If you loved Limbo and are looking for another excuse to throw yourself around a dangerous, decrepit environment, then look no further than Deadlight. Despite touting itself as a zombie game, Deadlight‘s strongest feature is in its daring platforming. Leaping from precarious positions over fields of undead, catching the last rung of a ladder while plummeting into a spiked pit, and throwing yourself through doors to escape pursuit are some of the ways this game builds its excitement around movement. It’s just a shame that all of the trappings of previous zombie games are there to muddle it up.
I can’t stress how much I loved the platforming in this game. The developers decided to make you extremely vulnerable to just about everything, so a lot of it is about using the various overhangs, rooftops, and anything else you can grip to your advantage. The game often forces you to do all of this quickly, as the undead move pretty fast and often spawn indefinitely, so the best thing you can do is keep up a good head of steam and start hopping your way out of the area.
Your character is pretty spry for someone who looks as haggard as he does, too. Well, at times, he is. This game will allow your character to leap huge distances if that is where you’re supposed to go. You still have to run first for a lot of them, but as long as that’s where the game wants you to go next, you’ll typically be able to make the jump. It’s a useful phenomena, but something that makes the game a little confusing at the start.
Early on, the game helps you with this by putting a small, pale white arrow over wherever you’re supposed to go, or making the object light up. This makes it pretty easy to tell what the game wants you to go, and I found it to be a big help. As you progress these hints show up less and less as the game expects you to learn its mechanics, but there were still a few instances when it showed up for a particularly odd circumstance. At one point, I was being dogged by an unending flow of zombies near the game’s end, and I had hit a wall. I died a few times before I noticed something glowing around the top of the screen, and was kicking myself for not having looked for it. The developers took a long, hard look at the game before they shipped it out to make sure people like me didn’t get stuck, and I appreciated it.
So, with the game hinting at what you can do, you’re encouraged to make these huge leaps of faith a lot of the time. It was pretty exhilarating, to be honest, as you always wonder whether you’re going to make it. The game has taught you that Wayne can be pushed beyond his regular parameters when you need it, but it can still be nerve wracking to be met with this huge jump. It made what could have been boring into a nail-biting experience. Jumping has never been this satisfying.
It created its own unique problems, though. Sometimes, the game can be pretty fussy about where it wants you to jump to. In horizontal jumps, this isn’t often an issue, but when you need to jump straight up, the game can be a real pain. In those instances, you need to be just at the right spot, or Wayne won’t get the added height his jump needs to grab the overhang. This lead to me hopping in place while zombies breathed down my neck, and it got on my nerves each time it came up. There is also one instance in the sewers where I just couldn’t seem to get this one jump, and this was right after the arrows became scarce, so I wasn’t sure I was going the right way. I just had to leap at the last instant to make it, but it was harder than any other jump in the game. Otherwise, these are small nuisances in an otherwise fantastic platformer.
With the zombies came some annoying ideas about combating them, though. I know it’s hard to imagine a zombie game where you can’t pick up a weapon and kill something, but I just wish the developers had believed in their platforming enough to let it carry the game. Instead, they added some wonky combat for whatever reason, and all it does is bog things down. There are points here and there where having a weapon makes your life a little easier, allowing you to attempt to kill some of the creatures in your way. With anything short of firearms, you’re usually better off just trying to jump over them and get away. I felt that being able to go over a zombie would have been more in keeping with the game’s spirit of movement, as it was something I tried to do constantly, succeeding a little over half the time. The dive tackle does work, but it usually ends up with me on the ground for an even longer time, letting enemies pile up and kill me.
The melee is crap, but the guns work all right. Aiming them takes a little getting used to. You just use one of the sticks to aim the gun and a button to fire, but it works in a pinch. You can pull off headshots with ease, but during the times when you have the gun, the game typically just keeps respawning new zombies. They want you to speed through the area without fighting anything, so I really wonder why they bothered with the combat options. It would have been nicer to see more acrobatic escapes available, and I really think it would have made the game that much better.
I doubt I could make it look much better, though. The game uses a lot of deep shadow on its characters, and it creates this really grim effect that I liked a lot. The whole game feels like its soaking with darkness and despair, even in broad daylight. There are thousands of little touches on each screen, from zombies trapped in the background to the piles of debris. Even though you’re stuck going from left to right, the game really feels like it’s open in every direction thanks to the set dressings. I found myself hitting up every once in a while because I was convinced that I could go somewhere in the background that was filled out with stuff. It really does make the game feel three-dimensional when it’s only 2D.
This does create some problems with the game’s storytelling immersion, but it isn’t the only thing wrong with that. For starters, there are a few times when you have to follow a character through a set of traps. He tends to stick to paths you can’t follow, but at one point you should be able to just follow him onto his safe path and bypass a very dangerous zone. Instead, the game forces you along that path for no reason. I found it to be pretty jarring, but was really just a slip up.
As for the story itself, it feels pretty overwrought in places. This is a bit harder to describe, but if you read through Wayne’s journal, it all sounds like it was written by an excitable fantasy author rather than a grizzled forest warden. Some of his dialogue is the same, either from being poorly translated or just by bad writing. I just can’t imagine some of these sentences being said by a real person, especially one whose character is supposed to be tough but quiet. I know they needed some narration to move the story, but I think they could have done a better job with some more realistic dialogue and writing from Wayne.
When you’re flying across rooftops while narrowly avoiding decaying hands, you won’t even think about that stuff. When this game is focused on the platforming it does so well, all of its other problems melt away. Don’t get me wrong, you will die a lot in Deadlight. You’ll probably die more times than you have in the last three games you played combined, but you’ll quickly learn what you need to do to move on. Those deaths all add to the excitement, giving you a real sense of fear as you dash up to that next giant gulf, throwing yourself over it without hesitating. Once you grasp the other side and pull yourself up, looking back at the mayhem you just left behind with a few deft button presses, you won’t want to shut it off until the game is finished.