Deadlight preview – first look

Microsoft had no shortage of games on display at its recent Spring Showcase event in San Francisco. While it had a strong presence of core classics and the next wave of Kinect games, it was the Xbox Live Arcade corner that had some of the biggest surprises. Among several games, Deadlight proved to be the biggest attention grabber. There’s a good reason to get excited about this one.

What is it? Deadlight is a 2D side-scrolling platformer that takes place in pre-grunge Seattle circa 1986 as the Emerald City becomes overrun by a zombie invasion. You play as Randall Wayne, a protagonist with a mysterious past who’s trying to get out of the city by any means necessary.

Who is the developer? Tequila Works is a studio based in Madrid that was founded in 2009. It consists of team members who’ve worked on titles including Diablo III, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and Heavy Rain. This is the studio’s first title.

How does it look? Upon first glance, you’d be forgiven for comparing it to Limbo and Shadow Complex, thanks to a combo of high contrast lighting and side-scrolling action (along with lively 3D backgrounds). But it’s not driven by or inspired by either of those games. In fact, once we got hands-on, we realized that like Shadow Complex, it draws its inspiration from another gaming classic…

How does it play? A great deal like Flashback and Another World, two classic French-made platformers from the early 90s that inspired famous game designers like Hideo Kojima, Suda 51, and Fumito Ueda. Both are story-driven games that had fluid animation and challenging platforming that required exquisite timing. Tequila Works showed off the first section of the game to us, and explained that Deadlight’s dramatic tension comes from two factors: an initial lack of weapons and death from a single zombie bite. It’s a game that encourages you to flee and to use the environment to survive.

The slow, lumbering zombies, fortunately, are as dumb as any cute Lemmings that you’d see walk off a cliff in other games. That’s something to keep in mind as Randall descends from high scaffolds to ground level. In one area, Randall lured an undead duo away from their feast and into a pit of live electrical wires. As Randall entered an abandoned mechanic’s shop, he was able to drop the hydraulic jack on a suspended car straight onto a hungry zombie. He was then able to use the descended car as a barricade against others while he leapt to a ladder and climbed from the garage to safety.

In another section, we discovered how walking through water puts Randall at a serious disadvantage. As we leapt to a platform overlooking a sewer, we could see how a waterlogged corridor could be dangerous. Randall can’t swim, so we had to drain some of the liquid. At waist-deep height, he could navigate through it. Unfortunately, he’s then moving slower than the zombies. And sure enough, many of them rose up from the murky water to attack. It was another example of how the game toys with platforming mechanics to build high tension, and it was one of the most nerveracking sections of the demo.

The lack of weapons will heavily factor in. During our playthrough, Randall discovered a fire axe. As we swung it, we realized quickly just how hard it is to take out more than one zombie at a time. While they’re glacially slow, their strength in numbers (and Randall’s slow axe swings) can easily overcome Randall. Although we were reassured that pistols would appear later in the game, we were also told that bullets will be scarce and the sound will attract swarms of flesh-eaters.

When is it out? Tequila Works told us that Deadlight will drop later this summer on Xbox Live. We may be going out on a limb, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see this one as a strong contender for Summer of Arcade.

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