Hyper Light Drifter – Review
PC, Ps4, Xbox One
It’s with great delight that I can sit here today and write a review for Hyper Light Drifter, though I must preface this review with a piece of personal transparency. When Hyper Light Drifter was first announced, it was a project on Kickstarter, one which I backed, and I’ve followed ever since. It was the PS4 code that I received for backing the game that has given us the opportunity to review the game, and while I do not believe in any way that my opinion on the final product has been swayed as a result of my history with the game, it is of course, important that you know all before you read any further. Onto the review!
Heart Machine, the development team behind Hyper Light Drifter have been working hard on Hyper Light Drifter since well before it was formally unveiled on Kickstarter in 2013 and smashed all set goals in very little time. Initially intended to release in mid-2014, Hyper Light Drifter didn’t hit digital stores March 31st, 2016 for PC owners, and it took another few months for it to hit consoles. Following years of preview builds hosted at different events, and a lot of press coverage, the final product is now readily available to all, but does it meet expectations?
There have been a number of really well documented Kickstarter success stories, but also a number of critical and commercial flops. Thankfully Hyper Light Drifter fits in the former group, and it’s largely due to exceptional artistry, and an expertly balanced campaign. Kicking things off, however, I’ll touch on one of the game’s more contentious aspects, its minimalist storytelling approach. The tale, deliberately obscure, and sometimes frustratingly so, places you in control of ‘The Drifter’, a nomad who is journeying the world looking for new technologies (Oh how Hideo Kojima of you!) It’s not long however before you find yourself with a new priority, that of bringing down a malevolent entity known as Judgement which is wreaking havoc upon the world.
Your trek, those that you encounter along the way, and some of the game’s more pivotal moments are open-ended enough that you can project your own take onto what has transpired, all this in favour of a more linear, and perhaps more obvious narrative. I personally would have preferred the story-telling to be a little more explicit, as there were a number of pieces of environmental storytelling that were easily missed or some other storytelling moments were a bit too vague to extract real meaning from. While I’m all for alternate storytelling methods, the game’s narrative was a little too abstract and buried too deeply for me to ever feel invested in the plot.
The open-ended design philosophy also extends into the gameplay. As the game kicks off you’ll be thrust into the world with a wide range of options to choose from; three pathways stand before you, with numerous deadly foes guarding each, and you’ll need to draw upon each of the Drifter’s skills to successfully overcome what is thrown at you. The Drifter is no wrecking ball and in fact, can be taken down quite easily, so players will need to take full advantage of the Drifter’s speed in order to dart about the battlefield, evading then attacking, before again evading then searching for another opening for a few quick slashes.
Not for the faint of heart, Hyper Light Drifter can at times be brutal, yet it remains largely fair. There are occasional difficulty spikes that may make you consider tossing the controller, but once you learn the rules to that encounter, or you retrace your steps to get an all-important upgrade, suddenly victory seems within reach. Auto-saves are frequent so you’re rarely punished too heavily for failure; health however isn’t quite as common, so you may have to grit your teeth and grind out a win against all odds – the satisfaction that came from this however warranted several epic fist pumps after victory was achieved.
Taking on a top-down approach, Hyper Light Drifter feels like many classic Super Nintendo games, game’s like Secret of Mana, only much faster. You’ll see some of the best elements of the aforementioned game as well as others from The Legend of Zelda and Diablo, to name but a few. Merge those with incredible artistic style and you’ve got yourself a fantastic package. The visual artistry on show in Hyper Light Drifter is something to behold; we’ve become so accustomed to multiple shades of grey and brown over the years, that the bold greens, blues and purples of Hyper Light Drifter immediately smack you in the face. Combine such bold use of colour with pixel perfect artistry and Hyper Light Drifter just oozes charm – the sound design also excels, escalating some of the scenarios to epic heights.
Have a friend that has drifted *pun intended* in for the day? Well you’re in luck, Hyper Light Drifter also supports co-op play and while I personally felt that having someone riding shotgun detracted somewhat from what the narrative was trying to say, it’s of course optional, and serves as a fun addition for those who’ve already completed their adventure once. New Game Plus will also give you a reason to return, and refine your craft even further.
Hyper Light Drifter, while brilliant in so many ways, is held back by what it has deliberately chosen not to say. You’re thrown into a massive world given little to no direction, a vague map, no narrative guidance and are then expected to graft out your own story – it’s an approach that will understandably push some away. If you stick around however, you will come to experience an incredibly polished and beautiful game, one that is equal parts challenging and satisfying. The wait has proven to be worth it.