Deadlight Hands-on Preview from E3 2012 -- Wonderful, Wonderful GloomBy Adam Rosenberg - Posted Jun 13, 2012
It would have been easy to overlook Tequila Works at E3 2012, what with the Spanish studio's Deadlight tucked away amidst the assortment of first- and third-party game stations set up at Microsoft's booth on the show floor. Missing it would be a great shame, however. The slick-looking Summer of Arcade title will be here in a matter of months, but any opportunity to sample the developer's efforts early is a lucky break indeed.
Deadlight might look a lot like Chair's Shadow Complex but it plays more like a traditional survival horror game. You've got limited, always dwindling resources to work with, hordes of unfriendly zombies that you'd do better to avoid than fight, and a plethora of environmental puzzles to be solved amidst the many dangers. There's also no futuretech to rely on, thanks to the game's 1986 setting. Your goal--at least as far as what's been revealed about the story so far--is simply to survive, and later to reconnect with your fellow survivors.
I spent a solid 20 minutes wheeling around in a newly revealed early portion of the game. The visual resemblance to Shadow Complex is impossible to miss, and entirely welcome, but Deadlight also stands apart in some ways with a visual aesthetic which leans heavily on showing the various characters and zombies in silhouette while going for a more photo-realistic rendering of the surrounding environment. This imbues many of the locations you'll visit with an artful, painterly quality.
The newly revealed chunk of game isn't really a whole lot different from what you might have read about before. Avoiding danger is a big focus in Deadlight; it's often both easier and safer to ignore any zombies that you see (as much as you're able to, until they attack) and focus on the task of clambering, jumping, pushing/pulling crates, and hitting buttons as each puzzle demands.
One of the E3 demo's cooler reveals is the discovery of your first gun. You're armed with a handy fire axe through the whole game, but it wouldn't be a zombie game if you didn't get to let loose with a few bullets. Aiming your weapon works just like it did in Shadow Complex, with the right analog stick giving you 360 degrees of possible targets to line up.
The gun is useful for taking out a zombie or two, but the noise it makes will often draw others over to you. Zombies aren't always just visible in the foreground; an initially empty and safe location could quickly become flooded as the undead shamble their way in from the background. Your firearm is much better suited to solving puzzles. In fact, the first thing you'll shoot after the control tutorial--which plays as a pre-zombie apocalypse flashback--is the lock that's keeping an extendable ladder just out of your reach.
I also got to take a peek at Deadlight's nifty collectibles, which build nicely on the 1986 setting. Those who put in the time to search through the game's ruined environments will find Game & Watch-style handheld LCD gaming devices of the sort that Tiger made a killing off of in the 1980s. These are fully interactive collectibles; find one, and you'll be able to access it and play the game via Deadlight's main menu.
I got to try out one for myself: Raven Thunder's Rock Legend. The simple Rock Band-lite sees you moving a little LCD guitar god left and right at the bottom of a note highway. The idea is to position yourself under each descending note as it hits the target area and press a button. When you play one of these collectible handhelds, you play it on a screen-within-a-screen as a model of the actual handheld fills out your view. This stuff isn't going to add much in the way of extra gameplay, but it's a very cool and well-realized period touch.
I can't say enough positive things about Deadlight after spending a little bit of time tooling around in its gorgeously grim post-apocalypse. Microsoft always tends to pull out all of the stops for Summer of Arcade titles, and it's looking like Tequila Works' debut effort is going to be one of the guaranteed highlights in 2012.