Deadlight is the first game by Madrid-based Tequlia Works and is their 2.5-D take on the zombie apocalypse. The studio has crafted a detailed mid-1980's Seattle, delivering a side-scrolling trek that is a bit on the easy side and would have benefitted with more challenging puzzles.
- Offers a variety of 2D gameplay challenges
- Detailed backgrounds
- Abundant platforming situations
- Can be beaten in one sitting
- Mediocre script
- More puzzles lack challenge
Much like previous Summer of Arcade line-ups, the XBLA playlist of 2012 has excelled in genre diversity. With Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD and Wreckateer currently available, the third game in the line up presents the zombie apocalypse in rare 2D action side-scrolling form, a new IP called Deadlight. Developed by Spanish studio Tequila Works, Deadlight goes with the often intriguing just-another-day zombie premise with just a few dashes of backstory thrown in.
Lifeless In Seattle
If you like, you can rename this game 145 Days Later, which is the game’s setting and the number of days since Patient Zero. That’s quite a long time in survival terms, but protagonist Randall Wayne and a small group have managed to stay alive. They find themselves in Seattle, on their way to a known Safe Point, though Randall is compelled to separate from the group in order to find his wife and daughter.
While this game might resemble a grittier version of Shadow Complex, Deadlight doesn't have the same "MetroidVania" inspired sense of exploration and deep character upgrades. You spend about 80% of the game moving to the right, relying on just a handful of weapons and minimal upgrades. In the context of a zombie apocalypse that has been going on for months, having such limited resources fits the setting.
Deadlight's control scheme could not be more appropriate for fast paced 2D survival. When much of the objectives involves running away, being able to dash is obviously helpful, not to mention the ability to cushion building-to-building roof landings by rolling upon impact. When Wayne comes across a door boarded up with thick planks, he doesn't take each plank out one at a time; he simple barges through them by dashing. He also has a realistic wall jump, just not with the acrobatic excess of Ninja Gaiden and Batman in the NES games. Further adding a sense of realism is the fact that some of these moves expend stamina, which is replenished when those moves aren’t used.
Brain Tease Lite
One of Deadlight's strengths is in mixing up the kinds of challenges that a game developer can implement within the 2D space. By the time you've reached the 40 minute mark, you will have learned to outrun a zombie horde, chop up undead with an axe, leap off crumbling platforms, solve some easy puzzles, and use a gun with headshot efficiency. The first portion of Act 2 features the bulk of the puzzle platforming while another section has an extended and often compelling chase sequence.
The majority of the puzzles in Deadlight aren't especially hard, so don't expect to feel that sense of problem-solving satisfaction that made Limbo feel rewarding chapter after chapter. In Deadlight, if a platform is too high, a moveable block will be nearby to assist in Wayne's climbing needs. Other obstacles can be overcome by simply hitting a switch. These are easy to solve because the game highlights all the interactive objects with a blue tint, a visual cue that can't be turned off for added challenge.
Speaking of visuals, the art direction is another one of the game’s strengths. Despite being called Deadlight, there’s sufficient lighting to navigate through the ruined streets and sewers of Seattle. By employing a backlight effect, much of Randall Wayne’s appearance is a dark silhouette, which works in accentuating the background as well as the game’s overall bleak tone. And while this is strictly a 2D game (you can’t even fire down the z-axis), much of Deadlight’s eyecandy are in the detailed backgrounds of the Seattle metropolis and a surreally depicted sewer area.
Stating The Obvious
Much of Deadlight's exposition unfolds through Wayne's in-game narration, the kind that makes one wonder if Tequila Works was inspired by last year's Bastion. Unfortunately, much of Wayne's vocal observations and attempts at profound thoughts sound forced, if not obvious, such as the time he says, "The survivors of the war are always the ones who tell the stories of the battles." These script missteps are a distraction from what is an otherwise intriguing alternate history. The story works best when it sprinkles hints of what transpired in the weeks that led to the events in game.
It also doesn't help that the voice work of lead actor Stephen Hughes could have benefitted from better directing. At times he gives Randall Wayne the enthusiasm of a parent reading a children's book. This makes him sound detached, not a man running for his life. One can argue that this is a man desensitized to the outbreak, but I don’t buy it, especially when this tone isn’t consistent through his two hour journey.
Yes, Deadlight is a short game, one that feels especially brisk when the puzzles lack challenge. The consistent level of ease benefits the more action-based portions of Deadlight; if you die in one section, it only takes one or two retries to figure out how to pass that obstacle. It’s just unfortunate that this is a brief adventure because Tequila Works has crafted a world interesting enough that players like myself would want to know more about this alternate history, much like the Resistance franchise. And like Insomniac’s series, Tequila Works has adequately positioned itself for Deadlight sequels that can go well beyond the tale of its initial protagonist.