|System: Xbox 360|
|Dev: Tequila Works|
|Pub: Microsoft Studios|
|Release: Q3 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Sean Engemann
It's no secret that the undead have multiplied in recent years to become one of the largest segments of the digital population. That apparently doesn't matter much to gamers, since the trendy zombie genre continues to suck on their brains (and piggy banks), a trend that developers have apparently taken note of. However, though zombies may be painfully overdone, the first creation of Spanish developer Tequila Works has a clear sense of scope in presentation, harkening back to a format from decades ago but delivering it in a way that feels current.
Deadlight follows the standard narrative of a civilization being wiped out by a mysterious disease. Instead of simply dying, their corpses rise to attack the few unaffected left in the world. You play as Randall, a man whose backstory is a mystery that will be pieced together as his journey progresses. The particular venue for this little slice of undead hell is the Pacific Northwest—more specifically, Seattle and upwards into Canada. The original teaser trailer shows our hero perched atop a highway overpass sign, with the main thoroughfare leading to Vancouver and an exit to the right leading to a town called Hope. The reference to this town has geographic merit, as both the province of British Colombia and the state of Washington have towns bearing that name close to their respective metropolises. But if you're a nerd like me and want to check the validity on Google Maps, the directions don't really add up. Nevertheless, this sets up an adventure which can shift from urban wastelands to conifer-filled wilds with a fair amount of believability.
How you navigate the surroundings is where the flavor of the game harkens back to an older style. The side-scrolling, fixed screen levels pan to the next area as you reach the threshold, reminding older gamers of classics like the original Prince of Persia, Another World, and Flashback, all of which are indicated by the developers as inspirations for the gameplay design.
However, Deadlight presents it in a very unique way, with the plane of action shown in silhouettes. The foreground and background are where the game's detail will shine though, and the realistic artwork packs the screen with imagery to gape at. The depth of the Seattle skyline makes the game space seem miles long. Even when confined to a warehouse, the distant doors, barrels, and rafters, paired with the zoomed out camera, keeps the scale credible. There are times, though, when the camera zooms in on small rooms and narrow hallways. Considering the fact that you're being stalked relentlessly by zombies, this will certainly add some anxiety to the mix.
All the movements look smooth on the 2D plane, and Randall has the strength to leap across gaps, pull himself onto platforms, and take down the undead. However, like in most survival horror games, resources are sparse. You'll begin the game with nothing but your bare hands, and you must scrounge up useful items. There is no inventory, which means all the equipment is expendable. Weapons such as axes will deliver more damaging blows, but are designed more to help progress through a chained gate than to act as an omnipresent bludgeon. Expect ammunition to be sparse, forcing you to be conservative, only pulling the trigger in dire situations. But a keen eye will find many environmental uses for hindering or defeating the zombies. Blocking a door with a steel shelving unit or dropping a car at a well-timed moment could save you some precious health.
The zombies themselves are stereotypical, moving sluggishly along with the singular intent of attacking you with no cognitive reasoning. Yet, although brainless, the zombies are persistent, and the hand-to-hand blows you deliver will only drop them to the ground for a few seconds. A single zombie may be easily handled, but you're not equipped for crowd control and could find yourself in real trouble if you're flanked by several, with more inching closer from the background into the plane of action.
Whistling to lure them into high voltage wiring is one trick you can use to solve puzzles. Pushing crates off of ledges and figuring out mechanical consoles also add to the puzzle element, which is a refreshing change, considering so many modern side-scrollers focus more on action than thought.
The developers have made clear from the outset that the game take place in the 1980s, and '86 appears to be the year in question here. A lot of features will keep the timeline obvious to the gamer, from the billboards and architecture right down to cassette tape and floppy disk loading screen icons. Also, exploring every nook and cranny will yield many retro treasures, such as old-school handheld gaming devices, which can actually be played at your leisure after being discovered.
Diary pages are scattered throughout the levels, which when pieced together will unravel the cause of the calamity. Cell phones were not in everyone's pockets in 1986 (they couldn't fit anyway) so, although other survivors are carving their own existence, you won't be able to communicate with them on a whim. Instead, Randall will provide his own self-narration and criticisms as he travels solo, trying to keep his sanity intact and his resolve true.
Deadlight looks very promising, which says a lot considering the saturated genre it inhabits. There are features nostalgic for gamers young and old, and if the smooth animations and detailed backgrounds are a sign of the polish we can expect, Deadlight could easily turn into a sleeper hit.
Deadlight may only be available on Xbox LIVE Arcade, but Microsoft console owners are going to get an exclusive treat at a reasonable price when this one launches later this year.
Date: May 10, 2012