Deeper than it seems
695SRP: £9.99Zombies are unstoppable. You can run but you will never escape. Tired of playing third person shooters with zombies in? No matter which genre you choose as your safe haven, it's only a matter of time before the undead pile in and drag you in kicking and screaming. No game type is safe. Tower Defence? Plants vs Zombies. Rhythm Game? Rock of the Dead. Touch Typing Trainer? Typing of the Dead. Resistance is futile.
And so the onslaught continues with Deadlight, a side scrolling survival horror platformer from Tequila Works Studios, released and published by Microsoft during 2012's summer or arcade promotion. I recently blew the dust off its neglected corpse and was surprised at what I found.
Almost nothing about the setup is out of the ordinary; it is 1986, and as usual a mysterious virus has resulted in the reanimation of the dead (referred to here as "shadows") and the downfall of society.
You play as Randall Wayne, a park ranger trying to survive and of course find his family. He believes they have fled to a place rumoured to be a "Safe Point" in Seattle. We join the adventure just as Randall has to sacrifice a member of his group of survivors to prevent them from turning. He then parts ways with the group and strikes out on his own.
While cut scenes are few and far between during the playthrough they are a pleasure to behold, seemingly ripped straight from the pages of a graphic novel they are barely animated; with the art and the voice acting doing all the heavy lifting to help deliver its grimy feel. Although the plot leans heavily on the tropes of its subject matter - the collapse of society into lawlessness, shining a light on the darkest corner of the human condition which only surfaces under unthinkable circumstances - it is delivered well, mainly through the narration or our gravelly voiced protagonist who ponders his existence through his almost constant internal monologue.
Deadlight is breathtakingly beautiful. Through the 2.5D perspective Tequila Works paint a moving backdrop which tells almost as much of the story as the characters do, although you are stuck on the 2D plane the background is filled with 3D atmosphere as cities burn, forests sway and the gloomy interior of buildings bleed ever more frightening "shadows". It's an excellent juxtaposition of Randall, his enemies and objects in the foreground remaining silhouetted against the richly detailed background; perfectly shining a light on the destruction of the world behind, whilst letting our imagination fill in the more gruesome actions taking place up front in the gameplay.
Although you will acquire weapons such as an axe and a pistol during your playthrough, they won't be anywhere near as useful as your feet. Running away is the key to survival here. A single zombie or two might not pose a problem, any more though and Randall will easily be over powered, as his stamina empties his swing become more weary and death is never far behind. Equally the sound of your pistol will only ring the dinner bell and since you must manually load each bullet into the chamber to reload your scarce supply of ammo you quickly realise firepower is more of a last resort than a first response.
Randall is a spritely character, except for his odd inability to swim, perhaps the only part of the game which feels entirely out of place and more like an excuse for some handy puzzle elements. He runs, jumps and climbs his way through the environment in a combination of timing and platforming puzzles, keeping the gameplay moving at a satisfyingly steady pace. At times the controls can feel a little less precise than they need to be, one section for instance has you running away from a deadly enemy who gets closer and closer; in these frantic moments some of the long animations feel like they almost trap you into failure. Thankfully sections such as this chase sequence are used more as palate cleanser for the core gameplay, which remains somewhat more thoughtful and considered.
As you navigate the environment you will find supplies in the form of health and ammo as well as collectibles. These add not only to Randall's story, as you find pages from his diary, but mementos and random objects flesh out the tale of the world and those who became victims of its downfall. The entire experience clocks in at around 5 hours which feels short, but at arcade prices it offers more than enough value without eking out more gameplay by replaying via chapter select for collectibles.
I can make that
- Stunning visuals
- Challenging gameplay
- Excellent production in cut-scenes
That's a long way down
- Controls could be tighter
- Could be longer
Deadlight XBOX 360 Review
Deadlight is a delightfully simple game; between its sublime visuals, classic platform puzzles and the excellently produced art and voice acting it manages to deliver a surprisingly engaging experience despite the apparent tired subject matter. The tongue poking gameplay and the perfectly pitched atmosphere manage to create a much deeper and meaningful experience than its 2D appearance belies.
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