Deadlight Hands-on Preview -- Night of the Living Shadow Complex Draws First BloodBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Mar 05, 2012
Tequila Games’ Raul Rubio describes his studio’s cinematic platformer Deadlight as First Blood and The Goonies meets Another World and Prince of Persia. Even on paper this combination should be enough to sell you on the vision of this Xbox Live Arcade title, but after spending some hands-on time with the game at Microsoft’s recent Spring showcase, I can say that it’s even more impressive in action.
Deadlight takes place in Seattle in 1986 (you actually find 3.5’’ computer discs and the loading screen is a winding cassette tape) following an unexplained apocalyptic event that has left the world in a zombie-infested ruin. Now before you get all, “Yeah. Yeah. Another post-apocalyptic zombie story. So what?” you should know that this isn’t an action game ala Left 4 Dead or even Dead Rising where the focus is killing every zombie that crosses your path. Far from it. Deadlight is about survival, and the zombies are more like brain-eating mobile obstacles that you’d be far better off avoiding than fighting.
If you’ve seen the teaser trailer, then you know that the game is a side-scrolling, 2.5-d puzzle platformer very much in the style of chair’s Shadow Complex. The gorgeously detailed and layered environments--which in my playthrough included an industrial complex, a massive freeway overpass, and an underground sewer system--have a tremendous amount of depth, which gives the game a true sense of scope. Plus, watching as zombies shamble from far in the background into the foreground to pursue you is a bit of technical brilliance that sort of hurts your head but delights it at the same time. It is a cinematic platformer after all.
Because Deadlight is more a survival puzzler than an action game, the mechanics are simple: run, jump, and interact (flip switches, search bodies/containers, drag objects, etc.). You’ll have access to weapons like axes and pistols, but ammunition will be scarce, and you’ll be using them more as tools to break locks and windows to progress to the next area rather than planting infected in the ground. You can still attack though. I chopped down a few undead in my playthrough (the axe to the head finisher is especially satisfying), but only because they were one-on-one or one-on-two encounters. When you come across a group of enemies, running is really the only option.
It seems that every aspect of the gameplay, from the run-not-gun philosophy to the platforming, is designed to build as much tension as possible. Similar to Ubisoft’s upcoming I Am Alive, you have a stamina meter for climbing, which adds another strategic layer to traversal. In the sewer section of the demo, I found myself wading through waist-deep water to reach the next area. As such, I could only move at about half speed.
At about the halfway point, a couple of zombies popped up in the water behind me and started chasing me. The water didn’t affect their speed, though, so they were able to close on me with abnormal speed. Just as they were in biting distance, I reached a pipe and was able to hop over to safety. Needless to say, it was one of the more intense sequences of the demo, and a good indicator of the kinds of surprises that lay ahead in the full game.
Fifteen minutes with a game like Deadlight is sort of cruel, because it looks to be the kind of game that you don’t want to stop playing once you’ve started. The mood and structure are so compelling and arresting that you just want to see what the next set piece will bring. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing plenty more of Deadlight leading up to its release this Summer.