Look into the light…
There has been a notable regularity with which Xbox LIVE’s Summer of Arcade has provided us with high quality experiences. Even if we narrow down to just platform oriented games neglecting titles such as Geometry Wars 2, Castle Crashers and Trials HD it’s undeniable we’ve been blessed: in 2008 we got Braid, while 2009 gave us both ‘Splosion Man and the ‘Metrovania’ style Shadow Complex. A year later we got Limbo, and last year Bastion got added to this phenomenal list. In 2012, Deadlight contends to be the next.
Developer: Tequila Works
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Tequila Works’ sidescrolling cinematic platformer drops you, as protagonist Randall Wayne, into a zombie apocalypse. A viral infection has spread, turning the human race into ‘The Shadow’. As the story begins, Randall splits from a small group of survivors in search of his wife and young daughter. It’s not the most original story, but, Seattle’s apocalypse is a beautiful 3D backdrop to one of the Xbox LIVE Arcade’s prettiest games.
It is presentation which really sets Deadlight apart. The level of detail is a marvel – here, Deadlight puts many full blown retail titles to shame. Whether you’re clambering through buildings, running through forests or evading deadly traps in the sewers, Deadlight looks glorious, and once the rain started to pour down on Randall Wayne, I paused to drink it in.
Gameplay is complemented by a mixture of eery and brutal sound effects and music, as well as Wayne’s grizzly narration, as much delivering a social commentary on events than just speaking his mind.
Randall is animated with a similar level of care, with each and every move, jump and swipe looking strikingly believable. Unfortunately, the links between animations let them down a little, with an often noticeable warp between animations.
But even so, Deadlight’s sullen aesthetic is probably the best feature on offer, and it’s certainly the most memorable thing you’ll be left with having finished a playthrough of its 3 acts and 25 levels. Deadlight’s gameplay comprises a medley of simple platforming, even simpler puzzles, and a mixture of melee and ranged combat.
Platforming segments are restricted mostly to jumping and climbing over obstacles to get to the next area. This certainly isn’t the type of game which challenges you to rhythmically time your jumps – the difficulty tends to come from a lack of clarity with what is and isn’t a makeable jump, what is and isn’t in the gameplay plane, and, sadly, some pretty hapdash jumping mechanics.
Unlike most games of this nature, you don’t get the ability to alter your trajectory in midair, which is a realistic touch, but that doesn’t gel very well with the fact that you only have three lengths of jump – you can jump straight up, you can jump while running, and you can jump from a sprint. As such, there is a tendency to always be under and over jumping because while Randall can jump a few yards, he can’t jump one foot over or under that amount.
It’s clumsy, and it’s not the only thing which is. Being a survival horror game, you come up against countless zombies. You can often evade them by just running, or exploit their lemming like AI to trap them or jump over them (the zombies seem – quite intentionally – brainless), but other times you’ll have to get through them. The first weapon you find is a fireman’s axe. Deadlight’s Zombies are no pushovers though. A couple of swipes are needed put them down, and then a final finishing stroke is necessary to finish them off.
The axe combat can feel a bit clunky. Attacks have a fairly sizeable delay and if a zombie is too close to you there is a tendency for the attack to miss altogether. The gunplay is better, utilising a dual-stick setup and emphasising the need to conserve the very limited ammunition.
A further combat awkwardness can appear due to the game’s 2D/3D nature. Enemies will often appear first in the distance, and them move towards your plane. You have no way of engaging enemies outside of the plane you are in, and so it can be impossible to engage an enemy until they actually enter your plane – if that happens right next to you, it can be hard to avoid damage.
The only other real challenge comes from the few puzzles in the game, but these are so few and far between and so straightforward that you’re unlikely to ponder much on the solution or gain any satisfaction from your success.
That is in effect the problem with Deadlight – there isn’t a great deal to the gameplay and none of what there is really impresses. It is perhaps fortunate that a whole playthrough lasts just a few hours – 4 at a push – because I don’t think the gameplay’s charm would last a huge amount longer than that. The story it accompanies is nothing original, but has enough mystery and a solid enough twist in the finale to feel satisfying.
Extras include Wayne’s 60 page diary – lost pages to be collected during the campaign – which is excellently written and gives a further window into Deadlight’s world, plus a large number of collectible secrets – photographs, newspaper clippings, IDs, etc – and three retro style minigames, and the standard leaderboards offering competition for speed runs and competition percentages.
If Deadlight was not to be in the unfortunate situation of having to be compared with games such as Limbo and Shadow Complex, because as overall experiences both trump this game. For those without either of those games, it would be hard to suggest buying this first, but that speaks more to their quality than to Deadlight’s lack of it.
But it is too short, and both the jumping mechanics and melee combat present more than niggling frustrations, but, it does make up for these pitfalls with some of the best graphics in any Xbox LIVE Arcade game, combined with a gritty artistic style and melancholy audio, which sum to a flawed, but beautiful game.