There is no joy in Randall Wayne's world. There are no smiles, no happy moments. In Wayne's world, a 1980s-era Seattle that bears the scars of a war between the living and the undead, there is only pain. In this world, the world of "Deadlight," there is only one thing left to do - survive.
"Deadlight" is a throwback to the golden era of survival-horror games, when success wasn't measured by how many zombies you killed but rather how long you managed to stay alive. In "Deadlight," fleeing isn't a last resort for when you run out of ammunition. It's often the only way to avoid being devoured by the hordes of undead - or shadows as they are referred to by Wayne and his fellow survivors.
The weapons at your disposal are limited to an axe, pistol and, briefly, a shotgun, but ammo is in short supply and the sound of gunfire attracts distant shadows, making each shot a calculated risk. There is even a risk to using Wayne's axe to dispatch threats as each swing depletes his stamina. A couple of hacks is usually enough to finish off a single shadow, but trying to chop your way through multiple foes will leave Wayne exhausted and vulnerable. Avoiding the shadows altogether is often your best defense.
To this end, Wayne can sprint past and leap over enemies, as well as use the environment to his advantage. The ruins of the city provide Wayne with numerous opportunities to climb utility poles and ladders, shimmy across wide gaps and scale buildings in order to stay out of harm's way. These actions also deplete Wayne's stamina, so you can't simply hold down the sprint button without repercussions.
You'll also need to use Wayne's skills to solve puzzles in order to continue on your way, though none were especially challenging. In addition, there is an abundance of collectibles to discover that shed some light on the events leading up to the game itself.
While "Deadlight" is a much-needed breath of fresh air for the survival-horror genre, it doesn't feel completely original. With its two-dimensional gameplay and 3-D environments, "Deadlight" is strikingly similar to another XBLA hit, "Shadow Complex." It even borrows the shooting mechanics from that title, using the right analog stick to aim and right trigger to fire. And the stamina system is reminiscent of "I Am Alive," though it's implemented much better here.
"Deadlight" earns high marks for its atmosphere and presentation, but there were a couple of nagging issues that are cause for concern. First and foremost, it's worth noting that "Deadlight" can be completed in less than five hours. It's a fun ride while it lasts, but I was left wanting more when it was over. Also, the controls aren't as responsive as I would have liked. During a couple of chase sequences, I could only watch helplessly as Wayne died because he didn't jump when I needed him to or leapt away from a ledge instead of reaching up to grab it. Finally the voice acting, which was B-movie quality at best, undermined the game's otherwise serious tone.
With "Deadlight," developer Tequila Works has crafted a truly frightening post-apocalyptic world, and experiencing it through the eyes of Randall Wayne provided a unique perspective on life, death and what it means to survive. Despite some frustrating moments and its relative short length, "Deadlight" is the best pure survival-horror game I've played since the original "Resident Evil."
Developer: Tequila Works
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Available for: Xbox Live Arcade ($15)
Rating: M for mature