Me And My Shadow

Deadlight’s motor skills check out, but its higher functions are offline.

By Russ Fischer • August 2, 2012

Randy Wayne, the protagonist of the “flee from the zombies” game Deadlight, may be little better than the walking dead himself. Styled after early platformers like Jordan Mechner’s original Prince Of Persia, (with a bit of Limbo and Out Of This World thrown in for good measure) Deadlight portrays Randy only in silhouette as he runs across the screen. Even as he tries to escape “shadows,” as the game self-consciously calls the undead, he’s a shadow himself. The visual metaphor is a good one, but the combination of aesthetic and narrative interest doesn’t go much deeper than that.

Outside of some crude and mood-breaking “motion comic” cutscenes, Deadlight is exclusively seen from that shadowy view. Developer Tequila Works isn’t afraid to do some fun things with the display—here zooming in on one tiny room, and elsewhere pulling the camera way back to put Randy into insignificantly small perspective against the backdrop. Ultimately, however, the zooming view does little more than offer an occasional up-close gander at the nicely rendered backgrounds. It doesn’t offset the disconnect that the silhouette view creates—we just can’t get close to this guy at all. That works for the action that constitutes much of the game, but when it’s time for an emotional moment, my only response is laughter.


There are few moments where Deadlight will challenge players to put newly-honed skills to use against difficult odds. Most of the game’s “challenges” feel cheap, as when a chasm is half-hidden between two platforms that are difficult to discern, or in the sections where Randy is forced to run blindly through several zombie, er, “shadow”-filled areas. While the game’s jumps and minor acrobatics are generally easy to time properly, the insistent motion combined with a sometimes murky definition of depth makes for many forced replays. (Is that boxy thing a bit of background set dressing, or something Randy needs to jump over? Oh. It’s a jump. Restart.)

There’s an implied rationalization of the fact that Randy only moves on one path and one plane. In the game’s middle section, when the threat of zombies is replaced by the need to navigate increasingly unlikely traps set by a weirdo cellar-dweller called the Rat, it’s difficult to imagine why Randy doesn’t say “screw this,” and turn the game’s perspective around, Fez-style. But the guy only has one thing on his mind: finding his loved ones. That puts him on a mental level that isn’t so different from the wandering monsters. Randy says at one point, after using a water tower to douse a giant blaze, “a waste of precious drinking water, but I have to find my friends, my family!” Don’t expect a satisfying resolution to that vague equivocation of hero and monsters, however, as Deadlight is primarily happy to recycle modern zombie movie story points.


Garish cutscenes, a wildly clichéd script, and lousy voice acting are noticeable places where Deadlight could use more polish, but other issues afflict the game. The interface is wonderfully sparing…until you interact with objects Randy can pick up. Then, big text blocks hit the screen and ride the lower quarter of the display area. That wouldn’t be a problem, except that’s the part of the screen where Randy lives. And some movements, such as rolling to avoid damage after a long jump, are set in motion by controls that require precise timing but feel spongy and inexact. Some users might also see a warning that your storage device is full, and the game can’t be saved, which doesn’t actually seem to affect any saving of progress. (I saw that message only once, but it seems to be more pervasive for some other players.)

The illustration of a cracked and broken Seattle is still fairly lovely to navigate, especially in the game’s first third. But every step forward cracks the game’s facade, and by the final act, when the action feels cheaper than ever, Deadlight’s appeal has gone the way of a rotting zombie’s higher functions.

Developer: Tequila Works
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Xbox 360
Price: $15
Rating: M

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

885 Responses to “Me And My Shadow”

  1. rvb1023 says:

    Well, after just hearing about this game right now, the screenshots look beautiful.  Kind of sucks that the game doesn’t work in motion.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      It does look really, gorgeous, doesn’t it?  It has a real authentic abandoned civilization feel reinforced by the massive backgrounds and almost negligible character models.
         Games are increasingly hitting the art direction notes so well, while all other elements of good game design seem stubbornly elusive to pin down.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       I suppose that’s the question that looms over all of these not-quite-there games:  What is your tolerance for subpar game elements?  Are you willing to endure bland gameplay for an engaging story, world, and characters?  Is a dull, rote story okay is the gameplay works?  These are just a few permutations.

