Hype is a powerful force. It fuels heated conversation, foretells joy, excitement, greatness and ushers consumers toward a purchase like moths to the flame. But how often does it mislead the masses and fail to produce on the promises it created in all of the confusion? Some might argue more often than not. One thing’s for sure though; nobody wants to play a game that feels nothing like what the countless trailers and gameplay clips showcased. In that, hype can be a dangerous beast where hoards of fans create their hopes and dreams only to be disappointed after a game is firmly within their grasp.
It is with extreme pleasure and utmost disbelief that I tell you Hyper Light Drifter, the new action RPG from Indie developer Heart Machine, does not fall victim to this issue.
I just want to go on the record and let you know that I say disbelief because I have been burned by the hype train more times than I’d like to admit, and there’s nothing worse than waiting years for a game only to have it crumble right before your eyes. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fall for the same old song and dance when I saw the first Hyper Light Drifter trailer. But thank the heavens this time it’s the real deal! I don’t think my little heart could have taken that kind of pain again…
This title has been compared to a lot ranging from Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past to Diablo, with the art direction reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s Nausicaa: of the Valley of the Wind – comparisons anybody would be giddy to make. But I’m here to say it completely creates its own immersive, unique feel with the use of gameplay, aesthetics, music and anything else that might make up a video game.
HLD starts off quickly with a title screen that transitions directly into all the fast-paced sword slicey, trigger-happy action seen in the trailers. There is no overarching story to follow or characters that we struggle to remember the names of. It’s just smooth, intuitive gameplay from the get-go, which feels remarkably personal in its own subtle way. This isn’t to say there will be no story, as Heart Machine has given background on the plot, but the playable preview throws you right into the mix: collecting weapons, exploring secret passages and figuring out enemy attack patterns.
Movement feels natural and comes in two varieties: walking or a kind of burst dashing that accelerates the protagonist, or “Drifter”, with rhythmically timed button pushes. I still haven’t fully figured out the dash mechanic, but must say it is a nice way to flank enemies when the numbers aren’t quite in your favor. It’s also worth mentioning that as the game boots up a message appears to inform players that the game is best played with a controller rather than mouse and keyboard. I played with both and fully agree that the controller feels superior, but both options work just fine. Shooting guns, swordplay and rolling grenades all come as easily as moving. This ease of use allows the players to focus more on the intricate enemy design and environment and less on how to effectively combat foes.
Heart Machine’s art department really steals the show from other indie developers as the pixel art in HLD brings the ever-popular 16-bit style to near perfection. Ornate designs on stony surfaces tell a story with our imagination, enemies spring to life with a snarl and the drifter begs you to closely travel alongside in the adventure without saying a word; all with the use of tiny, perfectly placed squares! SNES eat your heart out.
Now, keep in mind, I do realize the irony in this preview being that it is, well… just a preview and one that might build on the hype HLD has already established – but, trust me, it is well deserved. Hyper Light Drifter looks to be everything we could want and then some with a few surprises on top of that.
For anybody interested, the game can be preordered from the the official website and the preview that comes with the $25 version will be available until October 30. Official release is set for 2015, as its scope was expanded following a successful Kickstarter campaign which raised over $600,000 on a $27,000 goal. Hyper Light Drifter will be available for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Ouya, Xbox One and Wii U.
Have fun, fellow drifters!