apparently, searching for his family. When circumstances cut him off from his pals, he goes on a tear through Seattle attempting to find them, passing through houses, a military base, warehouses, sewers and other locations along the way. All these places are infested with zombies, and Deadlight has fun with players by allowing the undead to stumble from the background into the foreground in many locations, suddenly changing the dynamic of an explored room and creating new dangers.
When that happens, you’ve got a few options. You can flee, running along the 2-D path or maybe leaping to catch a platform or ladder of some kind, and this is primarily how you’ll deal with problems. Eventually, you’ll come by melee weapons and a pistol, which allow you a little more leeway in fighting zombies. But for the most part, the undead aren’t easily dispatched, and they’ll become a problem quickly. Randall dies in a hurry, actually, which means that minor screw-ups that lead to getting caught by a small mob of zombies often result in death and reloading checkpoints.
Watching your environment for possibilities and escape routes is key, however. Deadlight has your obligatory sliding box puzzles, Randall can do something of a wall jump, and your capabilities as far as grabbing ledges in dire situations are pretty solid. Most of the time, the puzzles are obvious or at least divined fairly quickly, and you’ll have the tools at your disposal to execute on them. Deadlight does a good job of making you feel a little skilled, but nothing it throws at you is so taxing that you’ll need to hone your capabilities.
The exception to that are a few sequences in which Randall is forced to run through a stage at full speed and to move as quickly as possible. There’s a militant group of survivors floating around Seattle known as the New Law, and they’re occasionally getting in your way and pursuing your death for some reason; where this gets irritating is in one level in which a New Law helicopter pursues you, firing machine gun blasts at you that take you down if you lag too far behind.