Something occurred to me a few days ago, since I opened up shop I've written nothing but AAA reviews. Big games that take weeks to beat and just as long to review. So it's been really refreshing these last few weeks getting stuck into some smaller but no less awesome titles.


As I watched the opening sequence of Hyper Light Drifter it struck a chord and got me thinking of a title from my younger gaming years: an old classic called Another World. I remember playing this sideways scrolling game over and over again on my Atari ST, captivated by the beautiful yet stark alien world. I have also found myself being reminded of Blade Runner by the twangy synthesised score. Even the static-like eight-bit sound effects make me wonder what games or films inspired the team to create this game.



Easy mode is off sick


You need to know right out of the doors, this game is hard and will punish you again and again. This challenge is in part due to the game using a checkpoint save system, so you can spend twenty minutes decimating your foes with style only to make a silly mistake on the last fight and end up right back where you last saved: this can be mushroom cloud inducing. The combat runs a fine line between sleek and clunky, when it falls over the line towards the latter this can again push those red buttons. You do have health packs but these can sometimes be in short supply and this can leave you having to kill hordes of enemies without taking a single hit. Many comments on Steam have been in regards to the responsiveness of the dash and that you just cannot chain them fast enough. Others have mentioned that this game runs at 30fps which is a deal breaker for many. I do wish the game ran at 60 FPS because for a game that relies so much on fast reflexes this would have made the action sequences sing. However I do feel the game is hard but fair, it will kick seven colours of proverbial out of you but does so by playing by the rules.


The game also has a few boss battles and these are some of the hardest parts of the game, as they should be, with crackerjack timing required to best them. Honestly guys, I can't stress this enough, HLD will push you to your limits. Some aspects of the game do seem to be there just to torment you, like how long it takes to apply a health pack. For sadistic and stubborn buggers like me, this is all very well and good but for some it will be too much: You have been warned.



The one aspect of Hyper Light Drifter (HLD) that will palliate the need to smash your monitor is that it's fiendishly fun to play, combat can leave you breathless but then these moments are interlaced with peaceful scenes that calm the nerves ready for your next fight. As you progress through you acquire upgrade chips (actually they could be biscuits) from some enemies and hidden areas. These, in turn, allow you to choose a decent amount of upgrades across various disciplines. My advice would be to get the bomb and an extra health pack slot first, there are some interesting skills that can change how you play but spend them hard-won upgrade points wisely. In addition, there are also new weapons to find but these are limited to a few.



Tell my story....


Hyper Light Drifter clearly has a story to tell but does so without words or text, instead, it shows you it's tale through stylised images and some brief but poignant animations. The most common feeling I had in the first few hours of playing was confusion and a sense that I didn't really know what was driving my character forward. Conversations with NPCs are also carried out again with pictures and you are left to figure out the meaning, like a weird take on charades but minus the family fun. However this is not to say it fails to tell a story, on the contrary, I found this game world fascinating: you just need to get on a level with how it communicates.

So whether you know (or care) what is going on with the story this is a game after all, so how does it play? The central character can do some kind of phased dash and this is used in both combat to evade attacks and also to traverse gaps in the terrain. Your basic attack is a sword swipe which you can back up with a pistol you pick up early in the game. Your ammo is reloaded by hitting objects and enemies, so when you are short of the latter this encourages you to break everything else. The fights in HLD feel a little more intimate that others of its kind. I've heard some people describe this game as a cross between Nuclear Throne and The Binding of Isaac. That's actually a fair comment so if you did enjoy either of these two games then this will be right up your alley.

I do have to mention that while the graphical style is awesome it does sometimes struggle to convey information properly and often you loose your way simply because you cannot judge the depth of some obstacles. In addition, I found the map to be as much use as a chocolate teapot and only really serving to give a general sense of where I was. I will give anyone who decides to pick this up a top tip, search everywhere and press everything: because some of the hidden areas are obscure to the point of ridiculous. The plus side is that once you find a few you get to know how the game thinks, until then just assume every wall is hollow. Just one last mention in regards to the controls, when the game boots up it recommend a you play with a controller and on the face of things this did seem like the obvious choice. However after trying the two I found playing with mouse and keyboard gave me far more precision with aiming and allowed me to shoot while running in a different direction. 



Hyper Light Drifter is a sublime game that really stands out for all the right reasons. The fact it dares to be different means it will divide opinions in almost every aspect of the game. How difficult we find a game is a completely subjective factor and I will never blame a developer for providing a title which caters for those who want a higher bar to beat.

However, I still am giving this little gem a hearty recommendation as long as you have taken into account the unforgiving nature of gameplay. For an old school gamer like me this title is a lovely thing and one I will play many times over the years. 

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