Release Date: August 1 (worldwide)
Platforms available on: Xbox Live Arcade
Developer: Tequila Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Genre: Survival horror platformer
Deadlight is the debut game from Tequila Works, the new Madrid-based studio set up by alumni of Blizzard, Sony Europe and MercurySteam Entertainment. After teaming up with Microsoft Studios, the new outfit has unleashed its new sidescrolling survival horror platformer, Deadlight, and it's a pretty good start indeed.
Yep, it's only gone and happened again. Humans have scored a spectacular own goal and doomed themselves to oblivion. Deadlight lays down its marker early on in an opening illustrated cut scene that shows this is a seriously uncompromising vision of hell on earth.
The playable 'hero', Randall Wayne, or Randy for short, blasts a woman's skull to fragments. She's been bitten, he tells her frantic sister, and it had to be done. Was he too quick on the trigger? Did she deserve to die? Deadlight makes these questions suitably murky in a world where 'the end is nigh' stopped being applicable some time ago.
Deadlight is not quite so instantly striking with its visuals as LIMBO, but it is certainly a beautifully presented world. The 2D side scrolling levels offer partially animated urban vistas that aid the sense of immersion. This particularly works when the blood-thirsty shadows rise up in the background, moaning eerily, and come charging into the foreground hungry for Randy's flesh.
Deadlight's colour palette is dark grays, blacks and browns, but it is not a depressing place to be. In a sense, it has many parallels to Alan Wake on that front. Just like Remedy's hit title, the game uses light and dark, colour and gloom to its advantage. For example, bright and vibrant flashback scenes offer a jarring juxtaposition to what the world has become.
Alongside the illustrated cut scenes, Randy's gruff voice acts as semi-narrator for the adventure, but he only ever really knows as much as you know. Clues can be spotted in the environment, along with collectable items, such as ID cards left with bodies, pieces of poetry or pages from Randall's diary - all reminding that this was a world where people once lived and breathed.
While you do get weapons in Deadlight, the game is far from Left 4 Dead. The level design is geared to encourage you to think like a survivor. Not only is ammo scarce for guns, but also a stamina meter means you can only use a melee attack so many times before Randy gets tired. You can batter the undead freaks into oblivion, but usually it is better just to get out alive.
You will spend most time in Deadlight studying and using the environment to your advantage. You can taunt the shadows to wander blindly into a hazard, or trick them to come within range of a particular trap that will open up a way to reach a new area. Deadlight does not have the most innovative puzzle architecture, but the various different levels and challenges are well executed and satisfying to play.
The game's controls can be a touch fiddly, particularly with the combat, and there is a lack of effective signposting at moments. But overall, this is an accessible and fun experience that not only bears similarities to Limbo, but also harks back to classic platform games such as Another World and Flashback.
With Deadlight, Tequila Works has clearly taken inspiration from the critical and commercial recent success of Limbo on Xbox Live Arcade. The gameplay in this original survivalist horror title nods to PlayDead's masterpiece, but that is not a bad thing.
Deadlight also brings it own distinct sense of presentation, along with narrative and gameplay ideas to not feel overly derivative. Certainly, this is one version of hell on earth that is worth experiencing.