'Deadlight's' XBLA flashback

After a sleeper run at Microsoft's Pre-GDC event earlier this year, Deadlight is back at 2012's E3 with more polish and a slot in Microsoft's Summer of Arcade promotion in tow.

Developer Tequilaworks' Deadlight is awash in its influences. For modern audiences, those will likely mean one particular avenue of connection — to the hopelessness of George Romero's Day of the Dead and other similar genre fiction. It's not just that there are zombies and the fall of civilization but also the aesthetic and particulars of the setting, a dingy 1980s Pacific Northwestern U.S. full of anachronisms like loading screens that feature cassette tape spindles winding in reverse.

But to other, older players, players that grew up at the dawn of rotoscoping with Prince of Persia and saw it mature, there will be an entirely different kind of association. Deadlight looks and plays like nothing so much as the memories the aforementioned player might have of Out of This World or its successor, Flashback.

After a sleeper run at Microsoft's Pre-GDC event earlier this year, Deadlight is back at 2012's E3 with more polish and a slot in Microsoft's Summer of Arcade promotion in tow. While I merely watched a 10 minute segment before, this time I jumped right in, not looking up until I realized there were others waiting to play, and I had been sitting rapt for around 40 minutes or so.

Guilt ended my session, but otherwise, Deadlight is coming together quite well. Tequilaworks has decided to ease the difficulty and danger level up from the beginning, rather than throwing everyone to the wolves (or zombies, I suppose) immediately. Bites aren't one-hit kills anymore, and weapons feel a bit more viable than they did before.

That isn't to say they're easy to use, exactly. Swinging an axe I pulled from a dead "shadow," I winded myself and eventually slumped forward heaving and panting, a prime target for the ambulatory dead. When I found a pistol, I was greeted with a novel loading mechanic, where each chamber of the revolver is loaded individually by tapping the left bumper. While this didn't slow down my shots in any particular way, it did serve to make me conscious of every shot fired in a way most games just don't take into account.

Bullets are precious, but they're scant defense against more than a couple of shadows. Your best weapon is forward momentum, and it's here that the rotoscoped memories of Flashback and Out of This World resonate most. Main character Randall runs, jumps, and collides with his world in a classically animated manner, with some keyframed rotoscoping used here and there. In motion, Deadlight is wonderfully kinetic, without feeling dated or stale, and the multiple paths and physics-based puzzle solving on the move was consistently engaging. It took tired subject matter and made it interesting.

Deadlight will launch this summer as part of Microsoft's Xbox Live Summer of Arcade promotion.

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