      • Enkidum says:

        We’ve talked about a few of these questions before – I’d say that it’s clear that millions of people are willing to sacrifice a fair bit of gameplay for an engaging world (e.g. Mass Effect is a reasonably ok shooter, but let’s face it, the gameplay is leagues below how the game gets rated). And rote stories with amazing gameplay have been around since the dawn of gaming (I dunno, pick a Mario title at random, chances are you’re getting close).

        In terms of art, though, I’m much less willing to tolerate really good graphics in exchange for shallow gameplay and shallow world-building, which seems to be the problem with this particular game. Especially if those graphics can actually interfere with the game itself – they may be pretty, but they haven’t been thought of as anything other than a painting.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        Boy, that’s a question to ruminate over, isn’t it?  Because a game is such an Alexander Calder mobile of balanced elements.  One can dip and another might rise to balance it out.
           My own tastes lead me to give the benefit of the doubt to games with good art direction.  ‘Sword & Sworcery’ was a factor in my getting an Ipad, and it is phenomenally gorgeous.  But the interface is also fussy enough I haven’t played it in the year since I originally picked it up.
           I don’t think I’ll ever buy a game for the story and I can’t imagine anyone does.  I don’t know if kids these days are more discriminating than myself, but growing up with game stories being either non-existent or existent, but poorly translated, I’m immune to lousy video game narrative.  Short of blatant racism, bigotry or sexism I’d never turn off a game due to story.
           Anymore at this stage in my life, I like games to be enjoyable world explorations that don’t ask too much of me.  Charm and detail are usually sufficient to keep me playing a game that fails in many other categories.

        • The_Misanthrope says:

          It’s funny that you mention that specific game. I got Sword & Sworcery as part of Humble Bundle V for my netbook. I really liked the aesthetic, but the one-or-two-trick-pony gameplay didn’t draw me in enough to keep playing. Plus, a few of the puzzles seemed to be a little arbitrary in how you were supposed to solve them. I really want to like the game, but it’s just not happening yet.

        • Girard says:

           S&S was far from perfect, especially the kind of janky PC port I got in the indie bundle (the kind of gimmicky iPad native controls manage to feel a bit more gimmicky when remapped to traditional mouse interactions).

          But it was so charming and beautiful that it kept me engaged, and it was so slight that it was over in a day or two, before the game play could become truly frustrating for me. There’s also a [SPOILER?] awesome Fire Walk With Me pastiche scene which, for whatever reason, worked really well for me and charmed my pants off.[/SPOILER?] It’s a great little ‘tone poem’ of a game.

      • blue vodka lemonade says:

         I like to have 2/3 of: aesthetic, gameplay, story. Deadlight looks great in trailers, but it sounds like that’s about all it does. This is vaguely tragic, though it also saves me $15 to later spend on hookers & blow.

      • rvb1023 says:

         In general I am very willing to overlook flaws or weaknesses if the overall experience is good, but from the sound of this review it misses the mark in a lot of these cases.  If the writing and story presentation is as bad as this says, looking distinct and pretty probably won’t be enough, these screenshots should suffice.

        That said, despite their welcome being long overstayed,  I am still waiting for a zombie game that feels like a zombie game should.  For now this means saving to get a PC that can run DayZ.

  2. Effigy_Power says:

    D’aww… I really wanted this to be excellent, it looked amazing… but I would lie if I said I didn’t think it had any major flaws.
    The shadow-perspective is a great philosophical measure, but when such trappings overtake the gameplay, you have a mess on your hands.
    Especially the countless cliches… argh… the “cinematic” trailer didn’t quite put the Z-word into the context, but I guess I could have seen that coming. As a matter of fact, I seem to remember “zombies” to not even be mentioned on the XBLA page… Unless I am remembering wrong, that would be an interesting point… are sellers already so self-conscious about the sucked-out brainlessness of Z-games (haha, pun) that they try and hide that?

    Anyways, let’s say I wanted this to be great, but instinctively knew it wasn’t going to be. Also $15 is a pretty rich number for this, I feel. I don’t know why, it just feels a lot.

