A fantastic time, but a double-edged sword.
Hyper Light Drifter on PC
If Kickstarter should be praised for bringing us one game this year, it’s Hyper Light Drifter. While it may not have the polished 3D visuals, professional voice acting, and vast quest roster of AAA titles on the market today, it still stands as one of the most refreshing, enjoyable experiences to have released in 2016 so far.
Hyper Light Drifter’s most defining trait can be a bit of a double-edged sword: it completely lacks direction and a standard form of narrative. Rather than guiding the player through its 2D world, giving out handy tips and power-ups along the way, Hyper Light Drifter drops you in and sees what you manage to do from there. Apart from outlining the very basic controls, the game leaves you to work out what to do, where to go, and how to succeed. Heck, even interacting with an NPC only brings up storyboard-like images to tell you their tale. There are quite literally no words in Hyper Light Drifter, and it doesn’t feel like a strange absence.
There you are, dropped into a vibrantly-colored world with nothing more than your sheer curiosity to guide you. It may seem frustrating at the beginning, having absolutely no guidance in this obscure world, but the main pull of Hyper Light Drifter is simply working out exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, what’s happening in this world, and how to save your character, who can’t seem to stop coughing up blood all the time.
While this is one of Hyper Light Drifter’s strengths, it’s also going to be its weakness for some players. The complete lack of guidance is going to be enough to put some players off, especially in the early stages and particularly when its combat encounters are brutally difficult in comparison to most other games on the popular market.
After emerging from the beginning tutorial tunnel, you’ll find yourself in a central hub world with a diamond-shaped platform on the floor. At each of the points of this diamond is a little arrow pointing in that direction. As a mysterious sword-wielding bad ass, you must explore the worlds located in each of these directions, pick up four quadrants of a pink diamond, defeat the boss, and raise a giant pillar. Sound simple? It would be… if it wasn’t for the enemies waiting for your arrival.
Each enemy has a pattern and thus, must be attacked in its own individual way. Simply dashing into the middle of a swarm of enemies and flailing your sword will get you nowhere. Instead, Hyper Light Drifter requires you to work out when your enemy is most vulnerable and capitalize on this weakness. Failure to do so will result in death… a lot. Your failures in the game never feel cheap or unfair, though, because each combat encounter, in particular the boss battles, is its own logic puzzle that needs to be deciphered in order for you to proceed. Yes, there is a requirement to be at least relatively proficient with a controller, but your effectiveness in battle won’t come from complex button combinations.
The aforementioned boss battles are really the highlight of Hyper Light Drifter’s combat. Battling against a foe with a health bar quite easily four times the size of yours, with incredibly strong attacks and a variety of abilities at their disposal, will time and again put your skills to the test. You’ll have to use dashes to dance around enemies in a confined arena, letting sword slashes and gunshots fly during brief moments of weakness in their attack patterns. Yes, you may die a lot as that mistimed dodge comes to bite you in the ass, but that just makes it all the sweeter when you perfectly execute your plan.
So what is our hooded protagonist equipped with to take on this almighty challenge? A sword, a range of guns that have their ammo refilled by attacking enemies with your sword, and the ability to dash. All of these can be upgraded by acquiring Gear Bits. These are essentially the game’s currency and, when you find four, are combined to create one whole bit that I’ve come to call Upgrade Bits. These can then be exchanged in the central hub world to learn new abilities for your dash or sword, increase the amount of ammo you can carry for your guns, increase your health, or even purchase grenades. Gear Bits can be acquired through defeating bosses, large amounts of enemies, or by exploring the world. This is why your dash becomes your best friend on your adventure. It can get you across small gaps, slide through groups of enemies, and help you avoid being turned to mincemeat during boss battles. However, it’s your need for Health Packs and these Gear Bits that will make your dash so darn important.
This constant thirst for Health Packs, brought about by the fact your health bar consists of five hit points, forces players to not only be careful during battle but to also search the environment beyond just wandering a bit out of the way. Some of the items in Hyper Light Drifter are expertly concealed behind platforming challenges and hidden secrets. Exploring the surroundings never feels like a chore, though. In fact, just being in Hyper Light Drifter’s world, dashing around these colorful landscapes, is a joy.
Hyper Light Drifter is a challenging 2D action-RPG experience just waiting for you to jump in and explore. It’s not going to guide you by the hand, tone down its difficulty, or even tell you what’s going on. That’s all for you, as the player, to work out. However, underneath this obscurity and open-ended-ness is some of the most fast-paced and challenging action to come out this year.
• Challenging and fast-paced combat combined with technical, fun exploration.
• Engaging boss battles.
• Stunning visuals that bring a ruined world to life.
• Lack of guidance and narrative is incredibly intriguing but…
• will also be a big turn off for some.