Every since the line up of this year’s Summer of Arcade promotion was announced one game has stood out from the rest – no not Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD, Tequila Work’s stylish looking platformer Deadlight. From the announcement trailer we could tell that it had a distinct silhouetted art style, not too dissimilar to Limbo, and that it takes place in a post apocalyptic world. Beyond that, not much else was known about it.
So what is Deadlight? First things first, it’s a zombie game – but that’s not what their undead nasties are called, these zombies are referred to as Shadows. To set the scene, the Shadows have destroyed all civilisation as we know it, forcing survivors to band together and try to survive as best they can, scavenging for supplies and running from the slightest hint of darkness.
The main protagonist is Randell Wayne, a thirty something family man, whose story begins, quite dramatically, right after he shoots a member of his group – don’t worry, he’s not a gun-toting maniac, she would have turned into a Shadow and killed the entire group if he hadn’t. Unfortunately the gunshot has attracted a horde of Shadows, forcing the group to flee for their lives. Rather predictably Randell finds himself separated from everyone else and his priority shifts to finding his lost family. It’s a fantastic opening, told through comic-book style hand painted cut scenes, not too dissimilar to Dead Nation.
The actual gameplay of the Deadlight takes the familiar form of a 2D side-scrolling action adventure. Randell can run and jump, usually from left to right, in order to navigate his way through environmental obstacles. Where Deadlight really stands out is in its art style, with dark silhouetted foregrounds and detailed backdrops featuring the devastated city of Seattle. Exploring the city is a joy as the environments are rich and full of detail – there are Shadows trapped under cars, hanging out of burning buildings, and crippled skyscrapers that are crumbling at their foundations. The environments cover a range of ruined urban environments including sewers, the streets, the rooftops, the suburbs and military bases. In some ways it’s a shame that you have to sprint past these well designed backdrops to avoid getting eaten alive.
As you navigate the ruins of the world your progress will be slowed down by environmental puzzles. Some are quite simple while some are quite elaborate. Despite prominently featuring guns there is surprisingly little shooting – most of the game is platformer-based and quite often attempting to solve these platform puzzles results in either the death of a few Shadows or, if you get it wrong, Randell. These puzzles require quick reactions, precise jumping and a little foresight to overcome, so expect to attempt a number of the puzzles multiple times. This likely won’t bother many players, but I personally found the over reliance on quick reactions and clairvoyance quite frustrating.
Randell’s arsenal is not only limited to firearms and crafty puzzle solving, he also has a trusty fire axe; tapping the melee button when standing close to a Shadow pushes them over and follows up with a wild swing at their heads. All in all the combat can be quite challenging, especially when taking on group, as Randall has a stamina bar. Once the stamina bar is depleted that’s pretty much the end of your life. It’s exhilarating to make it out of a tight situation alive but you’re best bet is to avoid attacking them altogether to prevent overexertion and injury. As this game doesn’t have regenerating health, you’ll need to find medikits to recover health, which furhter adds to the challenge. When the Shadows are hot on your heels it is possible to slow them down by knocking over shelves and barriers to block doorways. Environmental traps come into play later on allowing you to lure Shadows to their deaths with a press of the taunt button.
Fighting off the hordes becomes much easier once the revolver is discovered. In fact, unlocking new weapons treats players to a excellent tutorials via Randell’s flashback sequences. During the revolver tutorial you learn to reload weapons by tapping the reload button to chamber each round, as if you were manually inserting each bullet, which is a nice touch that can dramatically add to the tension.
Throughout each level there are a number of collectibles such as photographs, diary pages, messages recorded on cassette tapes, I.D badges and government pamphlets. Each little piece adds more depth to the world and can be viewed by checking out Randell’s Diary. Tequila Works have also included some 80′s style unlockable mini games playable via the main menu. This is another nice touch but, to be honest, I don’t think the majority will play though Deadlight enough times to unlock them all.
A lot of credit for the game’s strong atmosphere needs to go to the sound designers. The majority of the music is sorrowful and fittingly atmospheric, however a few action sequences are accompanied by higher tempo rock tracks that amp up the tension only to have it come to a crashing halt when you get killed and restart the checkpoint. It’s not a major issue, but it is a little jarring.
Those that love to test their reaction times and don’t mind a bit of repetition will definitely want to give Deadlight a shot. The rest of us would probably be better off trying the demo before committing our hard earned Microsoft Points.
Graphics: 5/5 - A beautiful art style, with richly detailed environments. One of XBLA’s best looking titles to date.
Sound: 5/5 - Atmospheric music and great sound effects really add to the creepy ambiance.
Gameplay: 3/5 - Evading the Shadows can be quite tense and thrilling, although a number of the platforming puzzles are simply too fussy.
Longevity: 2/5 - Deadlight isn’t exactly the world’s longest game, but it’s length is dramatically increased by the number of times players fail at the platforming puzzles. There are dozens of collectables strewn throughout each level to find, each adding a bit more to the game’s world.
Overall: 3.5 out of 5
Deadlight is a visual and aural treat that is let down slightly by some frustrating platforming and a story that fails to live up to the phenomenal opening. Still, despite these disappointments it is still a game that is worth your time and money.
Deadlight is available on the Xbox Marketplace right now for 1200 Microsoft points.
- Adam Radcliffe