I find that the best experiences in life are those in which you have very little expectations or previous knowledge. I remember seeing The Matrix at the cinema many years ago, I’d never even heard of it and therefore knew nothing about it. I was totally blown away and no film had ever filled me with that feeling of excitement and euphoria before, or since. I was literally stunned. I even met my wife on a blind date!
Games for me, can lead to similar experiences. I’ve said many times that my knowledge is not as great as some of my colleagues, largely blamed by a semi-hiatus from gaming these past 15 years. Sometimes when reviewing games I have little knowledge of them, other than someone pointing me towards it saying ‘this is pretty good’. I think this helps bring a fresh, unbiased view, which I think our readers appreciate.
You may wonder why I’ve just rambled a load of nonsense and not actually talked about the game! There is a reason, trust me… this game is absolutely amazing!!!!
Hyper Light Drifter totally blew me away and gave me my best gaming experience of the year so far. From the totally immersive pixel art style to the light storytelling waiting to be discovered, to the addictive ballbusting difficult gameplay, it just all keeps you coming back for more. I was totally addicted to the game, which at times could be frustratingly difficult, but it had that old school feel that I love. Not just the graphics, but the gameplay and difficulty also reminded me of the 8-16 bit generation.
The game itself doesn’t really tell you much about what’s going on, very The Legend of Zelda like. There’s an intro showing some massive X-Men style sentinels leading you to believe there has been some sort of Skynet takeover of the organic world. How they created the intro, in pixel art, is so impressive. The designers of the game are very talented indeed. A lot of the charm of this game is discovering what happened to this post-apocalyptic world which seems to be decaying and being reclaimed by the planet. Much like Horizon Zero Dawn or Flashback, the colour palette and pixel feel of some of the environments do remind me very much of Flashback, just a thousand times more sophisticated.
After the aforementioned intro the game starts, just you, a sword, a gun, a little flying robot companion and a cape are left to discover what’s happened. There are four main areas for you to discover, very much action RPG style. Another aspect I like is that the combat mechanics are fairly simple, very melee-based with lots of sword slashing, indeed I hardly used the pistol except to unlock puzzles or if specifically needed. There’s also your dash which allows you to overcome short breaks in your path. Your weapons can be upgraded (not that you are told this, you just need to find out) and also your abilities. You can pick up currency on your adventure. When I first picked some up (I won’t tell you what it is) I thought ‘what the hell is this for?’ But again, persevere and you’ll find out. You ask yourself these types of questions a lot in this game, ‘what’s that?’, ‘wtf do I do now?’ ‘how do I get past that’, ‘how in the HELL do I kill this, argh’. It might sound frustrating but it just keeps you hooked in, wanting to keep going and overcome what’s ahead.
The whole game is totally wordless, you come across some NPC’s who interact with you via a storyboard of dialogue, which is very clever. The story is one for YOU to discover and interpret, different people have different ideas as to what exactly is, or has gone on. You can discover secret or hard to reach monoliths that unlock larger pieces of the puzzle for you.
Look, this game will not be for everyone, there’s no hand-holding, no dialogue, not even a written word. I totally understand that some will find these points just too frustrating and abstract to keep going or rate it as highly as I do. For me? I think it’s perfect. The world is so immersive I was truly gripped. I was just hungry for more, more action, more discovery, more beautiful landscapes.
It’s well known I’m a fan of retro games, it’s my childhood era. But what Heart Machine (the developers) have created is truly breathtaking, excelling anything I’ve seen in this style. The colours of the worlds are very sci-fi and abstract, the pixels are dynamic, the creations are simple yet complex. Heck, even the water ripples, it’s so cool and is just remarkable. I genuinely hope you all enjoy this gem as much as I have. It’s a modern classic that will stay with me for a long time.
Review code provided
Platform: PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo
Release Date: 06/09/2018
No. of Players: 1-2
Category: Action, PRG
Developer: Heart Machine
Download link: eShop