Now that Telltale’s Walking Dead is providing a monthly dose of smart, intense psychological horror, it may be time to put a moratorium on the gaming zombie apocalypse. A few months ago I might’ve had a different opinion: Tequila Works’ XBLA title Deadlight, which looks like the adventure classic Flashback by way of the downloadable adventure Shadow Complex, was shaping up to be a very interesting take on the digitized undead. If only things had worked out.
Deadlight has a lot of surface-level promise. Its 2.5D vision of a wasteland Pacific Northwest is striking, with protagonist Randall Wayne, initially introduced in Deadlight’s teaser trailer as a loner seemingly struggling with the cognitive effects of killing for survival, driven onward by sheer desperation. Whatever its end, Randall’s journey looked destined to drag him through the worst of what humanity is capable.
Prepare to abandon all hope, ye who enter, because Deadlight is disappointingly underwhelming in nearly every way—the biggest problem being perhaps its unrelentingly linear structure. Despite the potential for exploration, nearly the entire game is spent moving forward, with trial-and-error puzzles barely more complicated than flipping a switch or otherwise using the environment to progress.
Combat isn’t much better. Originally hinting at using ingenuity and noise suppression to avoid enemies, most can be drawn out and evaded. Randall’s energy-expending axe is underpowered and ordnance scarce, though you can get past any sticky spot in a handful of tries.
For as ineffectual as Deadlight’s linearity and simplistic scenarios are, its script can’t measure up, either. The clunky plot is inspired (clumsily) by 28 Days Later, only with corny dialogue (Randall’s Tony Roberts impression is distracting) and thin, generally unaffecting drama. It’s too bad. Tequila’s heart is evident throughout, but this two hour narrative is unsatisfyingly undercooked, palatable possibly only to flesh-eaters themselves.