Deadlight may seem like just another zombie game, complete with the usual slow dim-witted suspects and their insatiable thirst for human flesh. However, at no time during this game are these creatures of the un-dead ever referred to as ‘zombies’.
The creators at Tequila Works, knowing that there is an extensive library of zombie titles already available, figured if we – as gamers - heard the term "zombie" again, we might wince, move on, and continue to play The Walking Dead.
So instead they went with something different, something more ominous; they called the bad guys ‘Shadows’. While this may sound a little unimaginative at first, you need to put it in context with the world they have created; it's actually quite genius...
A side-scrolling platformer, the simplistic platforming core is coupled with a unique atmosphere, thanks largely to the way in which the un-dead walkers silhouette against the brighter contrasts of a large scale city in the background. This gives them a dark and unnerving shadow-like appearance as they tumble their way toward you in their attempts to tear you apart.
You play as Randall Wayne, a survivor of an outbreak which has seen the dead rise into a frenzy. Randall is separated from his co-survivors during a close encounter, leaving him to his own devices to find his lost wife and daughter.
The game takes place in a desolate and decimated city of Seattle, as seen from a 2.5D side scrolling perspective. You traverse numerous environments from residential neighbourhoods, to sewers, high rise buildings, and large stadiums.
Each location is a visual feast, and the backdrop often shows scale - something not routinely seen in the genre. Not only is the backdrop enjoyable to look at, but the foreground is littered with lots of minute detail which can conceal items such as health packs, ammo, and collectables.
And then there’s the violence. Mr Wayne is no stranger to violence, it seems, and on his journey he finds several weapons to brutally bash his way through the Shadows with, as they stalk him on his grim mission to find his family. Weapons include things like fire axes, revolvers, a shotgun, and even a rubber-band slingshot – well, this is more for the puzzles than slaughtering un-dead.
There is a great balance in Deadlight's combat as ammo is very rare – more so in nightmare mode - and you must choose whether to take the un-dead head-on, or use the environment as your ally. You can, for example, trick shadows into environmental hazards – which you then trigger yourself - or simply find the high ground to get past.
Flailing your fire axe will rapidly deplete your stamina and tire your old muscles, so you can’t just wail away at the Shadows until their limbs pile in the corridors. If they manage to get close enough to grab you, quickly tapping the button will release their grip - but this generally results in even more Shadows ganging up on you, and ultimately, you will die.
Deadlight isn't too hard on the Medium difficulty setting; as I mentioned at the beginning, it's roughly 6 hours of gameplay to get to the finish. The puzzles are quickly deduced, but it’s not really about figuring the puzzles; instead, it's more about being able to make quick decisions on the fly.
For example, you will find yourself sprinting toward a window to leap through the glass, only to then find yourself sliding down a muddy bank toward an electric fence; you have to quickly jump again before proceeding too far down the bank to make it over, resulting in crispy-fried Wayne.
There are some puzzles which involve a bit of thought, and can be taken at a slower pace, but the majority are about quick thinking. Ultimately, there was not one puzzle I got frustrated with; sure, I died a couple of times, but I appreciated their design, and the well placed auto-save checkpoints are there as a backstop.
One thing that did get on my nerves is that the default keyboard controls are a bit on the clunky side. It's a much better experience when played with an Xbox controller, something the developers are also keen to hammer home: it's plastered all over the help tips and is the first thing you see in the control screen.
I played through the game using the Keyboard and Mouse, and still enjoyed it, but sometimes the dive roll is crucial and the default scheme is just not suitable – thankfully this is all configurable in the options.
The story can be a bit flaky here and there. Randall’s ultimate goal is stated way too often during cut scenes, as is the fact that he has no time to help anyone along his way - but he always ends up doing so anyway. It can get a bit cringe-worthy, but the great ending makes it worthwhile playing through.
There are collectables to find, and each is clearly not just a last minute thought. They all add to a piece of larger puzzle in the world of Deadlight, from 1980s handhelds, to population IDs and diaries of those lost in a world with nowhere to go.
There are roughly 30 achievements are to track down, two thirds of which you'll likely unlock in a single play through. The main reason I wanted to start another game as soon as I finished, however, is the alternate ending you get from finding all the hidden items, and by completing Nightmare difficulty...
I found Deadlight very entertaining, and consider it one of the best platformers I have ever played. I highly recommend it to pretty much anyone who likes the sound of a fast-paced horror action platformer that also has a decent story and amazing visuals.