As part of Xbox Live's Summer of Arcade series, Deadlight comes at a time of the year when the gaming landscape is light on major titles. Many gamers look to the Xbox Live marketplace during the summer in hopes of finding a game like Deadlight to hold them over until the next big title. Though this horror-platformer delivers some solid 2.5D action, Deadlight never completely comes together due to bad storytelling and, at times, frustrating gameplay.

Taking place in Seattle during the mid-80s, Deadlight follows Randall Wayne, a survivor of a world torn apart by zombies (or Shadows as their called in the game). Randall is separated from a group of survivors at the very beginning of the story, sending him on his own plight driven by his desire to reconnect with his missing family.

Along the way, Randall slowly meets up with some of his friends from his group, a strange sewer-dweller by the name of The Rat, and a whole swarm of Shadows. The game picks up quickly from the very beginning, both in terms of narrative and gameplay. You're able to quickly understand that the Shadows plaguing the worlds are incredibly dangerous, having the capacity to end Randall with even the slightest misstep. The entire first act does a great job of utilizing a balance between tense action sequences and platforming. When Deadlight's gameplay and style work, you're rewarded with an engaging action-platformer.

Focusing on platforming and scarce elements of simple puzzles and action, Deadlight might remind you of the 2D platformers of the original Playstation era (games like Oddworld come to mind). Randall is given only a few tools to work with as he uses pinpoint jumping and rolling to traverse the game. Most of the platforming is well done, never becoming too overly difficult to frustrate or too easy to bore. The only major snag Deadlight hits in its platforming is the loading times after death.

You'll be jumping over zombies... like a lot

As is commonplace for platform-focused games, there is quite a bit of trial-and-error throughout the experience. The loading screens, though only a few seconds long, can become very frustrating in some of the more difficult areas of the game. Deadlight never reaches a difficulty that would make you stop playing because of this, but there are certainly parts of it that suffer from the player not being able to get back into the game quickly enough.

The puzzle bits of Deadlight are hardly puzzles at all. They mostly require you to use a gun or a slingshot to open up a new area or platform to use. They can become interesting when you're being swarmed by Shadows, but they are never too difficult to grasp. Randall does get a gun, but with ammo coming quite scarce, you won't be using it to cut down hordes of enemies. Though accurate headshots are occasionally required in the game, for the most part you'll be using your pistol or shotgun to break locks or doors. There are large chunks of Deadlight where your gun will even be replaced with a slingshot, a tool that's essentially used for the same purposed, solving light puzzles (with the exception of the zombie headshot nastiness).

Deadlight is a 2.5D game, combing 3D graphics with 2D gameplay. The artistic direction of the game is very clear and engaging throughout, with striking silhouettes of monsters and characters providing the visual flair needed to give off the dreadful situation in which the game takes place. This is certainly where Deadlight works best--its in-game visuals. The use of 3D graphics even informs the 2D gameplay at times as Shadows and other obstacles come sprawling from the background or foreground into where the player is. From beginning to end, Deadlight really does successfully capitalize on its 2.5D graphics and artistic styling.

However, for every moment in Deadlight that delivers an exciting, platform driven gameplay sequence, there are several moments of downright terribly acted and written dialogue and cutscenes. Deadlight's story isn't too intriguing to begin with. Add some spotty voice acting and awkward dialogue choices, and you end up without a single character in the game ever coming off as dynamic or even particularly interesting.

Deadlight overtly tries to mimic what franchises like The Walking Dead have used for successful narration and plot, using the apparent threat of a doomsday scenario to mask the real threat of the people around you as they slowly lose their humanity. It's all based on interesting plots and narrative styles, but Deadlight isn't showing off anything that hasn't already been done by other games. On top of that, none of Deadlight's story is even very well told. With the moving-stills style of the cut scenes (similar to those found in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker) and the often out-of-place and trite dialogue from Randall, Deadlight's narrative never fully comes together as a whole and enjoyable story. Instead, you get bits of vaguely spoken nonsense from Randall mixed with dramatic scenes trying way too hard to be mysterious and dark.

Deadlight's cutscenes are all illustrations. Though they're well drawn, they're not very interesting to look at

As though the weak story wasn't enough, Deadlight also has a series of diary entries you can collect. Recollecting what Randall sees before and during the chaos that acts as the game's setting, these loose pages of Randall's diary are actually embarrassing to read. These bonus items fail to inform the story you're playing in a meaningful or engaging way. Much like the story overall, Randall's diary tries way too hard to be illustrate a particular tone and style. What you end up with is piece of vague and difficult to read nonsense.

Randall's musings are written how you would expect a gloomy teenager to write

Deadlight lasts about three or four hours and never really wears out its welcome in terms of gameplay. There are enough collectables in the game for it to be worth a second play-through, making Deadlight a fairly lengthy and re-playable game. Though it doesn't completely come together in the end (particularly regarding storytelling), it certainly is worth its price. It isn't the best game on XBLA, but Deadlight will probably end up being a major highlight of this year's Summer of Arcade.    

Rating: 7.5/10

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