One of the things horror fans always like to discuss is how they would survive the zombie apocalypse. Where they would hole up, how they would stock up on food and weapons, basically the ultimate contingency plan to deal with the new, dead world.
Deadlight, from Spanish developer Tequila Works, shows me a zombie apocalypse that I personally would not survive. It foregoes the usual tropes of guns and a certain level of invulnerability and replaces it with a character that’s even frailer than even the original Resident Evil cast. We first meet the gruff-and-grizzled Randall Wayne as he’s executing an infected member of his survival party, much to the chagrin of said victim’s sister. Randall, we learn, has travelled to Seattle to try and find a fabled “Safe Zone,” where he hopes to find his missing wife and daughter. Of course, in order to get there, he has to wade through mobs of zombies—called Shadows in Deadlight’s lore—using only his wits, a meager arsenal of ineffective weapons, and an almost inhuman acrobatic ability.
Deadlight, smartly, is a sidescrolling platformer that places emphasis on the parkour-style maneuvers of Randall instead of traditional combat. While you do have an axe, pistol, and eventually shotgun to keep the Shadows at bay, your best defense is your speed and grace as you run, leap, and rebound around the decimated Seattle. Controls feel almost perfect, offering the near perfect amount of tightness while still giving Randall a sense of momentum as he charges through walls, vaults over fences, and performs Jackie Chan-esque rebounds off of walls. This near-perfect athleticism of the character is offset by the clunkiness of the combat engine, which makes headshots a challenging prospect and staving off more than two Shadows with your fire axe an exercise in suicide. However, Randall is not meant to be a gun toting badass, but a fairly normal man facing extraordinary circumstances.
The other smart decision that Tequila Works made was in their setting and story, which cribs both from the sociopolitical statements of Romero’s films as well as their own fresh take on the genre. The game takes place in 1986, which manages to skirt the whole cell phone issue while injecting a heavy dose of Cold War paranoia that hints at, but never reveals, the source of the Shadow epidemic. The Shadows aren’t the only threat, either. There’s a long diversion through the sewers where Randall has to navigate a series of hellish traps laid by a lunatic named The Rat, and the ominous threat of The New Law hanging over your head.
Finally, there’s the character of Randall himself. His past is left intentionally vague, only to be revealed in small doses via nightmarish flashbacks and collectible journal pages. There’s a surprising depth to the character, even if it’s not readily apparent in the main narrative of the game. He is simply a father and husband with a laser focus on finding his family. The journals peel pack this singular focus and show us a man haunted by countless demons, and weaving in and out of the labyrinth of his memories is a deeply emotional journey, from the first moment all the way up to the stomach-punching twist ending.
Deadlight is a near-flawless blend of gorgeous art, fantastic gameplay, and engaging story. While it may not get all of the attention it so rightly deserves as a Xbox Live Arcade downloadable title, it’s a brisk, brilliant title that’s deeply affecting both emotionally and viscerally.