In the wake of games like Limbo and Shadow Complex, it seems like the form of 2D gaming is making a comeback, even though developers are now faced with the challenge of creating an immersive world around your character, so that it still feels like a vital part of today’s gaming scene. Still, with the right team, it can be done, and the development team at Tequila Works (love that name) has stepped up to bat with Deadlight, their highly anticipated strategy/action game, which pits you against not only zombies, but puzzles that could easily spell your doom if you aren’t careful.
The game takes place in 1984, in the midst of the Big Brother days. You’re Randall Wayne, an ex-park ranger who gets separated from his family in the midst of a zombie outbreak, which overtakes most of his home state of Washington. Randall must fight the odds and use whatever resources he can to stay alive, in the hopes of reuniting with his loved ones.
Deadlight opens splendidly. When you first start out, you find yourself scrambling to get from place to place, while the undead keep in pursuit of you. Sometimes you’ll be able to take them out with smarts, luring them into a pit or crushing them with a car. Other times, you’ll have to be more visceral, using a fire axe that you’ve found in a corpse to put them out of their misery. The game also introduces a great new tactic with the pistol, as it forces you to physically load and shoot your gun one shot at a time. That can be tight in a pinch, but that’s Tequila Works’ way of introducing tension.
However, despite the developer’s best efforts, Deadlight doesn’t entirely keep that momentum. First off, the story kind of fades the further you get into it, thanks to the less-than-sensible dialogue (think a Michael Bay-produced horror film, someone along those lines) and the fact that the game doesn’t give you too many reasons to care about the characters – not even Randall.
Secondly, the momentum also shifts, going from outrunning zombies to solving puzzles left behind by someone called The Rat. These are deadly traps that you have to disarm or get around in order to survive the stage. While these do present an interesting challenge, having them in the first place kind of negates the point. This guy is supposed to be helping you, and instead of disarming these and doing so, you have to strenuously go through his “test”.
Some people may like this set-up, but a real problem comes with the gameplay. On the one hand, the controls are a little sloppy in parts, such as grabbing onto a ledge after a huge jump – or trying to, anyway, as it’s real easy to fall to your death – or outrunning zombies, only to have to mash a button like crazy when one surprisingly grabs you. They’re not completely broken controls, mind you, but the little problems will force you to try sections more often than you might expect. And this is bound to get tiring for some of you.
At least Tequila Works has its heart in the right place with the game’s graphics. The 2D engine is absolutely amazing at times, with exquisite lighting effects both in indoor and outdoor environments. The animation is smooth, and never loses any piece of its creepiness, especially when zombies start lumbering after you. It’s definitely a step up from what we’ve seen from previous 2D style games. In fact, it can even hold its own against Chair Entertainment’s Shadow Complex, even if it isn’t as interactive.
Now, if only the dialogue kept up. On the bright side, at least the in-game music is very good, with ominous tones that settle in at just the right times.
Finally, we couldn’t help but be disappointed with Deadlight’s conclusion. There is a twist here that some of you won’t see coming, but rather than wrapping up this flawed tale the right way, it’ll leave you scratching your head, wondering if that’s it.
While Deadlight can’t quite hold the same recommendation as the previously released Limbo (due to its gameplay and story flaws), it still gets a mild thumbs up. Tequila Works did a lot with the atmosphere, and there are parts of the game that do send chills down your spine, flawed gameplay and all. Check out the Trial Game and see if the fear sinks in with you as it did with us.