Alright so after Tony Hawk a couple of weeks back and Wreckateer just last week (which we didn’t review because y’know Kinect), The Summer of Arcade marches on with Deadlight. This is the first game from Tequila Works, an indie studio based in Madrid, and it looks to do zombies in a way that’s as reverential as it is different. Obviously Microsoft thought highly of their efforts as they included it in The Summer of Arcade and with its setting being a 1986 version of my corner of the world I’ve been pretty curious as well. So does this piece of necrotized code infect the world with high quality excitement or does it drop limp and languid to the bottom of the XBLA barrel? Read on and find out!
Gameplay wise I’ve heard some people comparing this game to the realistic platformer classic “Out of This World” and that is apt but I would also add that it has just a splash of Metroid. The movement, especially the actual jumping, has a very animation driven and deliberate feel. This requires you to very carefully plan out how you’re approaching the situation and really think through all of your movements. This makes it kind of the antithesis of something like Super Meat Boy where you’re turning on a dime and have a lot of ability to correct yourself while moving and think on the fly. This more thoughtful approach will annoy a lot of gamers but those patient enough to get used to it will find a really strong sense of accomplishment in learning how the character moves and mastering the game’s overall flow. There’s also combat here but it’s most certainly not a focus. This game goes for the realistic approach and it takes very few hits to take you down. Your goal in almost every situation is to escape and combat is more a way of opening up doors or delaying the hordes than a viable way of moving forward.
I did mention a hint of Metroid and that’s in the plethora of pickups both functional to gameplay and not. Countless prompts lie on your path from start to finish and the game tells a lot of its story by way of these pickups so it’s worth checking them all out. You’ll scrounge up bullets and health of course but you’ll also find lost pages of your diary, mementos of a destroyed city, and even playable Tiger Electronics style handheld games. The main character will quip about these things when he finds them but in the main menu you can also go take a closer look and actually read and inspect all these sad remnants of a community lost in utter chaos. This does make for some degree of replayability and for people who love digging into lore like me it really gives a clear sense of the universe.
Speaking of the universe in this game, why don’t we get into the writing and story. The basic premise is that you’re a park ranger from Hope BC (a lovely little town close to one of my favorite campgrounds) who’s travelling down the coast of the Pacific Northwest with some other survivors looking for his wife and daughter in the wake of a zombie apocalypse, I have to say that a proud Canadian protagonist is something I quite enjoy. The game begins in Seattle after the group has made their way across the border and the story only picks up from there. It’s very much taking inspiration from grittier apocalypse fare like The Road but it also has its nods to zombie cinema classics like Night of the Living Dead. The interesting twist I can talk about without ruining the game is that from the start of his life, even before the zombies, the protagonist Randall Wayne was kind of fucked up. He’s anti-social, harbors a lot of rage, and relies heavily on his family to be a steady anchor in his life. He’s moralistic to a degree but unlike so many other main characters you never feel like you know exactly how he’s thinking until the end of the game. On that note I found the end of the game a little disappointing, the story part is interesting but clichéd and the gameplay becomes very frustrating for reasons I can’t go into without ruining the story. I do feel the story and writing overall is really good and they had me by the short hairs the whole game but shitty endings are kind of par for the course with zombie stories and this one was no different.
Moving onto the presentation, things are very dark but well realized nonetheless. Their vision of Seattle feels bang on, the way the architecture looks and just the feel of the environment almost perfectly mimics that vibe the actual Emerald City emanates. There is a lot of silhouetting here and in-game you’ll never get a good look at Randall or any of the zombies (appropriately called shades); it’s a tad heavy now and then but for the morose subject matter we’re dealing with it helps drive the point home. Nothing really stands out musically or with the sound effects, it’s all very quiet and tense and sets a decent scene but it’s not the high point here. Another thing that is certainly not the high point is the voice acting which is pretty bad all over. None of the voices sound quite right for the characters and there’s a few really stilted line reads that’ll take you right of the experience for a half second. This is especially noticeable during the cut scenes, which are pretty well done in a motion comics style, there it feels like the actors are just sitting around reading the comic.
As a proud Canadian and a citizen of the Pacific Northwest I dug a lot of things about this game. The story is top-notch despite a drop off in the ending, the gameplay for as technical as it can be feels incredibly rewarding, and the presentation hits every note I wanted. It is hindered somewhat by that overly technical gameplay, bad voice acting, and sub par ending: also it is on the short side at what felt like only four hours (though the leaderboard says I beat it in two, I’m not sure if deaths count towards that). So for an experience I would dig my way out of a grave to play, Deadlight gets a 4 out of 5 stars. I may be being a little generous here as this is does hit soft spot being set in places that I frequent but I genuinely had a lot of fun with this game and anyone who considers themselves a zombie or realistic platformer fan should go check it out.