Hyper Light Drifter: Heart And Brains - Games Weekly

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hyper Light Drifter: Heart And Brains

Heart Machine has managed to skirt a very fine line between familiar and derivative. While Hyper Light Drifter engulfs you in the former, it manages never to feel like the later. For a game that wears its retro influences on its sleeve, that’s an incredibly challenging thing to pull off.

The early access build of Hyper Light Drifter shows incredible promise for the full release on next-gen platforms, Steam and Vita. The combat is crisp and meaty, especially pleasing from a top-down 2D title, the room design varied, animation rich with detail and the challenge biting. The development team set out to make a game that merged Link To The Past with elements of Diablo and a roguelike and that’s been beautifully achieved. However, it’s some of the other touchstones we noticed that really give this game so much additional character of its own.


The light, foreboding music that plays under much of the game was instantly reminiscent of Zebes in Super Metroid. But where Samus has the reassurance of her blaster to protect her against whatever threat hides behind the next  door, the Drifter has no such protection. You walk into this dark, hostile place with nothing but a sword and the ability to dash around a little.

Soon you get a blaster with very limited ammo, then a slightly more potent gun, still with little ammo and perhaps you’ll even find the remote control grenade. But virtually nothing is sure-fire in the world. Bar a couple of smaller, annoying creatures that can be dispatched in a single swipe, most enemies need some kind of tactical approach to kill and when they’re mixed up and in numbers, the challenge escalates immensely. Throw in narrow pathways, and unprotected edges that you (or your enemies) can fall down with one misstep and it’s a brutally challenging world to try and navigate, let alone survive at times.

Which brings us nicely to the overall sense of punishment Hyper Light Drifter embraces and teaches you to appreciate as you play. You can take maybe five heavy hits before dying and respawning. There are no manual checkpoints here though that we could find, so you go back to the beginning of the room/area. That can mean travelling back through a couple of segments to get to where you died, but typically we found it just close enough not to be too annoying, but far enough to let us know we really need to play a little more cautiously or cleverly next time.
“Though we're working incredibly hard, we still have much to do. More levels, more enemies, more weapons, so many things!”
With a limited array of moves and more complex and challenging enemies around each corner, you really have to think on your feet playing this game, managing the limited resources placed around an area, conserving ammo for the big threats and generally being inquisitive enough to find the hidden assistance that could be there for the finding.

And it is a wonderful looking world to explore. In parts packed with ancient glyphs and signs of civilisation and then suddenly becoming very mechanical and robotic, it’s intriguing, not to mention the gorgeous palette of colours Heart Machine draws from at every turn. Subtle gradients appear to cover every surface giving what might otherwise be bare rooms greater texture.

This early build of the game was full of promise and felt very close to being finished in most areas. The only weak spot we really noticed was with the camera, which sometimes felt a little jolty as it attempts to keep the Drifter towards the centre of the screen. It’s a small judder that can bring you out of the experience, but hopefully something that can be solved before the final release.

Hyper Light Drifter was already a great concept with an instantly captivating art style, but now it’s great to see that it’s delivering on the side of hardcore, retro-steeped gameplay too. This could well sit up there with (or even surpass) the beautiful and engaging Transistor as we go into 2015.

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