Developer: Tequila Works
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade Only
This year’s Summer of Arcade has been more miss than hit so far with the releases of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD and Wreckateer. However, relatively new developer Tequila Works, have improved the promotion instantly with Deadlight. Yes, the story is nothing new and zombies have become somewhat of a cliché in video games, but the studio’s maiden voyage has its fair share of highlights in an adventure that is similar to what we’ve seen many times before.
It’s Independence Day, 1986. Randall Wayne is a 33 year old park warden from Hope, British Columbia, Canada. He’s been living a relatively normal life with his wife Shannon and his daughter Lydia. However, a few months prior to the 4th July, Wayne’s life changes as an infection that started in Europe made its way over to North America, turning people into Shadows. In the Deadlight universe, Shadows are zombies. The walking dead, if you will. “Shadows that live in darkness, that once had human form, that once belonged to men”, as Wayne writes in his diary. Randall’s goal is to reach a safepoint in Seattle, Washington, as a rumour has reached his group of survivors about the police creating a safe haven for survivors within the city. Wayne also believes his estranged wife and child, who he hasn’t seen in months, have to be at this safepoint.
We’ve seen this plot play out a million times before in various forms of entertainment; man loses family, man gets angry, man looks for family. Deadlight doesn’t do many things different in this regard. On top of that, zombies have become such a regularity in video games, sometimes it’s more surprising to hear they’re not a focal point. Deadlight has them in abundance. However, even overlooking these repeated conventions, the voice acting leaves a lot to be desired. The script feels like it has taken lines from all of the thriller movies you’ve watched in your life, including gems like “If this isn’t hell, I don’t know what is”. The secondary characters are uninspiring and even Randall doesn’t set the world alight. It all feels very run-of-the-mill. Cutscenes are illustrated in comic book fashion and look lovely, it must be said. Things start to ramp up closer to the end, with a particularly powerful finish. But on the whole, you won’t be playing Tequila Works’ first title for the narrative.
What you will be playing it for are things like the solid gameplay and gorgeous graphics. Seattle has been hit with travesty and shows all the signs of it. Deadlight looks beautifully bleak. On a 2D plain, Tequila Works have created depth in a lively background that is playing second fiddle to the action. As Wayne has a left-to-right playground, you can see Shadows in the distance, chomping on some poor innocent, or roaming around looking for their next victim. As soon as the zombies notice the park warden, they will walk into the foreground to try and get a taste of some Canadian meat. On occasion, judging where your enemies are can be difficult and sometimes they’ll appear on the player’s plane without much warning and will make quick work of Randall Wayne. Once a horde of zombies surround you, you can start asking God for absolution, because you are a goner. This aside, the environments in Deadlight are magnificent to look at and varied, keeping it interesting.
Your surroundings will reveal themselves as you enter new locations, almost in comic book fashion. For the majority of the time, the camera remains static, only showing one certain area. Once you move out of this area and into a new one, the one you were in previously will fade to black, the new area will fade in and the camera will pan to where the player is now. Depending on the size and scope of the new setting, the camera will either zoom in, or zoom out. This is an excellent design choice and is carried out with aplomb.
This title is a 2D platformer/puzzler first, zombie survival horror second. The moment you begin your journey to the safepoint, Deadlight is clear on what exactly it is. Run to box, jump onto ledge, jump over chasm and so on. It all feels very natural. As you progress in the game, more abilities will be explained to you such as the wall jump – which works really well – and tackling enemies by barging into them. The Shadows themselves are very methodical in their movement and have their senses at maximum levels meaning sneaking past some of the dribblers that are in the background can be very difficult. It would’ve been nice to see some more stealth-like elements creep their way in. However, the taunt action is a valuable asset to the player’s arsenal. With this, you can goad your foes into aimlessly walking off of a ledge, or gather them in one specific area before you make a break for your exit. The different puzzles in the game don’t provide massive head-scratching moments, but they’re still challenging to certain degree.
Combat isn’t always the necessary option either, in fact more often than not it’s advisable to avoid it. Throughout the game you’ll come across weaponry to help you on your quest. Ammo isn’t around every corner, so it’s important to not get trigger happy upon seeing an adversary. Also, when you are surrounded by Shadows, chances are that you will fall to your death. But fear not, the checkpoint system in this game is very kind. The most time a player will ever lose from dying is the best part of one minute, tops. This makes death feel somewhat redundant, as do the animations and sounds. When Wayne is eaten by a bevy of body-munchers, you mightn’t even hear a squeal. If Wayne falls to a bloody, vicious death, there may not be a peep out of the man. No dramatic music, nothing. On top of a life bar, you have a stamina bar, which holds no ultimate purpose either. If you run out of stamina by swinging your axe too many times, once you relax, the bar will fill in no time. The only bearing stamina has on the game is if the player is hanging from a ledge, then Wayne will drop from said ledge if his stamina runs dry.
It must be pointed out that this game is short. On average, you’re looking at about two and a half to three hours of gameplay for your initial playthrough and around four hours (five at the absolute maximum) to gain 100% completion. This isn’t a negative whatsoever though, Tequila Works clearly had a story to tell with Deadlight and told it within that timeframe, so why drag it out? This is a commendable practice that many others could do with taking on board. For those that aren’t happy with that, there’s plenty of hidden collectibles in here, pages of Wayne’s diary – which he wrote prior to the story of Deadlight – and even some Game and Watch style consoles that have little mini-games.
VERDICT: The majestic look of Deadlight and terrific comic book panel style are something that make this offering a little bit different. With solid gameplay and enjoyable challenges, Tequila Works have done a really good job in creating a decent puzzle platformer. Sure, the voice acting isn’t great and the story is a common one that starts off poorly, but it does have a strong finish and is told in a concise manner, which is a nice change of pace when it feels like every video game must be 15+ hours nowadays.