Deadlight – E3 Preview

Title   Deadlight
Developer  Tequila Works
Publisher  Microsoft
Platform  XBLA
Genre  Puzzle platformer, action
Release Date  Summer 2012
Official Site

There were hundreds of games at E3 2012 that I wanted to get my grubby hands on, but one of the few I was especially looking forward to was Deadlight. Having seen some previews prior to heading to Los Angeles, I immediately fell in love with its style and direction. I, quite literally, stumbled upon a playable version of Deadlight in the Microsoft area and like an excited child, grabbed the controller to experience this XBLA exclusive for myself.

Starting right at the beginning of the game, the back-story is presented through a comic book style slide-show. It feels very much like Infamous in the way it looks, but the writing is certainly much better; the characters seem more believable and the situation is much more dire. Its very clear from the opening moments that something is wrong with the setting; people are screaming, there is a strong feeling of desperation and anger. We see a man standing over the corpse of a woman, while a couple of people shout and scream at each other. Whatever took place here has only just happened and now there is a large amount of banging coming from the main doors to the warehouse they’re all in. Everyone makes for an exit as a zombies start to invade the building, chasing their walking dinners.

You take control of Randall Wayne, a man doing whatever it takes to reunite with lost loved ones amidst a zombie apocalypse in Seattle, 1986. His gruff voice and tall stature betray the stark reality: this man is not a zombie killing machine. Far from it.  He is more Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes than Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee. While Randall can defend himself, the better option is to run away or seek high ground. Zombies are fairly slow and cannot climb things, which is just as well, really. As they enter the warehouse, Randall climbs to the roof and makes good his escape. The undead litter the streets below, some stuck in vehicles, others just laying in the road. As long as Randall stays out of their reach he’ll be fine.

Lacking the ability to climb, however, doesn’t mean that the zombies don’t pose a threat. Swinging axes and clubs makes Randall tired, meaning he can only manage a couple swings before becoming very vulnerable. If there are more than two zombies you’re going to be in a world of trouble. I wasn’t prepared for just how tricky combat would be. In most 2D games if you have two enemies standing in the same space and you attack that space, you’ll damage both of them. In Deadlight there appears to be a certain amount of realism, as one swing will only make contact with one zombie, leaving the other to chew on your arm. Even if you do make contact, it will take a few swings to get the bastard on the floor and then another swing to finish them off.

The key to survival is not to attack, but to evade and trick. Evading the zombies by using the environment to your advantage is going to be your greatest weapon in Deadlight. This could be dropping a car on some zombies or creating a hole for them to fall into, as Randall can also shout to lure zombies to dangerous objects, be it electricity lines or the aforementioned drops. I didn’t see any other examples of how you might tackle various situations but based on what I’ve seen it will be an enjoyable experience finding out.

The game has a very unique look and feel about it. The most obvious comparison would be Limbo meets Shadow Complex, and while they both seem to contribute to this game’s overall outcome, it would be a disservice to Deadlight to suggest it isn’t one of the most original and enjoyable experiences I had at E3. I played for a solid half an hour and it took all my willpower to stop playing, fearful that I’d ruin it for myself later on if I continued.

I spoke to the developers, Tequila Works, about the title after being highly impressed with what I’d seen. They commented that it was very much about creating an atmosphere and ambiance to convey the seriousness and depressive nature of the situation in which Randall Wayne finds himself. If anything is going to confirm this as a must have title, it is just that. From start to finish there was a constant unease and nervousness about how I played. I’ve experienced dozens of zombie titles, from Atom Zombie Smasher right through to Left 4 Dead and none of them managed to instill this level of trepidation in my play. Despite being surrounded by thousands of people in a well lit room at E3 I still gave a manly (read: girly) little yelp when the howling wind blew open a door, tricking me into thinking it was a horde of the undead.

That same atmosphere is reflected in the backdrop. The level I played saw Randall trying to escape a city that had been totally ravaged by the zombie outbreak. Destroyed buildings, completely blocked freeways, and large piles of corpses all littered the view. It paints a bleak, but honest, reflection of what the world would be like if there really was an outbreak. Randall himself is no better; a bitter, angry man who has had everything taken away from him is the perfect accompaniment to this environment.

Tequila Works are hoping for a summer release date and state that the game should weigh in at approximately seven hours. From what I’ve played so far, that will be some very tense but nonetheless enjoyable time well spent.

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  1. [...] of games I had to see at E3 without fail; one of those games was Deadlight.  You may have read my preview (and if you haven’t, then shame on you), but it was a title I enjoyed immensely and had to [...]

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