Difficult games are no longer a rare event in the current day and age. It’s almost impossible to scroll through a list of upcoming games without bumping into at least a handful of titles that look to be the next Dark Souls or something else of that ilk. But every now and then, you find a game seemingly unabashed in its need to teach you a hard lesson in a way that is refreshing and absolutely beautiful. Hyper Light Drifter is most definitely one of those games.
When one first gazes upon the brutal action adventure that is Hyper Light Drifter, the first thing that will be noticed is the unbelievable amount of detail that has been put into the pixel art that makes up the game’s world. Sharp, mechanical designs that perfectly bring to life the dying world that is left in decay as a vicious virus spreads. Bright neon lights help to accentuate the stark cold architecture, adding hints of beauty that even the plant life and bodies of water fail to deliver.
Hyper Light Drifter is so pretty that it’s easy to get caught up in the passive beauty of it all and just wander without a care in the world, but that is exactly what you shouldn’t do. You see, you are a Drifter on a mission. A virus has ravaged the world and is leaving life on the brink of destruction. It is up to you (the player) to set out and discover the source of the world’s ailment as well as find a cure. Unfortunately, it is not to be a quick, safe trip, since deadly enemies will block your path at every turn.
These enemies are fast and intelligent, dancing around the screen and teaming up to stop the Drifter at all costs. Ranged attacks, traps, explosions, melee combos, you name it. The enemies in Hyper Light Drifter will be able to use it against you. Fortunately enough, the protagonist isn’t without a means of self defense. The game has a wonderfully engaging combat system that rewards those who make an effort to master its timing. Dodging, shooting, and slashing are the name of the game as you battle numerous enemies at once, all while figuring out the ins-and-outs of each foes attacks. Using their patterns against them is of the utmost importance as the many different enemy types in the game will surely do the same to you.
The boss fights in Hyper Light Drifter are similar. They are large, strategic affairs that force the player to examine before lunging in for the offensive. Unlike quite a few games in recent memory, Hyper Light Drifter doesn’t have a large chain of boss battles, instead focusing on the adventure and smaller encounters, but the relative few that are present are well thought out and highly impressive.
One interesting aspect of Hyper Light Drifter is that there is no text or speech in the entire game, yet the experience will have a deep and compelling narrative. This story is told through the world as the player explores the vast limits of the open space. It’s a risky way of delivering something that the team has been working on for quite some time now, but it’s something that has been worked into every aspect of Hyper Light Drifter. It is completely designed from the ground up with no randomness whatsoever. This is not a rogue like or anything of that nature, it is a brutal open world action adventure game. The developers have a story to tell and a world that they want players to see in Hyper Light Drifter, and they’ve put in a painstaking amount of effort to make it look and feel as beautiful as possible.
At first I was worried that the predefined encounters and exploration wouldn’t mesh well with the intense challenge of the combat. Dying repeatedly would create a cycle of just doing the same thing over and over after all, and it may have made successive playthroughs a bit predictable. But, after dying a few times and returning to combat, I quickly got to see that my worry was nothing at all. Each time I entered the fray, the combat felt fresh.
I had learned something from the last time as is the case in many of the recent challenging games that have popped up in recent years, and those lessons brought something new. While the battles and amount of enemies are pre-determined, they don’t necessarily follow any specific pattern. Instead, they seem to work off of your actions, finding the best location for them to cause you the most frustration (in a good way) and doing everything in their power to make you feel helpless without ever actually pulling the rug completely out from under your feet.
That natural, adaptive challenge, mixed with the beautiful imagery, made for a really pleasant experience with Hyper Light Drifter. You will die, a lot, but it all feels worth it as you unlock even more and more of the world and its underlying story. Tight combat, a world that just begs to be looked at, and a sense of mystery make this game one to definitely look out for.