The game follows Randal, a too-tough-to-be-scared hero, who must traverse zombie laden stages to reach safe areas at the end of each level. Deadlight is set to release this summer, 2012 for XBLA, the price is yet to be determined.
Deadlight feels like a classic puzzle platformer from way back when. The developers agreed that the old PC game Flashback was a big influence for this title. Unlike a normal platformer, the drive of the game is not to eliminate every enemy with effective weapons, but rather to work out how to move on to the next screen with time pressures.
Constricted to the 2D side view, players will have to navigate, from one end of the screen to the other, around obstacles and Shadows (the game's name for their brand of zombies), usually by jumping gaps or climbing onto ledges, up ladders, or over defunct vehicles. All the while, Shadows in the inaccessible background stumble into your 2D plane and make the platform puzzle dangerous and more difficult.
Unlike most zombie games on the market today, killing all of the Shadows, thus eliminating the threat entirely, is not really an option. There are weapons, like an axe we got to wield in the demo. But it was most useful for knocking zombies down, and opening doors, not so much for putting an end to their desire to feed on human flesh. Just like real life, putting down one zombie is fairly easy, but when they travel in packs, it's best to avoid them and move on to get to the next safe area.
There are switches, rotten wooden areas, doors, and items to use along the way, each of which will change the environment, thus advancing the platform puzzle. Each of these changes is linearly necessary so that the hero, Randal, can advance to the next safe area, which will be the end of a stage.
Harkening back to the good old days of thought based platformers is refreshing. As a culture, we ditched New Coke for Coke Classic, and XBLA games like Deadlight allow us to do the same; to relive some of our favorite genre types that are often forgotten in favor of massive 3D worlds, games we didn't necessarily demand in the first place. The gameplay of Deadlight, though constricted to a 2D side view, and limited to a singular interface, is fun and interesting. We like the classic feel with the new graphics, and we are certainly hungry for more.
There is plenty of running, jumping, and climbing in store for Randal. Like older platformers, if you do the wrong kind of jump, or you fail to catch onto a ladder, you will fall to your death. If you jump too soon, or neglect to deactivate an environmental obstacle, like a haywire generator, you will be engulfed in flames or electrocuted. It appears that in addition to the axe we found, there may be other, more powerful weapons to acquire in later stages of the game. In which case, there may be some more battle elements mixed in with the main tropes of platform, puzzle, and timing.
To help players move right along, some objects adopt a blue halo, or certain ledges will have subtle arrow at the top. We found this to be a great mechanic of the game because the graphics are realistic enough as to be unclear about what is an active part of the game or just ornamental environment.
Randal will mostly be controlled with the left stick, the sprint (Right Bumper) , and the jump (A button) buttons. He will grab onto climbable ladders and ledges all by himself. The X button works for picking up objects and examining items. The B button is your melee attack. Y is called the taunt button, used to draw attention, thus drawing enemies away from certain areas. The Left Trigger will make Randal crouch. The Left Bumper and the Right Trigger work for reload and shoot gun respectively, implying that heavier weapons will be used later, something we did not have access to in the demo.
In the demo, controlling Randal was intuitive. The basic controls of running and jumping were pretty much all we needed to complete the fifteen minutes they had laid out at PAX. The inspect element button really just added to the story line. Inspecting elements also takes a little time. You have to hold the button down to search bodies, carts, or lockers, precious time you may not have when Shadows are hot on your tail.
Deadlight is a single player game.
With an impressive pack of animators, Tequila Works throws in some cinematic graphics into very realistic sidescroller. With a few professionals that worked on blockbuster movies like Avatar and The Lovely Bones, Deadlight has some amazing cut scenes where the developers are not afraid to zoom all the way in on Randal's nearly photo-realistic face.
We like the choices the animators have made to craft this post-apocalypic game. General gameplay creates enough distance between Randal and the player to allow for a little fuzziness, while still maintaining an excellent picture. Heavy shadows on just about everything set the tone for the game, creating a sense of dread and allowing Shadows to explode out of unseen areas But the really impressive work is done in the background. Every stage has a movie-quality backdrop, with eerie abandoned objects, all swathed in a mostly gray palette. In the demo, there were deserted and destroyed highway scenes packed with enough detail to make us understand the utter tumult of this alternate 1986 wasteland universe.
For now, Randal is the only character in Deadlight. You start off as part of a survivor group, in what the characters kept reiterating was "just another day" in dystopia. It is unclear what exactly has happened to create the destroyed world you play through, but given the history of the genre, it is easy to pick up. There has been some sort of disease, no one thought it was serious or believed that people could come back to life and yearn for the flesh of the living. Most people died while trying to leave the cities, but there are a few hardened survivors that think nothing of the new world they must now endure or face being eaten alive. Standard stuff really. Tequila Works has decided to set Deadlight in 1986, for what reason we think it will become apparent later on.
In talking to CEO and Creative Director Raúl Rubio, it seems players may not find out much about the disease or what caused it. The focus of Deadlight is on Randal, a tough survivor who talks to himself throughout the game. Rubio says that there are already plans for sequels, depending on the game's initial success. These games may give further insight into the world Tequila Works has created.
We like the idea of thrusting players in medias res to a zombie filled world where most people can fill in the story themselves. Leaving behind the what and how, Deadlight can focus on the who, the surviving hero of the story Randal.
The mechanic of having Randal talk to himself works on a couple of levels. Being one of a few survivors, it makes sense that Randal may be crazy enough that he relies on his own company to get through the horrors of every day life. Often his little prompts are hints to help you navigate the stages. When Randal tells himself to "run!", it becomes clear that the best course of action is to just sprint through the level instead of sticking around to see how many Shadows will appear.
As if you would expect anything else, Randal's voice is deep and scratchy. The voice acting makes him a believable character, if not extremely cliché. However, sometimes we rely on cliché to understand a character more quickly. We hope that the details of Randal's character later in the game take a turn for the unexpected.
Some of the cut scenes will compete with the best graphics around. Others are merely 2D "animated" sequences, much like you would see on a cheesy Flash cartoon. The gameplay graphics are highly realistic from a distance, and have a really consistent look. There is some finishing and smoothing to be done in both the less-than-impressive cut sequences and the general gameplay, two points that Tequila Works developers assured me will be improved when the game is actually released.
A horrifying soudscape is half the battle of creating a horror piece. Deadlight has great environmental noises for weather, zombies, action items, and events. There is little to no music in this game, and they use this to the advantage. Crawling along in a mostly silent sewer, we got jumpy after a few Shadows flew screaming across the foreground.
If you have ever played games like Flashback you will know the basic mechanics of Deadlight well. However, the story line is totally different and definitely intriguing. We want to know more about Randal, about the universe of Deadlight, the disease, the Shadows, and the rest. We want to get some guns into Randal's hands and see what he can do with them.
We like the gameplay, a platformer with puzzle elements, which has the player running most of the time. We think for some people that the unchanging style of the 2D world could get repetitive and maybe cause a loss of interest, while those who yearn for a simpler time will be head-over-heals for Deadlight all the way to the end.
The graphics are really something special, especially for an XBLA game. Given that the game's perspective is restricted, Tequila Works has taken advantage of this to create some spectacularly realistic backgrounds and environmental elements. The creepy Deadlight universe thrives on the image quality provided by these animators.
With only the demo to write from, we have to wait for this summer to see what Tequila Works really has in store for Xbox gamers.
Meet the tester
Christian Sherden is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.
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