    Ah well…

    • Girard says:

       Here is a free, and extremely addictive time-wasting Prince-Achmed-style silhouette zombie-killing game with a surprising amount of strategic depth for something so slight:

      • Effigy_Power says:

        Strategic depth…
        That’s like saying Super Mario is an accurate depiction of architectural stress.
        And it’s true, it does look like Prince Achmed.

  3. Shain Eighmey says:

    You know, if you’re looking for a good game with zombies or just a great point and click adventure, The Walking Dead episodes have been great so far. 

    • blue vodka lemonade says:

       Are they worth the current Steam price-tag of $25 for the season? As a vague rule-of-thumb I want an hour or so of game for $2, though particularly interesting/unique games get away with less. It seems like the kind of thing I’d like (horror/choices/adventure) but without an opportunity to try before buying I’m having a hard time justifying the purchase.

  4. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    Tequila Works?  Okay, quick poll; which moderately bro-centric profession breeds the worst names:  Game Developers or Brewing Companies?

    • Effigy_Power says:

      I still don’t know if Beerbong Dynamics is a company for games or beer… Now Panty-Raid-Dane-Cook-Linkin-Park-Nerd-Hammer… that’s gotta be.. erm… either.

  5. The_Misanthrope says:

    If Deadlight doesn’t quite scratch your itch, might I suggest you aim a bit lower (the Indie Games market on XBLA, specifically) and try out Dead Pixels?

    [Note:  I’ve only tried the timed demo thus far, so caveat emptor.]

    The game actually has three separate scenarios–Dead Pixels, The Solution, and Last Stand–but I’ve yet to see any significant difference between them.  There are two things that set this game apart from the usual side-scrolling run-and-gun.  The first is the actual “and gun” part.  While there are occasionally abandoned houses/stores to loot, you are often stuck with limited ammo, so the game often resembles an Zombie 5K (with an occasional shotgun blast).  The second is the local co-op option.  Any who has ever played a game like D&D: Tower of Doom and Baldur’s Gate with other people knows that these types of co-op experiences have a lot of “push and pull” to them; You rely on your partner not only to keep the hordes at bay, but that partnership isn’t as easy to quantify when it comes time to split loot.  Of course,the zombie apocalypse adds even more friction to that partnership.

    Mind you, despite what I said in the previous paragraph, this isn’t a particularly deep or innovative game.  Apart from a few nice flourishes, it is a pretty basic, dumb game when you strip away everything.  It just hangs it all on a few very durable game-mechanics, a smart move for all low-to-no-budget games.  Control-wise, I understand that they assigned “fire left” to the Left Trigger as a quick-fire button, but it seems so couner-intuitive to the usual “turn around and press the one fire-button that your finger is lovingly cradled around” control scheme in these types of games.

    I was not paid by the lovely folks at CantStrafeRight to write this mini-review; It is just so rare for a game to emerge so fully-formed from the XBLA Indie market that I feel the need to spotlight it.  You could do worse with your 80 Microsoft Points (~$10).

  6. George_Liquor says:

    I think it would almost be worth living in a zombie-infested hellscape if I only had to pay $1.15 for a gallon of gas.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       Well, Tequila Works *is* based in Madrid, Spain.  The game itself is based in Seattle, WA.  Somewhere between the two, they must have screwed up their research.  I can’t imagine the fuel scarcity/demand that attends the end-times would drive prices down.

      Then again, I suppose this adds credibility to the alternate narrative that Randall is just an insane asshole.  A sudden disaster seizes the area and he immediately starts casting the other survivors as “shadows”, dangerous figures to be avoided.

      But @George_Liquor:disqus is forgetting an important facet of the zombie-infested hellscape:  unattended stations and cars.  In that context, even $1.15 is too much.

      • George_Liquor says:

        Maybe it’s supposed to be Seattle in the early 90s and this guy’s being attacked by hordes of grungers.

    • RussFischer says:

      The game takes place in 1986, so the gas price is OK. There are plenty of places in the script where a little wonky translation across cultures does show, however.

  7. “I just want my kids back.”