Tripping the light fantastic: Hyper Light Drifter Review
Hyper Light Drifter (HLD) was originally intended to be released back in 2014 after a highly successful Kickstarter program. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, developer Heart Machine decided against it and dedicated more time to make the best game that they saw fit. Now two years later, HLD is available for PC/Mac. So does the brainchild from lead designer Alex Preston and his team deliver on all those promises? Here's our review.
HLD tells the story of the Drifter. The Drifter is a denizen of a dilapidated, deserted, and downtrodden dystopia disturbed by danger within a distant future. For the sake of spoilers we won't discuss the plot and ruin that for you. The plot and what urges the Drifter forward is fully explained within the first 5 minutes of the game. Throughout his journey you'll be reminded regularly to keep going.
It's important to mention that HLD has no dialogue; spoken or written. Story scenes, and character interactions are told audio-visually. Not many games (indie or otherwise) can do this, and even fewer can do so effectively.
And Laughter holding both his sides
From a gameplay perspective, HLD is inspired by 8-bit and 16-bit games such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Diablo. With modern design mechanics, it becomes something new unto itself as a 2D action RPG. HLD is a fast and responsive game that will require skill to complete. Often the odds will pit you against rooms filled with relentless enemies and environmental dangers. Then there's the bosses -- they're difficult, unforgiving and thoroughly challenging.
The good news is that gameplay includes discovering an array of weapons to dispatch all of your foes. The game also features a robust upgrade system via NPCs. You'll be able to either increase your health, gain more dashing, learn new sword techniques, and etc. Gaining new upgrades is done by obtaining golden batteries found throughout the world.
The world will continually encourage you to find hidden paths and secrets. If you think that there maybe something to be found, you'll often be rewarded for your curiosity. The rewards for exploration include new outfits, new drone designs, and more. Oh, I forgot to mention the UI for the game is also devoid of text. The text-free UI is well designed so navigating both your map and weapons is child's play.
Come, and trip it as you go
In terms of visuals, HLD features a very beautiful 2D pixelated world. Aesthetically speaking there's a duality the art direction captures to further reinforce the Drifter's world. Environments are very awe-inspiring but at the same time are woefully barren. Lands are peppered with remnants of an advanced age juxtaposed with the harsh reality of the modern times.
Combat also is where you can truly appreciate the detail placed into the Drifter and his fluid movements. The protagonist is hardly the only well-animated sprite, of course. Throughout the game you'll witness different flavors of violence (countless times by you) that may include foes being shot, severed limbs, and deaths by explosion to name a few. These scenes are wonderfully expressed, to put it mildly.
On the light fantastic toe
Lastly, there's the music in the game is provided by musician Disasterpeace. The chiptune and electronic tunes could be described as a case study for proper game music. Tracks are somber and lonely as you traverse numerous empty locales. As foes appear, music becomes faster-paced and loud. It's interesting to note that considering the challenge you're facing, the music escalates in accordance. The best music, however, is when you're facing a boss -- those tracks are grandiose, pulse-pounding, and very fitting.
At the end of it all...
A single playthrough may take roughly 8 hours or so. There's rarely a slowdown in this well-paced game. Now will you discover all areas of the game and access all its content in 8 hours? Not likely. There's also new game plus (a hard mode) which unlocks after completing the game. When you take that into consideration, there's a lot of time to spend here.
Hyper Light Drifter is a very well-made and well-executed game that succeeds in constantly challenging you forward. No adventure fan should miss out on this experience.