Zombie Prince of Persia
People like to complain that zombie games have been over done at this point but I’ve yet to feel zombie game fatigue myself. Despite using many of the tropes and themes associated with the zombie apocalypse setting, most major zombie games actually play quite differently. The original Resident Evil games helped create the survival horror genre, creating suspense and tension with its claustrophobic rooms and lumbering tank controls. The Dead Rising series focused on scavenging and escort missions with a healthy dose of wacky Japanese humor. The Walking Dead was an adventure game that was about the human drama that emerges among survivors. Even the three big zombie first person shooters play differently enough to feel like unique experiences. Left 4 Dead focused on a mad run and gun rush to the safe house, the Call of Duty zombie mode was more about holding down an area and keeping barricades up, and Dead Island was basically Borderlands with zombies. The different gameplay in each of these titles kept the zombie apocalypse fresh because it allowed the player to explore this fascinating setting from new perspectives and experience different aspects of it. This notion is essential to our ability to appreciate any art form. Every theme has already been explored by the arts, but originality still thrives in our perspectives of those themes. Each new artist that creates a work provides a new lens through which to explore the most essential aspects of our nature. We do not derive the value of a piece of art from its subject matter but from the angle by which it explores its subject. Repetition in the arts only becomes derisive when an artist tries to imitate another’s voice instead of using his own unique one. Deadlight whispers to us in an old forgotten voice. It isn’t the zany variety show of Dead Rising or the heavy metal splatter films of the first person shooters. Deadlight is poetry. It’s the sad, beautiful story of the end of mankind.
It’s quiet, somber. The world stopped struggling and gasping a long time ago and all that’s left are scattered survivors scurrying about like mice in an old abandoned house. You tip toe through the streets, careful not to disturb the slumbering city. Danger could be in the next room, or could have been following you for the last 10 minutes, but there is danger, it’s just a matter of figuring out where it is. And yet, you’ve grown comfortable with it. The atmosphere is what makes Deadlight. A peaceful, contemplative piano melody accompanies you as you crawl and clamber your way through the ruins but quickly becomes fierce and violent when the shadows are coming in from all sides.
The protagonist is Randall Wayne, a man who is lost in every sense of the word. A mountain man from the Canadian wilderness, Randall Wayne finds himself far away from his beloved forest and country (if you could say there were still countries) as he delves into the unfamiliar landscape of 1980s Seattle. He’s lost his family and he’s lost his group. He’s losing his memories of what life was like before the fall and is even starting to lose his mind.
“There’s so much beauty in how our world is ending, no one ever could have predicted this, it’s a side of life only a few of us get to see. It’s beautiful and yet the most horrible thing I ever could have imagined,” Randall writes and he is absolutely right. The environments are stunning and contribute to the narrative just as much as the cut scenes and diary entries. Smoke billows up in the distance from a crater in a skyscraper’s side, graffiti lines the walls, and every room is riddled with the signs of previous conflicts. The backdrops are teeming with life as well. Zombies bang on doors and grasp at you from boarded up windows, sometimes staggering into the foreground to cut you off. Characters jump in and out of the background and you can watch their own conflicts play out in the distance. The presentation is rounded out by half silhouetted character models with beautiful rotoscoped animations.
As beautiful as Deadlight is, it’s a short experience. You can beat the game in a few sittings or an afternoon. The developers try to pad it out with plenty of collectibles and a nightmare mode that unlocks after you beat the game but you can easily burn through the content quickly. The nightmare mode will probably take a while to beat but it relies on artificial replay value. It’s the same as the normal game except you can’t save and if you die you have to start from the beginning of the chapter. That being said it’s a wonderful narrative experience and gamers with limited gaming time should be satisfied.
Deadlight is a narrative platformer in the same vein as rotoscoped classics like Out of this World and Flashback and has the same awkward precise timing that comes with that form of animation. Limited bullets and a clumsy fire axe that quickly wears down your stamina help the game encourage you to run from your enemies rather than stand and fight. One zombie on his own isn’t a problem but Deadlight has a habit of throwing mobs of them at you and much of the game consists of puzzles which involve trying to figure out how to climb around the mobs or lure them into traps. While running quickly and combat are certainly parts of the game, at the core of Deadlight are navigation puzzles. You’re on one side, you need to get to the other side, and oh yea there are zombies. It’s fun and interesting but never enough to truly stump you.
There is a scale that all games fall on between narrative and mechanical experiences. Mechanical games are played simply because the mere act of playing is fun. It’s designed in a way that it is enjoyable to run, leap, and dodge regardless of the games context. The art and story become less important and it’s easier to generate content for them because the developers can quickly sketch out new levels. Super Meat Boy would fall far away on the mechanical end. But Deadlight falls on the opposite end of the scale. This is narrative gaming. It’s short but each stage is painted, not sketched. The atmosphere and the narrative are the driving force behind the game. You play Super Meat Boy, you experience Deadlight. If you don’t mind your games short but sweet, Deadlight is for you.
Rating: B+ Is it worth 15$?: It depends on if you feel cheated by shorter narrative games, you know who you are. It certainly was worth it for me, if you see it on sale it’s a steal.