Overview - Hyper Light Drifter Review
+ Fantastic atmosphere created by the hauntingly, beautiful graphics & music
+ Tight, concise controls for fast-twitch gameplay
- No direction given to the player causes difficulty spikes if not powered up
- Abstract storytelling makes the plot difficult to follow
HYPER LIGHT DRIFTER INFORMATION
Release Date: July 26th, 2016
Developer/Publisher: Heart Machine
Hyper Light Drifter is a modern, mature take on what a retro Zelda would feel like today. While the core gameplay is inspired by Zelda (at least those from the NES and SNES days), Hyper Light Drifter is a highly original work, one that through the graphics, sound and music really separate it from Zelda and also every game on the PlayStation 4. There are some flaws that prevent it from being a terrific experience, with difficulty spikes, directionless exploration and very minimal storytelling, but overall Hyper Light Drifter is a terrific experience.
Story - Hyper Light Drifter Review
Hyper Light Drifter's story is not easily discernible. Cutscenes are minimal and feature abstract visuals with little animation accompanied by music. There is no dialog and during a playthrough you're not even guaranteed to uncover the subtle plot elements hidden throughout the world. The storytelling is very abstract in how it is presented. The general idea is that your character is a "Drifter" through this broken down world, trying to discover a cure to his terminal illness. This Drifter's struggle mirrors the one fought by Hyper Light Drifter's creator, Alex Preston who has a congential heart disorder. Throughout the world there are remnants of technology which the Drifter can utilize for upgrades and new abilities. What's not quite clear is what happened to the world and what part the Drifter plays in it. The world itself however is beautifully designed and it's the nuances it possesses that act as little breadcrumbs, and only that, hinting at a past world. This is actually a fine way to present the game, as the influences of the 8 and 16-bit eras had mostly forgettable story telling. It's in this that Hyper Light Drifter doesn't inundate the player with needless narrative and instead leaves it up to interpretation. Little plot is better than a terrible one. It ends up being mostly inconsequential, the world and design are the real story here, and its exploration and unveiling is satisfying enough even if it's only small part of the total experience.
Technical - Hyper Light Drifter Review
"Indie" is a broad term used to describe any game not created by a major studio, but it used to be synonymous with low resolution, low polygon count, admitting that only 3D games were top quality in graphical design. And while it's mostly true that many independently developed games have resisted the need to go full 3D, assuming what accounts to a simpler, less beautiful or artistic technical application is just not the case. Hyper Light Drifter is an homage to the early eras of video games, but is spectacular in its graphical style, nonetheless. The pastel and primary colors make it anything but bland and the art design of the techno infused natural landscapes and characters are just as detailed as any AAA title you'll ever see. Hyper Light Drifter lives through its style and stands out in an age of high-definition and "4K" with nothing less than the heart, soul and mastery of technique of its creators.
Music - Hyper Light Drifter Review
Hyper Light Drifter's score was created by Disasterpiece and is an absolutely haunting piece of Electronica that represents the world beautifully. The best of 80s style synth, it expands the retro-era pastel color motif. Despite the games of the 80s being incapable of such sound, it still imbues the generation. Disasterpiece's score not only fits the game well but would be just as good at home on your listening device of choice, and not identifiable as a "soundtrack" like the orchestrated scores of so many other games. It's eclectic, moody and most of all, sets the tone. It's hard to imagine Hyper Light Drifter without it.
Gameplay - Hyper Light Drifter Review
It is possible to complete Hyper Light Drifter without ever upgrading your character or learning new skills, but even with doing so, the game can be extremely difficult. Because of the mostly open exploration in Hyper Light Drifter, you will encounter areas with exponential increases in difficulty. It's not only the difficulty of individual enemies but it's the quantity of them all attacking during the same encounter that tests your abilities. Fortunately the controls are extremely tight, matching the fast-twitch button presses needed to be successful. Hyper Light Drifter's main mechanics are a slashing sword, a sidearm and the ability to dash. Dashing is the best defense and a highly important means of traversal. Hyper Light Drifter's dash is inarguably the most important ability to master. Because physical attacks cannot be blocked (projectiles can be with an upgrade combined with a timed sword-swing), dashing is the way out of trouble, but also the means to initiating an attack. In this sense it can be compared to the dodging in games such as the Dark Souls series. Similarly like Dark Souls, learning enemies' attack patterns is equally important. That is where the comparisons stop however as Hyper Light Drifter's combat isn't nearly as technical. For many bosses, patience is all but necessary for success and in many instances defeating them can be extremely difficult without some of the preferred upgrades. It's only the aforementioned "open-world" that creates these "unfair" type of encounters. This is due to a lack of finding the requisite scenarios that prepare you for them, or finding enough upgrades to make the battle less difficult. Many times I found myself torn between gutting it out (fighting the boss over and over until I essentially got lucky) or backtracking (through what are usually difficult enemies - although they do not respawn) to an easier area to find easier means to upgrade. This was not ideal. Still, for the most part these encounters aren't met with regularity, and after acquiring an upgrade (such as the ability to string dashes together) it makes them all the more manageable. But therein lies the major problem, there are very little signals in which to follow to have this gradual power up, causing some frustration and backtracking that no one likes.
Hyper Light Drifter Review Roundup
Simply comparing Hyper Light Drifter to 8 and 16-bit Zelda games, is a total disservice. There are similarities yes, but Hyper Light Drifter does many things better and differently than Zelda that make it stand on its own. There are frustrations with the storytelling and some difficulty with enemies, but not enough to truly dampen the excellent controls, original music by Disasterpiece or the graphical art style that makes a modern game provoke thoughts of the 80s yet will no doubt stand the test of time.