Launching on the Xbox LIVE Arcade this week, Tequila Works’ Deadlight seems to have been a long time coming. Revealed as an Xbox 360 exclusive title back in January, Deadlight has always shown promise in exactly the areas that we have come to expect from Microsoft Studios’ core digital distribution service, promoting stylish innovation above all else. Now that Electronic Theatre has been given the opportunity to put it through its paces, it’s clear to see that this is a mission statement that Deadlight has taken to heart.
The videogame begins with a very brutal execution of a surviving member of the group who wandered off, resulting in her getting bitten. Before even twenty seconds has passed, Deadlight establishes its plot as an adult tale of horror, a band of survivors fighting together against a zombie horde in a world built on nothing less than brutality. Tequila Works has then chosen a bold path for Deadlight, in that it’s tale is narrated by the character that embodies the player, as if to suggest the words being spoken are their own thoughts, with new characters introduced simply by a passing name designed as a recall of an earlier memory. It’s a technique used to stunning effect, as is witnessed by the first time you meet a character that had been introduced in such a way several scenes earlier. Deadlight is arguably a videogame that works on the strength of its plot delivery alone, with the solemn tale being enough to pull you through to the next scene every single time.
The first challenges Deadlight throws at you as simple platform tasks – run, jump, run and jump – with the emphasis being on speed. There’s always the possibility of an unseen enemy creeping up on you, and so the journey is almost always tackled at pace. It’s not long before more cerebral challenges are introduced – flicking switches, moving boxes etc. – but even these are generally delivers with an element of necessary caution. There are often cases where the visual clues presented will make you realise the answer before the puzzle is even obvious, and other which will make you wonder how you never thought of it before, but ultimately most of Deadlight’s cerebral challenges can be solved by thinking in terms of real-world logic.
Contrary to typical platform-action videogames, in the world of Deadlight you are not an all-powerful being, able to take down foes with one or two hits; finishing off an enemy for good takes true determination, and can leave you vulnerable to any subsequent attacks form other present dangers. Combat is rarely your first choice as even once you’ve acquired a firearm it’s never the easiest route out of any situation.
Deadlight packs a staggering amount of detail into its environments. While working on a 2D plane for it’s gameplay, the background is fully 3D and the active environment stretches on for miles, enemies creeping into play from a distance, friends escaping in a vehicle, cogs rotating as a hint for a moveable platform, these are the things that give Deadlight the feeling of a once lived-in, now devastated world. The videogame frequently aims at the same atmosphere as Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake, and yet here in two dimensions manages to sustain it for much greater period of time. For all of Deadlight’s artistry however, there are underlying issues in the composition with gameplay; for example, there are many times in which you will find yourself victim of a pitfall or other hazard not because of poor timing or observation, but because you simply couldn’t make out the supposed difference between surfaces due to the chosen colour palette. It’s a rare and unfortunate issue, but one which does disappoint given the praiseworthy quality of the rest of Deadlight’s presentation.
Launching as part of the Xbox LIVE Arcade’s annual ‘Summer of Arcade’ promotion, Deadlight is set to receive a significant amount of attention with the line-up of retail releases now hitting its slowest point in the 2012 calendar. But this interest in the title would be justified even if there were to be a parade of well worn franchises marching into stores this week, as Deadlight is arguably as engrossing as any retail product of the last twelve months. It’s a platform videogame that shows the spark of ambition coupled with the foresight of investing in a striking visual design, and for a wallet-friendly price you simply couldn’t ask for more. The Xbox LIVE Arcade means many things to many people, but to those gamers for whom it means innovation within familiar genres Deadlight is undoubtedly the easiest of recommendations.