Who would think that the survival horror genre would nicely suite a 2D side scrolling platforming environment? The makers of Deadlight, Tequila Works, did. For the most part, they were right. Surprisingly the developer has been able to maintain the tension of a survival horror game, whilst providing the puzzle solving simplicity of a 2D side-scrolling platformer.
The story takes place in Seattle in 1986. There’s nothing new to Deadlight’s apocalypse – a virus breaks out, the dead rise, chaos ensues, but your personal story is much more interesting. You play as Randall Wayne, one of the ‘lucky’ survivors. Through his eyes you see what has happened to the city as you try to discover the whereabouts of your wife and child. The undead aren’t the only obstacle in your path. You’re often faced with the challenge of avoiding ‘The New Law’, a militia whose motives and philosophies are rather questionable (to say the least).
The strength of Deadlight lies in its capacity to put you in dangerous situations that you have to think your way out of. You begin the game with no weapons, so it’s not like you can blast your way from A to B. When you do have firearms, such as a pistol or shotgun, you don’t exactly have an unlimited supply of ammo to provide you with that sweet feeling of invincibility.
You really do feel like you’re just barely surviving. It’s almost uncanny how you only ever seem to discover a med kit when you’re at full health. Complimenting the lack of health and ammo, is a stamina bar. Pick up an axe and start swinging and you’ll find yourself puffed out in no time. Hang from a window ledge to avoid the zombies down below and you’ll drop off from fatigue and provide some nourishment for the hungry horde.
These limitations force you to think on your feet and genuinely fear that all too familiar ‘grrrrrahrahrah’ when you walk into a room. There might be a car that you can drop onto their heads or a ledge that you can briefly leap onto. You might even use the ‘taunt’ function to lure the zombies into one area and then leap over them and high tale it out of there. Whatever you do, do it quick.
The platforming and puzzle elements are cleverly integrated and force you to solve each problem in order to get to the next point or indeed merely to survive. Predominantly, the controls are easy to use. You have your typical jump, wall jump and run function as well as the ability to seamlessly change and reload weapons. For the most part, the checkpoints are short, allowing the difficulty spikes to create a welcome challenge, rather than leaving you in a puddle of anger. There might be a three tiered puzzle, each part with its own requirement. Rather than force you back to the very start, Deadlight provides well placed checkpoints that allow you to restart from pretty much where you died.
Just when you find yourself praising Deadlight for understanding that video games are meant to be fun, not anger inducing, it falls into the worst traps of both platformers and survival horror games. Is Tequila Works trying to artificially prolong the game or did it just rush the last quarter? “Why are you taking me back to the start,” you’ll cry as the game abandons regular checkpoints in favour of long and frustrating trials. “But I did press the A button,” you’ll scream as the once smooth and responsive controls become flaky and unreliable for no apparent reason. These later issues taint an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Overall Deadlight makes good use of the conventions of both survival horror and 2D platformers, so much so that by halfway through the game, you forget that it’s not a natural hybrid. The story is strong and at times evocative, while the gameplay is fun and rewarding for the majority of the campaign. Deadlight is certainly worth the 1200 Microsoft points.