by Zee Salahuddin
reviewed on PC
What the hell happened?
In a parallel universe, a zombie apocalypse ravages the world in 1986. Typical of a zombie-centric post-apocalyptic dystopia, there is no functional government, the army has been overrun, militias have sprung up, and the survivors try to escape their inevitable fates by staying on the move. You are Randall Wayne, separated from his wife and child, and current member of a small group of survivors.
We do not know what happened to the family, how the group came together, or what their current objective is. All we know is that the zombie threat is ubiquitous and unrelenting. In fact, Deadlight starts with Randall getting separated from his group, as the undead begin to pour into their hastily fortified sanctuary.
Throughout the game you will also find two lore-related elements that add a nice touch to the narrative. The first are pages from Randallĺs diary that give a glimpse into who he is, what happened to him, and with which inner demons he struggles. The second are collectible items that give an additional perspective about the world around you, such as information on NPCs, items that are near and dear to certain characters, etc. It adds a depth to the story in the same vein that books add a new dimension to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Dishonored.
A Plethora of Mechanics
Left 4 Dead, this is not. You do not start off with a gun, and you do not even get your first weapon (an axe), well into the first of the three acts. There are only two guns, a revolver and a shotgun. Both of these weapons can kill with one shot, but the ammunition is about as plentiful as a hot meal and shower during the zombie apocalypse. In addition, you have access to a gun during 20-25% of the game. Otherwise you will have an axe, or you will need to run to stay alive.
Randall has two meters to watch. The first is a health meters with three notches. You can take two hits before he dies, and you are taken to the previous checkpoint. The checkpoints are well-spaced, so you are never really required to repeat too much content. The second is a stamina meter, which drains if you sprint, hang from a ledge, shimmy across a wire or swing your axe. There is one upgrade available for both bars, which gives you a permanent extra hit point, or 25% more stamina in your health and stamina bars respectively.
Most of the time, you will not need to actually kill the zombies, as there is no discernible benefit of doing so. If you can escape without a scratch, that is as grand a victory in Deadlight as downing a Tank in Left 4 Dead. The axe will be your best friend for most of the campaign. You can use it to break barriers, clobber zombies and finish them off for good. But swinging the axe rapidly drains the stamina bar, and if you are running out of stamina, the color drains from the world, giving a stark palpability to an already desperate situation.
This is one mechanic that I found a little irritating. Randall has incredible upper-body strength. He can jump, grab a ledge, and hoist himself up. He can wall-jump, dangle from wires, push massive crates and perform a variety of other tasks that require above-average strength. Yet somehow, swinging the axe drains him in three to four swings. On the fourth swing, he will use just one hand, taking longer for the swing to connect, and bending over, panting as you desperately mash the buttons to make him swing again at the advancing zombie.
Beautifully crafted world, solid platforming, terrifying chase sequences, intriguing world, epic protagonist beard.
Hollow plot details and odd twists, shoddy upper body strength mechanic, forced platforming in some parts.