Why I Love: Hyper Light Drifter
This is the time of the year wherein we’re usually starting to hit a bit of a dry spell in terms of great video games coming out. Summer is looming on the horizon with its blockbuster movies and drought of game releases. However, 2016 is shaping up to be a little bit different. Not only do we have Dodge Roll’s Enter the Gungeon releasing this upcoming Tuesday, but shortly after I know a ton of people will be diving into the dark and shadowy world of Dark Souls III, myself included. These releases are tremendously exciting, but today I want to talk about a recent release that caught me off-guard and has been a very pleasant surprise.
I’m talking about Heart Machine’s Hyper Light Drifter, of course. I had seen some screenshots and trailers prior to the release of the game, but I wasn’t keeping very close watch on it. I suppose I had other games on my mind that kept my attention. But then, as March 31st approached, I kept seeing people talking about the game’s upcoming release. My friends were excited about it; two of them had pre-ordered it. So, my curiosity compelled me to purchase the game myself. And I am very glad that it did, because I’ve been having a ton of fun with it.
For those of you that don’t know about the game, let me give a brief summary. You play as the Drifter, a silent character who wields a sword made of light and a variety of guns, as well as formidable speed. The beginning of the game shows a captivating world of color and light being destroyed by some form of cataclysm, as well as the Drifter dealing with some personal health issues that continue to plague him through the rest of the game.
It is a beautiful game. This is most likely the first thing most people will say about it, when they talk about it. The art direction is relentlessly creative; from the bright colors used for every surface and character, to the silky smooth animations, to the breathtaking views in certain areas, this game is one of the most visually appealing games I’ve played in a long time, especially in the realm of indie titles. I’m also in love with the soundtrack. It was created by Disasterpiece, who may sound familiar to anyone that played the game Fez. It’s a collection of tunes that can invoke dread just as well as they invoke wonder. The heavy bass that is present in most tracks has not become tiresome to me; in fact it inspires excitement in me because it has been used so well. Usually, when the bass hits in this soundtrack, there is some amazing spectacle to behold, or a boss to fight. It gets me amped as heck!
The art direction is relentlessly creative; from the bright colors used for every surface and character, to the silky smooth animations, to the breathtaking views in certain areas…
The game doesn’t tell you what your goal is, doesn’t give a long-winded explanation about what happened to this world and who the Drifter actually is. No, in the world of Hyper Light Drifter, you truly are on your own. And personally, I adore this element. I know our own John Burton has talked at length about how much he loves Dark Souls, and one of the reasons I share that love for that series is that there is no hand holding. There are no objective markers to tell you where to go, no lengthy tutorials to explain how to use the game’s toolset. The game provides you with the things you need to succeed, but ultimately leaves it up to your determination, skill, and persistence. Hyper Light Drifter does the same thing. It encourages exploration by not telling you where to go, and it produces a sense of adventure by placing danger behind every corner.
This brings me to the combat in this game. You have your sword, which is good at close range and can be upgraded with new moves, including the ability to deflect bullets back at attackers (my favorite). Then we have the assortment of guns available. I haven’t beaten the game yet so I don’t know how many guns you can end up with, but so far I have my basic starter pistol, a laser rifle, and another pistol that resembles a Magnum and fires larger projectiles. The firearms in this game are a gamble; in order to use them well, you have to stop, line up your shot, and fire, all within a few seconds. Using these guns requires a thoughtful, and yet quick, assessment of the risk involved. The third and final tool is your dash. Pressing A on the Xbox 360 controller (what I use) will quickly propel you forward in the direction you are walking. Later in the game you can upgrade this ability to allow you to chain multiple dashes together, which is incredibly useful. Combining all of these tools and the skill to use them results in fast paced, adrenaline fueled gameplay that constantly keeps me on the edge of my seat.
I can say with no doubt that I love this game.
I have died a lot in this game. The regular enemies are tough, and the bosses are brutal. It’s not a forgiving game in any sense of the word, and there are certainly going to be players that don’t like that kind of difficulty. For me, however, it has been a blast. Just last night, I defeated the boss of the western region: a big swordsman who also used a large gun, and the ability to summon crystalline spikes from the ground. It took me about six tries to finally take him down, but the feeling that I got watching that health bar lose its last red blip was terrific. It is a feeling reserved for those who play these kinds of games and stick with them, despite their difficulty and lack of guidance. Much like my foray into From Software’s Bloodborne, I went in ignorant of the game and what it would entail other than “it’s hard”, and came out with a huge grin on my face, ready to jump right back in. I can say with no doubt that I love this game. I hope the ideas and tools it uses can be an inspiration to game designers in the future, so we can see more gigantic adventures with high stakes gameplay and gorgeous art/music. Hyper Light Drifter may just be a bright guiding beacon for this type of game from here on out.