Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade has reached the third game in its 2012 catalogue. Deadlight radically changes the tone set by the two previous Summer of Arcade titles, and those looking for a more mature dose of downloadable goodness will find it in Tequila Works‘ big debut. Deadlight is essentially a side-scrolling, zombie filled, puzzle game, and this hodgepodge of content combines to create a fun experience. However, while the game has its moments, it’s just too short-lived to be anything more than a slight step above average.
The story in Deadlight is based around a character by the name of Randall Wayne, as he searches for his missing wife and daughter. The time period is set in the late 80’s, after zombies, referred to as shadows, have completely destroyed life as we know it. Randall will wander through a decimated Seattle, Washington trying to help a ragtag group of survivors that he’s befriended. Right from the get-go players will be introduced to the hardships of this world, but it’s more or less the exact same setup that’s found in every other zombie survival story.
Cut scenes are played out in a comic-styled cinematic, and it merges the gaps between each strip of gameplay well enough. What works against these story elements, however, is the horrid voice acting. It’s not so much the main protagonist — Randall Wayne’s gravely voice is more than adequate — but the supporting cast of characters. Whenever Wayne stops narrating the story and converses with other characters, it instantly takes away from the authenticity of the game’s atmosphere. Fortunately, the levels themselves manage to pull you right back in… if only for a little while.
What makes this setting so special is the wondrous environment that Tequila Works has created. The hopelessness surrounding the situation Wayne finds himself in is captured beautifully by the gloomy overcast of certain areas, while the innards of gutted buildings provide a haunting look at life prior to the apocalypse. Deadlight‘s atmosphere is one of the best in any game currently available, and while that does wonders for immersing players, the weak platforming will take gamers right out of the moment.
Platformers need tight and consistent controls, but this delightful-looking download just doesn’t deliver. Certain sections that require a simple leap to cross a gap can serve up several bitter plates full of death, courtesy of Randall’s inability to jump a consistent distance. A majority of the time players will succeed and move on to their intended destination, but every once in awhile the protagonist will get a sudden burst of energy from out of nowhere and overshoot the target — forcing baffled players to watch helplessly as Randall plummets to his death.
Despite the lacklustre controls, the overall layout of each level in the game is done well. Players will find themselves sprinting, jumping, and climbing away from the undead hordes as they do everything in their power to keep the main character alive. Different areas bring with them a sense of panic triggered by zombies trapping you in a corner or buildings beginning to crumble down on your head. These are the segments where Deadlight really shines.
When players don’t find themselves running for their lives, they’ll be tasked with solving puzzles and figuring out how to best use the environment to avoid/kill the zombies blocking their path. Ammo is a hot commodity, so shooting through wave after undead wave is futile, and strategy will, for the most part, remain on running past the shambling flesh-eaters. Players can get the attention of the zombies by pressing ‘Y’, which sets up opportunities to lure them into traps or just jump over their heads and through a door behind them.
The puzzles in Deadlight don’t provide much more than two or three seconds of head scratching, but they do make for a nice change of pace. Dragging crates and unclogging drawbridges gets kind of old after a while, but each puzzle is done in such a way that it never really feels like you’re doing the same thing over and over again. Sure, you may be confused as to why there are so many boxes laying about a post-apocalyptic Seattle, but these decaying heaps of wood really are a survivor’s best friend.
Deadlight is one of the best looking games currently available on XBLA, but the potential of this property wasn’t fully realized. Inconsistent controls, bad voice acting, and straight-forward puzzles don’t do this Xbox 360-exclusive any favors. Combine those flaws with the fact that the game can be completed in four to five hours, and that $15 price tag begins to look mildly inflated. Hidden collectibles manage to add a small amount of replay-ability, but a majority of them will be found during the first play through.
This is one of those games that you’ll play through once and never touch again – unlike similar games (such as Limbo). There’s still a lot to like about the title though, so if it’s something you’ve been anticipating for a while, you’re not likely to be disappointed. If you’re just kicking the tires, then leave Deadlight in the shadows for a little while longer — you’re not missing out on a must-have masterpiece.
Deadlight is available exclusively for Xbox Live Arcade beginning August 1st.
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