Game Review – Hyper Light Drifter
Hyper Light Drifter
PC • Mac • PS4 • XB1
Hyper Light Drifter is the stunning result of a hotly anticipated Kickstarter project. When it first became backable in 2013, Hyper Light Drifter looked like so much more than yet another retro-looking indie game. But the development time dragged on and it looked more and more like vapourware and other games started popping up to fill the niche it seemed to be carving. With little fanfare, the project finally saw the light of day and the wait was more than worth it.
Set in the remains of a post-apocalyptic world, you play the part of the Drifter stricken with a mysterious illness and cursed by demonic visions. As you move through the world, you’ll start to recognise the decay that has occurred along with symbols from your visions. Armed with a sword, your curiosity and the urgency of trying not to cough up blood anymore, it’s up to you to set off and find out what’s going on. No over-indulgent cut scenes. No poorly written and badly acted dialogue. No condescending tutorial levels. Occasional NPCs will deliver a speech bubble with a few illustrated frames to explain their situation and that’s that. The story is all there within the world for you to absorb and comprehend on your own terms as you exist within the game. Take note, every major video game publisher, this 10-person indie-development team and their retro-style game just showed you what your medium is capable of doing with narrative delivery.
“It’s refreshing to see a game like Hyper Light Drifter come to be purely on the strength of an idea and the will of an audience.”
Fans of SNES-era Zelda and Metroid games will be immediately familiar with the overall format. Diablo fans or Dark Souls/Bloodborne forged masochists will appreciate the extra challenge presented by the no-punches-pulled combat. Dungeon areas are sprawled across a lush pixellated world and each area is themed along its own lines and protected by classes of enemies ranging from one-hit grunts up to seemingly invincible main bosses that require as much reflex as consideration to overcome. Areas in each region will be locked off until enough tokens from all over the map are collected. A limited amount of character improvement to weapons, movement and combat is possible that will allow further access to certain areas or simplify combat against previously insurmountable enemies. In other words, it’s your typical mid-’90s action adventure blockbuster.
The exquisite art direction brings the world as alive as a post-apocalyptic wasteland can be. Each area, and its corresponding subterranean sprawl, are distinct in their own styles and wonderfully realised given the limitation of the pixellated format. What could have been a series of boring post-apocalyptic greys and browns are instead a deep spectrum of neon meditations. Indie-game music titan Disasterpeace famous for the similarly pixellated dimension-bender classic, Fez, has given the game its brooding and dreamy soundtrack and it fits like a glove.
With so many big publishers looking to create the next big yearly-cycled cynical addiction-based nonsense machine it’s refreshing to see a game like Hyper Light Drifter come to be purely on the strength of an idea and the will of an audience. It throws back as much as it looks forward and it’s constantly amazing that it’s as good as it is.