Developer: Tequila Works
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Deadlight is Tequila Works’ first project since their formation in 2009. While their company was formed by talent from various industry heavy-hitters, a first project is always an important step and comes with a lot of wary judgement. With the consistent quality that the XBLA has been getting this year, and with Deadlight being one of the most ambitious titles the platform has seen, one can’t help but hold high hopes for the game. But can it live up to the hopes and hype it holds in the eyes of the genre fans?
Some may look at Deadlight and instantly scrap any hope for it due to the crowded Zombie video games market right now, but for those who do still enjoy the walking dead to populate their gaming adventures, you have a lot to enjoy here. Deadlight tells the story of a survivor of the zombie apocalypse, Randall Wayne, trying to find his friends and family. Like most of these things, this isn’t a particularly original story in its own rights, but it’s delivered in an awesome narrative experience.
The game is a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer, with core gameplay not unlike Chair/Epic’s great Shadow Complex from a few years back. What I really liked about it though, was its delivery of the ‘survival’ aspects. Your character is generally pretty weak, meaning a constant need to avoid unnecessary danger and when possible, direct contact with the zombies unless you really have to. Ammo is scarce – when you even have a firearm – meaning most action is forced melee combat, which as you could imagine is pretty dangerous when your enemies are a swarm of flesh eating undead (referred to as ‘Shadows’ in game.)
The player is often presented with puzzles, needing to be solved to progress. These are all kind of simple though, and I would have liked to have a little more variety and depth to them. Using a slingshot to open a path, or moving a crate to a certain position to get to higher ground can only be entertaining a certain amount of times before we’re left wanting a more. Granted there are actually a handful of challenging bits that need solving, these usually come down to platforming, rather than thought, but these are few and far between.
Where Tequila Works’ title differs from the aforementioned XBLA classic though, is its linear nature. It’s not an adventure game exactly, in the style of Castlevania or Metroid, and although I think this premise would have been perfectly fitting for that sort of gameplay, the focus on story plays much better with a linear experience.
Deadlight falls into the category of ‘Cinematic Platformer,’ where the general gameplay is much more fluent and realistic than traditional platformers, mimicking that of real-life climbing, jumping and running exploits. Ill touch on this a little more below, but here, it really makes for some standout platforming elements. I feel this style plays off the survival aspects wonderfully, making a rather consistent sense of desperation and helplessness.
I want to stress that Deadlight shouldn’t be looked at as a ‘zombie game.’ This is a narrative experience, which is riddled with complex character study and genuine thought. The zombies are a delivery method of the story the developers wanted to tell, and a form of making such a story all the more powerful and in a sense, meaningful. Im a big advocate of XBLA titles, but while I do enjoy a great many of them, it’s an exceptionally rare thing to see such a detailed storyline being developed into a game of this magnitude.
Tequila Works have opted for a kind of ‘graphic novel’ representation for Deadlight. Cutscenes are delivered in a basic still-frame manner, with voice work and minimal animation added in for effect. I usually don’t care for this type of format, especially when the game is putting pressure on the character study aspect. But for an XBLA game, I think this was actually done really well, and fit in with the general aesthetic appeal, which was pretty neat itself. Deadlight tells a very dark story, and as such, tells it in a very dark manner – literally. The game makes excellent use of shadows and darkness as an artistic overtone, with the environments being grim and desolate.
The entire game is a depressing, bleak landscape which creates some surreal set pieces and platforming moments. One example is when you find yourself racing through a dense suburban environment and you really just can’t help but truly admire what Tequila have done with the scenery and their attention to detail. It sets the scene and strikes a mood with such expertise rarely found in Arcade games, even today.
As I mentioned earlier, the game is a fairly cinematic adventure. This is helped with very fluent movements and animation, which never fail to uphold a certain believability with the main character, who isn’t some kind of powerful hero – he’s an average Joe, just fighting his way through the apocalyptic landscape for the ones he loves.
While I was very impressed with the previous departments of Deadlight, the audio doesn’t give us the same level of quality. Voice acting is the main disappointment here, with every character other than our main man Wayne himself being delivered with poor quality. Our lead man starts off sounding unsuitable to his character – gravely, kind of carelessly void – but as the game furthers itself, we become attached to Randall and learn more about him, which I feel in a way gives meaning to how he’s presented.
The voices are genuinely emotionless and stale, and although this is common and sounds just like you’d expect with the graphic novel-styled cutscenes, it simply doesn’t suit the type of tale the game is trying to tell. This is a deep and dark tale of humanity and desperation when faced with certain doom – we need good voice actors to properly portray this, but the end result means a lot of the potential is lost. Sub-par voice work is akin to undirected actors is a film – the difference can truly make or break a storyline.
Ambient and background sounds and music are done pretty well though, with a suitable score made decent use of, but what I think is more important here was the use of silence. There is obviously a horror element to the game, with the zombies and survival gameplay, and the way in which the audio plays – or in some cases, doesn’t – into the rest of the game was executed well.
- Dark, mature narrative
- Excellent cinematic platforming
- Great visual and art styles
- Lack of thought provoking puzzles
- Bland voice acting
The realistic delivery of the game plays into every aspect – particularly the gameplay and the storyline – and mixed with the solid art direction and visualisation of a world gone bad, Deadlight is a highly satisfying and memorable platforming experience with but a few flaws which stopped this from being a true bar-raising XBLA game.
Written by Lax