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Hyper Light Drifter (PlayStation 4) artwork

Hyper Light Drifter (PlayStation 4) review


"Future shock"

Hyper Light Drifter hits so many strong notes that you could pick just about any quality to serve as its standout feature. You could rave for ages about its fast-paced combat or its ironic (and yet effective) usage of vibrant colors splashed against a post-apocalyptic backdrop. Hell, even the game's inspiration--its creator's battles with chronicle illness--provides enough material to act as a great focal point. However, there's one thing that can't be stated enough about this game: it's a masterclass in "show, don't tell." Sure, it can be a bit confusing because of it, but finding your way through its ambiguity is half the fun.

You see, this isn't your standard adventure title where everything kicks off with a talkie cutscene and the backstory spelled out for you. You begin by watching a handful of confusing animated sequences reminiscent of Another World, completely free of dialogue. Imagery is all you get, with each screen flash dropping narrative puzzle pieces in your lap. Not longer after that, you dive into the first labyrinth, complete tutorial trials, and pass out. You awaken in a town, wander around the place to speak to any NPC who will listen, only to find their language consists entirely of pictures. More than anything, this means of storytelling ensures that anyone regardless will be confused by this title's early offerings, and that we can all purse out lips in frustration together...

Honestly, though, it shouldn't take anyone long to fit a few pieces together and realize what's afoot. Even then, you'll still find plenty of content to bemuse you. Once you've got your bearings, you can explore the town more deeply. You find some shops, but you don't understand quite how the currency system works. So instead of buying anything with money you don't have, you exit and try to find some creatures to kill--because that's what you do in action-adventure games when you need cash. Careful inspection reveals four routes that lead to even more dilapidated parts of the wrecked civilization in which you currently dwell, but only one of them is fully accessible: the dreaded north.

So you venture upward, believing you can handle anything with your laser saber and handgun that reloads whenever you destroy environments or slash enemies. You think you've got it all figured out until you spot a suspicious ledge that appears to lead to somewhere special. So you check it out only to snag your first quarter of a "gear bit" (in-game currency). Suddenly the dynamic has changed: this game is less about finding your path onward than it is about pushing through numerous hidden trails. And what else could lie at the end of all those passages except things that beef you up? That realization prompts you to backtrack, hug walls, investigate pits for hidden platforms, or search for out-of-reach switches you can shoot. Eventually, you get a rifle that nails the aforementioned devices from afar, thus spawning hidden floors over gorges or opening doors that lead you to additional goodies.

The thing is the game doesn't want you to find those nice baubles, or the hidden keys that grant you access to other treasures, or the "modules" that help unlock required portions of each dungeon. No, the game wants you dead in the worst way, and it'll get that wish by sending bird-like mages that hit you with powerful spells, or hideous giants who jump across the room to land on you, or irritating frog people who throw shurikens at such an awkward speeds and angles that they're tricky to dodge or deflect. Mainly, you take these guys out with combo strikes from your sword and precise blasts from your firearm, all the while utilizing a dash maneuver to avoid damage or fly over gaps in the ground.

However, sometimes your best efforts feel meager in comparison to the horde of villains who come after you. Yeah, this game likes to thrust you into such a massive pile of monsters that you have a difficult time keeping track of each target's position, the trajectory of their projectiles, parts of the map that offer safe haven, and all that jazz. If you aren't able to focus, you'll get chewed up and spit out pretty easily. Fret not, though, because those gear bits you've been hoarding can upgrade your evading and chopping capabilities. One handy skill teaches you to reflect bullets back at your assailants, for instance. Pair that up with a repeated dash technique and a special attack that allows you to damage foes as you blaze past them, and you're pretty much set.

After some time and immersion, confusion starts to clear up and you begin to understand what Drifter is all about and what it expects of you. Eventually, you knock out the first boss and mosey onto the next area, ready to start the process anew until yet another portion of the world map opens up. With each new step, the game's difficulty rating bumps up considerably, offering more heart-pounding encounters and hidden pathways than before. I won't lie: this game is tough as nails, but it at least eases you into its more difficult moments rather than breaking your jaw the instant you set out.

It's funny thinking back on the beginning of the campaign, because I was hopelessly lost. Now, though, Drifter's content has all become familiar, like a second home. The game didn't blatantly lead me around, but it certainly didn't leave me in the dark, either. It let me find my way, but kept things simple enough that I didn't have pound my head on the desk or scour Google to find out what I needed to do.

This product give you the golden opportunity to experience a culture that doesn't exist, and its material, world, mechanics, and plot are just as alien as a piece set in a fictional land ought to be. Half the fun is taking in the peculiar, imaginative sights, but the more significant half revolves around finding your way through this maze.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (May 02, 2022)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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