Today I met up with some survivors heading to the Seattle holdout. One of the group caught my attention, saw him writing in his own diary. Randy. He was looking for his kid and wife he said, figured they would have made it to the Seattle safe zone. I tried to tell him that it's impossible, the shadows have probably got them by now, but he was having none of it. Got to admire the man's strength of will...but is that really enough any more?
I don't know what to believe in at all. Death is the air we breath, life is the fight we bring and family? Family is the past. Shadows, they are the future. The guy's say we'll be moving out soon, I don't know If I am going to join them but where else can I go but to this new safe zone? We're all as good as dead anyway. No, not dead. Worse than dead. We're already standing in the shade of humanity's greatness...
Deadlight is a zombie survival game, but it is presented in a interesting manner that's just different enough to grip a player with the narration. The game is by Tequila Works, a company formed in 2009, and as the first game the team has worked on it has gone down fairly well in the gaming community on both the PC and the Xbox 360.
The game is in 2d, featuring dark, gritty scenery and the typical no-hope scenario that end of the world zombie games tend to value highly. It has elements of stealth, puzzles, platforming and running which make the game stand out from your typical zombie survival experience. Deadlight follows the life of Randall, a man desperate to find his lost wife and child in a world which has gone to hell. Throughout the game the player will find references to them, be it through the man's personal monologue or in his diary.
It is presented in a very surreal, artistic style, with the player able to find pages of the man's diary to read throughout the game, while the story is told through comic book style cut-scenes mixed with in-game footage. The game also features a beautifully crafted soundtrack which is at times both haunting and depressing, ideal for a game of this genre.
What's in a diary?
The bread and butter of any zombie epic, this part is essential especially for small teams. With the success of The Walking Dead by Telltale Games it has been proven that storyline can indeed make the game experience something truly memorable. Does Deadlight deliver?
The storyline follows Randall through his desperate journey to save his wife and child. Without spoiling the juicy details, I can say that the story itself is told through a mixture of methods: There is in-game dialogue in the form of conversations between characters, there is Randall's monologue as he progresses through a level, then there is also comic-style cinematic which further progress the story along the way.
In addition to this, for those who are seriously interested, the game has many hidden bits of lore spread throughout which can be anything ranging from pages of Randall's diary that are missing, ID cards, notes left by the dead, or simply a photograph of a happy family before the outbreak. It is this attention to detail within the story that makes Deadlight shine within its genre.
The game features an incredible amount of platforming. Wall jumping, fast running, dodging and rolling all play equally important parts depending on the situation at hand. Platforms can break beneath your feet as you run, increasing the tension as you flee the zombie hordes. There are also parts where stealth is the best idea, crouching and walking slowly to avoid being heard by the enemy as you try to move to the next area.
It was definitely designed for the console however, as at times keyboard movement can be come clunky and unyielding but this frustration is frankly short lived and the game seems to play out reasonably well with very few bugs through my play-through, though frequently I had to restart from a checkpoint due to failing a puzzle or getting mauled by Shadows.
Puzzles often play into the story, multiple times I was stuck on un-openable doorways, jumps that were too high to make and platforms that were inaccessible. It turned out you have to use the environment a lot too, moving shelving, boxes and crates to jump higher or climb or leap further. Similarly there are paths that are blocked by locked doors, barricaded walls, flames, floods and electrified floors which can be navigated through various means.
This brings me to the combat itself. The enemy is primarily the zombies, or Shadows as the narrative calls them. You can engage them in melee attacks to push them back or knock them down, but the best idea is to simply avoid them, as moving or using weaponry costs stamina, which takes time to regenerate. Weaponry is sparse and situational, and while firearms are used in the game, they tend to be more to open up pathways or for last-stand manoeuvres.
The environment can be used to kill the Shadows, by leading them on to electrified floors, smashing or crushing them. A combination of all these techniques plays into the platforming element of the game fairly well, situations can require you to shoot, run, dodge and slash your way to safety as the action pace increases and you have mere seconds to locate the next opening.
The game has a very dark, gritty feel to it which is supported by the background. The background is animated and you can see Shadows moving about, at times vehicles or aircraft and most commonly the desecrated wasteland of what was once humanity. Broken vehicles, burning wreckage, destroyed buildings and furious weather patterns will all help to pull you into the experience.
The scenery is not all for looks however, as the Shadows are fully capable of coming out of the backdrop onto the main area of the game and creating more enemies, meaning you have to be very aware of your surroundings at all times This gave me a feeling of fear and tension as I progressed through the levels, and I was frequently surprised when Shadows would dance out of the desolate background to chase me across the screen.
Colours and light are blended together to highlight the scenery as you progress. Often illuminated areas are your only clue as to where you should be moving when the Shadows come out to play. The landscape is dreary and dull in a typical almost modern fps-style blend of greys and browns, which contrast against the vibrant red of blood amongst scenery which is alive with motion from fires, weather and of course, Shadows. One of the most prominent effects in the game is the red glowing eyes on the Shadows as they emerge, startling you and introducing an element of fear in the darkness when you realise you are not alone.
The soundtrack for Deadlight is nothing short of extraordinary, and it can be purchased separately from the game for those of you who want to hear more. The music is haunting, sad and lonely, evoking these emotions in me as I move through the game. It fit the scenario perfectly, setting the scene and level for the rest of the game. The music itself varies as you fight, jump and run ranging from faster paced to slow melodies that supplement Randall's monologuing.
Deadlight is a wonderful and intriguing game. I keep returning to it after taking breaks to take on the next platform or horde of Shadows, and I genuinely want Randall to find his family and have a happy ending. Is it this desperate desire for a happy ending that causes me to pursue the game to its finish? Perhaps. A combination of the soundtrack and atmosphere in the game lead me to take on new challenges, and as I read more of Randall's diary questions are answered and raised again and again, leading me further into the world that Tequila Works has created.
If you enjoy platformers, or at the very least can play through them, then I would give Deadlight a shot. It's unique in its combination of art styles, music and atmosphere to create a gripping storyline that will keep you wanting to play just a little bit more. While the game doesn't have the depth of choice that you may find in The Walking Dead, it certainly has enough hidden lore, art and achievements to keep you going for some time. I'd like to see Randall's happy ending, and it is that which pushes me further into the twisted world of Deadlight, ironically, to find the light at the end.