|Release Date:||August 1, 2012|
|Big Ups:||Great atmosphere, Intriguing protagonist|
|Big Downs:||Horrible melee combat, sub-par platforming, bad voice acting|
Envision yourself a park warden in Canada hearing news of an infection originating on another continent essentially turning those infected into zombies called “shadows”. An infection that eventually reaches your country, and more importantly, your hometown. Luckily, before things got too bad, you sent your family off to Seattle where things are apparently better and there is a “safe” zone to seek refuge. Now, you have to go to Seattle and find them. This is the terrible situation Randall Wayne finds himself in as the protagonist in the first game to hit the 2012 Summer of Arcade.
Randall is a character that no gamer would ever want to “relate” to due to his situation, but many gamers will want to know more about. And Tequila Works definitely gives you the ability to get to know more about him. They give you Randall’s diary with 60 pages of content (though some missing as collectables during the game) that fills you in about Randall’s life from before the infection, through the spread of it across the globe to when the game drops you in Seattle. I usually pass on content like this, but the diary, in combination with the atmosphere, brought me into the world that Randall is confronting.
The opening act of the game puts you in Seattle with a small group of survivors that are also fleeing to the safe haven. Outside of the character’s voice acting sounding horrible, the depiction of post-apocalyptic Seattle is impressive. The environments are dark and gloomy and the subtle background music only adds to the atmosphere. It’s hard to imagine successfully setting up a survival horror game for what is essentially a 2D platformer, but it doesn’t take long during the first act to realize that Tequila did it and did it well. The anxiety and fear felt in other survival horror games, of what may be through that next door you’re about to bust through, is present and the pacing is perfect at the beginning. It’s all handled tremendously well right out of the gate and throughout the entire first act.
The problem is, that’s where that feeling ends. From there you make your way through a “labyrinth” portion of the game which changes the feel to more like Limbo or even Out of this World, and it works well. The survival horror feel is gone, but the game is still enjoyable. But after exiting the labyrinth area, the game just falls apart due to all of it’s flaws showing their ugly faces.
The mechanics of the gameplay are fine during the slower paced survival horror portion of the game, but when things start to speed up, the platforming becomes laborious and inconsistent. For instance, when Randall jumps toward a wall, he climbs as much of it as he can and grabs on to the top if possible. But if he jumps toward a fence, he just grabs onto the fence where he lands. Climbing the rest of the fence is slow and can mean death in scenes where he is being chased. Randall, also, won’t actually jump over a fence or similar obstacle. He switches sides of the fence first, positions himself then you can drop down after the animation is done. This, too, slows him down quite a bit so that death is imminent. Free floating platforms pose problems from time to time since more often than not you can’t jump while running and grab one. Instead you have to stop and jump straight up when you’re in the right position.
Combat is a completely different problem. Melee combat is completely useless. You would think that an axe would do a pretty decent job at taking out zombies. If you don’t take one out by cutting off the head or something, surely the sheer weight of the axe with the speed that good ol’ Randy swings it would cause enough blunt force trauma to kill one right? Nope. You can swing all day long, but much more often than not, unless you do a finishing downward swing while they are on the ground and not moving, they are still alive.
Deadlight also has zombies that approach from the background much like Shadow Complex. Though Shadow Complex will automagically fire at said enemies in the background depending on the scenario. Deadlight doesn’t do that. Randall won’t adjust his swing to attack the zombie. As the zombie approaches you from the background, you have to move around to try and avoid it, which isn’t hard. The zombie will adjust to still walk toward you. The problem is that unless the zombie has fully reached the foreground plane, if Randall attacks, he will miss. There is really no indication that the zombie has reached the foreground so if you try and attack right when it gets to the foreground, many times you end up swinging at air and while Randall is still in the attack animation, the zombie will bite you. Many times it seemed like the axe was going right through the zombies I was attacking. And really, sometimes it does. Even when attacking zombies you have already hit once, you may swing again and not hit them. It’s really quite frustrating.
The gunplay is far better than the melee combat. Especially in the first act when the pacing is better suited for the game as a whole. Again, similarly to Shadow Complex, you use the right stick to aim your gun and the right trigger to fire. It works well. There is a reticule that shows up on enemies or other items that are affected by your shots. But, again unlike Shadow Complex, you can not fire into the background to take out approaching zombies. Even with that, though, it was far less of an issue than the melee combat. The only issue I had with the gunplay was that during the game there is an object that you have to shoot to continue and there’s no clear place on where to shoot it. The first time I tried this particular “puzzle,” one shot from my gun and it worked. After I died and went back, that never happened again. I would have to unload 8 to 9 shots from 2 different weapons to get it to work. I reset to the previous checkpoint several times trying to reproduce the “one shot win” that I got the first time I tried it to no avail.
The game is brilliant for pretty much the entire first half of the campaign. It’s a shame that they changed the pace so much on the back half of showing off the fatal flaws of the gameplay. Keeping the pace the way it was in Act 1 would have hidden the flaws that are there, but even with the pace change, the issues are not huge and would not have been hard to spot and fix with a little more user acceptance testing. Make it so that you can interrupt the animation of switching sides of a fence/wall and drop down. Make jumping into fences similar to jumping into walls where Randall will run up and grab the top. Make the swing of the axe actually reach an appropriate amount into the background. These don’t seem like huge changes, but they would have made this game exceptional. Unfortunately, they are not there. Regardless, I did enjoy seeing how Randall’s story played out. While I was playing, I really got caught up in his trials and wanted him to end on a high note. Good on Tequila for succeeding on that front.