Over the last few years I’ve played more than a few games featuring zombies, but Deadlight’s arresting vistas, intriguing aesthetic and glossy animations should be more than enough to persuade most to have another dalliance with the walking dead.
To put it bluntly, Deadlight is a joy in motion. Tequila Works nails the heft and flair of iconic platforming heroes the Prince (of Persia), Lester Chaykin and Conrad Hart, and this side-scrolling, widescreen world is crammed with rich scenery and canny detail intertwined with oppressive, monochrome lighting. Alluring in its ghastliness, this world directly funnels Cormac McCarthy’s bleak post-apocalyptic vision.
Tequila Works really plays to its cinematic aspirations, and – you really must excuse me for droning on and on here – its view of a destroyed north-western US in the 1980s (complete with the 1986 Maple Syrup festival and all) is an excellent work of fiction. These are familiar scenes, made to feel new again by what is clearly a supremely talented team of artists and designers creating a visual style that dazzles.
This tumbledown Seattle is the perfect home for these visual tales, from the startled groups of fleeing birds to other pockets of survivors attempting their ill-fated escapes in the faraway background. It’s a world which sells itself across a brief three-hour adventure, which makes it a completely devastating shame that Tequila Works forces in contrived storytelling and an abysmal script that grates from the very first animated cutscene to the closing credits.
While I have some sympathy for the Spanish studio, the feeble and inelegant English script is a real detriment to the experience. This weary, unwanted shambles of a wannabe-theatrical plot is dragged into the forefront of the game on numerous occasions due to an over-abundance of limp voiceover work and corny lines of dialogue, with the game’s events bogged down in so many compounded layers of cliché that I couldn’t help but question if Tequila Works was attempting some kind of deceptively clever parody of the genre. It wasn’t.
Honestly, the script is utterly awful. “That’s the helicopter chasing my friends!” barks park ranger-turned-apocalypse survivor Randall Wayne a couple of hours into Deadlight. “Let’s go, quick, my friends are in danger!” he adds, randomly addressing the audience for the first time in the game. In his quest to save his chums, Wayne’s over-reliance of the word ‘friend’ makes it feels like a po-faced episode of The Inbetweeners.
The fractured narrative is padded out with an extensive suite of collectible diary pages, each adding a few more nuggets of information – such insight allows players to fully, properly understand that Wayne misses his wife and child and doesn’t like living in a post-apocalyptic world. Glad we got that cleared up, then. Particularly eagle-eyed object spotters (or those with access to a FAQ) can also find three hidden handheld consoles, opening up a trio of quirky retro-themed challenges.
Occasionally all this extraneous white noise dies down a bit and you return to Deadlight at its best: a silent journey through abandoned environments, weaving around pockets of zombies and jumping around perilous environments. These fleeting moments are nothing short of exhilarating, mixing together luscious vistas unfolding like comic book panels, with Wayne’s speed and natural flair.
Yet Deadlight too often sags and plods, especially throughout a trap-laden middle section that completely fails to hit the emotional notes Tequila Works would have wanted. Combat is best avoided, but occasionally forced – it never suits the game, creating some of the most frustrating cycles of restarting in recent memory. While Deadlight is a game about a zombie outbreak – dubbed ‘shadows’ within the game – actually having to stop and encounter the undead, with your pea-shooter pistol or shotgun, is rarely entertaining.
Between the missteps and misspeaking lies some gentle puzzling, with Tequila Works never quite having enough courage to deploy any real head scratchers. Too much of the game is signposted by Wayne’s narration, the game too afraid of its own shadow to take the training wheels off and allow players to figure things about by themselves.
Deadlight is clearly inspired by cinema, and it’s this affectation which creates both the game’s strongest and weakest elements. The visual design is absolutely sublime, but these cinematic influences create a wonky gameplay experience much too afraid to do anything but guide the player through tedious chunks of unwanted script. Deadlight does not create a compelling narration no matter how hard it tries, and it’s galling to see Tequila Works choose to sacrifice an entertaining game in the process.
Version Tested: Xbox 360