Originally released on PC earlier in the year, Hyper Light Drifter recently made its way to Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but is Heart Machine’s retro inspired RPG worth console owners’ time? In short, yes - but read on to find out why.
At the beginning of the game you have two attacks at your disposal, plus a drift boost for dodging incoming fire and leaping small gaps. A light sword and sidearm are the weapons of choice at first, but there are a number of guns and alternate attack moves to unlock as you progress.
These include a shotgun type for close quarters (very useful for hit and run attacks in combination with the drift mechanic), a rifle which can cut through multiple enemies at once, and a powerful hand cannon that fires giant balls of energy and is capable of decimating smaller enemies and dealing hefty chunks of damage to larger ones (a personal favourite).
Hyper Light Drifter manages to condense solid gameplay and fast paced combat into a neat 8 – 10-hour package
Ammunition is not found, instead it is replenished through the destruction of objects or by landing melee damage on enemies, the latter of these offering up the greater reward. It’s a clever system, one that stops the player relying solely on ranged attacks and encourages them to embrace the frenetic close-quarters action.
All this takes place in an open world made up of five regions. The central town (used as a hub area for upgrades and down time) is bordered by four neighbouring districts, each featuring their own unique style and enemies.
Your main task is to find and activate a number of modules in each region and deal with whatever boss is residing there. It all looks simple enough when viewed upon the map, but it’s rarely a case of simply walking to the desired destination.
Some modules require convoluted journeys in order to locate them, leading you through dungeon-like underground sections made of multiple levels. The vague map isn’t much help, and as a result it’s easy to end up going in circles, which can quickly get frustrating. Maybe it’s my poor navigational skills, but finding the last elusive module was often just a case of wandering around in the hope I would eventually stumble upon it.
Being able tackle the lands in any order you wish helps keep things from growing stale or repetitive, however. If you become tired of the flooded lands to the east and its ninja star throwing, giant frog occupiers, then you can always head north to a more mountainous land for some battles with vulture creatures.
Approaching each fight for the first time is exciting, but is best treated as more of a recon than a serious attempt to emerge victorious. Some were markedly easier to beat than others, but for the most part it’ll take more than a few attempts in order to learn each bosses’ attacks and how best to counter them. Whittling down the sizeable health bars and eventually landing the final blow after a particularly gruelling fight is very satisfying, and makes all the failed endeavours leading up to victory feel worthwhile.
Taking on the game’s standard enemies is by no means less enjoyable, although sometimes things can get a little overwhelming when you encounter the horde mode like set pieces and the screen is filled with multiple enemies at once, each launching a variety of attacks. Much like boss fights, coming out on top in these moments can be very rewarding, and the game does well to make you feel like a proper bad-ass thanks to a nice little animation after victory.
As was mentioned earlier, Hyper Light Drifter is decidedly lacking in the script department. Knowing the game works as a metaphor for creator Alex Preston’s heart condition does add depth to proceedings, and gives the seemingly un-killable shadow-creature haunting the footsteps of the protagonist more sombre undertones - but as far as the in-game story goes, it’s open to interpretation.
This may be a deal breaker for some, but personally it’s nice to see a game for once not undoing its own sense of mystery and intrigue by explaining things too much. All that’s clear is that things are not right in the land, and you as the player are the person to set things straight, despite battling an unnamed illness.
What information there is to be gleaned from the well-directed cut scenes is enough to entertain, while a suitably atmospheric accompanying score is a more than worthy replacement for words in most cases, helping to deliver some powerful imagery.
Hyper Light Drifter manages to condense solid gameplay and fast paced combat into a neat 8 – 10-hour package (add a couple more if your fussed about finding all the hidden outfits and extras), delivering a solid, streamlined and enjoyable action-RPG experience, definitely one that shouldn’t be missed.