By Greg Newbegin
GAME NAME: Deadlight
DEVELOPER(S): Tequila Works
PUBLISHER(S): Microsoft Studios
GENRE(S): 2D Platformer, Survival Horror
RELEASE DATE(S): Aug 1 2012
Before I even get started, I’ll get this out of the way – yes, Deadlight is another zombie game. But it’s not JUST another zombie game, it does do things somewhat differently, and with style.
Essentially, Deadlight is an Action-Platformer. The developers, Tequila Works (located in Spain), have clearly taken some pointers from such classic platformers as Flashback, Another World, and Prince of Persia—and more recently, Shadow Complex—and built a detailed, apocalyptic world around a very adult premise.
And that’s part of the hook-there’s not much hope left in this world. It’s clearly dead. The more you progress, the more you come to realise this. Right from the opening scene, Deadlight makes this blisteringly apparent, when Randall Wayne (the playable character) is forced to kill one of his compatriots, who had been bitten. Sure, this is nothing new when it comes to zombie stories, but for this to be the catalyst that forces your character on his quest to find somewhere safer… It really just sets the scene perfectly.
From there, the player takes off on an adventure to—you guessed it—find Randall’s wife and child. Seemingly uninspired, the writers have really worked hard to provide something a little different, and I recommend staying with it until the end. Along your way, you’ll find an axe, which can be used to hack at the “shadows” (I guess the term “zombie” was avoided for obvious reasons), and various guns-as well as a slingshot, which, it turns out, provides much of the fun when it comes to problem solving.
But this is not a shooter in the same vein as Shadow Complex. It takes its cues there from the environment – it’s gorgeous. While this is a straightforward 2D platformer, the detail in the environments lends a very 3D feel. The depth to each and every level provides an ominous backdrop to the game as it plays out, and at times makes you wonder why Randall simply keeps running to the right, when there are clearly other options.
This is a valid complaint for the title – you just seem to be endlessly running right… and occasionally left. While the fluidity of Randall’s movements took me back to cherished memories of Flashback and Prince of Persia, the level design did not. It’s really quite cut-and-dry. However, this can be both good and bad; on the one hand, I didn’t feel like I was exploring my way through a level, but on the other, there was a lot of tension on offer when I was running from (and in many cases THROUGH) the teeming hordes of shadows.
Gameplay itself is fun—movement has the right weight and feel to it, jumping has the right amount of floatiness that is required for a good platformer, and the fighting mechanics, while rarely utilised, are simple to perform. At its heart, Deadlight is a simple and enjoyable platformer, and not much more. It’s the storyline that matters most, and the ominous, oppressive feel of the environments and flashbacks.
Still, that’s also where the game falls short. Clearly, the spark that resulted in Deadlight was formed from a single idea—a great one, mind you, but a single idea nonetheless. From there, the developers needed to find out how to bulk that idea out to provide the 6 or so hours of gameplay that gets you there… And they made some strange decisions. For example, in the middle of the game—probably for an entire THIRD of the game—you are captured by an old man who lives underground. There, he has created an obstacle course, of sorts, and he forces you to play your way through it. It works, for what it is, as it provides the player with some glorious puzzles to work through, but it makes little sense. Perhaps the man has simply gone crazy and likes to test his fellow man, but… I don’t know. It didn’t work for me.
The last third of the game tried to claw its way back towards the great reveal, but in some ways it felt forced, and this made the last part more of a chore for me than the rest, which was sad. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the end—I was blown away by the finale—but it just wasn’t as awe-inspiring as the initial sections.
I also feel a need to mention the cut scenes. Like many titles recently, Tequila Works has chosen to play them out in a series of comic book-like images. They look great, and progress the story well enough, but feel out of place given the extraordinary amount of detail put into the levels themselves... Or perhaps that's the point? There are also the occasional flashbacks with appropriate blur and colour fade employed to help the player realise this something out of the ordinary - not unlike Max Payne, to be honest (the originals, at least, I've not yet got my hands on Max Payne 3).
Overall, Deadlight is a worthy return-to-form for the platformer genre. It doesn’t do everything quite as well as its predecessors, but what it does do, it does with style. Even though the story seems quite straightforward at first glance, it’s very much adult in its content and really worth riding out until the end. Not quite a classic itself, but it comes highly recommended, even given its brevity.