There is a soft beauty to Hyper Light Drifter, one that is apparent in nearly every corner of the incredibly detailed landscape. It is bright and colorful but filled with a dark and mysterious history, one that is told through pictures and emotions instead of words and dialogue. Hyper Light Drifter is an experience that must be explored, a world that must be searched for even the slightest piece of lore. Simply said, Hyper Light Drifter is a masterpiece.
You play as a blue skinned young man known as a Drifter. You have a blade with you composed of hardened light that makes short work of the enemies you encounter. You’ll unlock various guns as you take down menacing bosses, and a rolling bomb that can create a ring of chaos to consume those caught in its blast. You can dodge at breakneck speeds, and if you time it right, you can increase the speed and velocity of that dodge into a repeating blur, should you be able to control it.
Drifters are the collectors of forgotten knowledge, lost technologies and broken histories. The young Drifter you play as starts the game off being affected by a strange and mysterious sickness. I’ll touch lightly on the story here as the game’s true enjoyment is one of discovery and exploration. You’ll encounter a strange language that is carved on various monoliths hidden around the map. This language can be decoded to give you an understanding of the history behind this land and what exactly the sickness that plagues you is.
Much of this story is left to your own interpretation, as it doesn’t exactly spell it out for you. I figured I could be somewhat off on certain facts, and so I have watched many YouTube lore videos to help flesh out and understand much of the game’s story.
Many years ago, four races came together to create what they called; a perfect cell. This created an evil being called The Judgment. This evil force was banished far below the land, but with even its limited power, it summoned four giant titans to destroy those who banished him. You’ll meet a messenger of each of these races that will show you fragments of the past. One such encounter is with a Raccoon hermit in the western lands. He will show you images of the past, where a once mighty race of Raccoon people used powerful green crystals to destroy one of those titans. The battle was won, but the crystals overloaded and created large masses of green crystals all over the land. There are similar stories to be experienced by the Birds to the north, Otters to the east and Lizards to the south.
When you start the game and the sickness takes hold of you, you pass out due to the pain and anguish the sickness brings upon you. You are saved by another Drifter who lets you rest in his home. He’ll guide you at first, helping you with your progress. He will also show you locations of modules needed to access the prison where The Judgment stirs. These modules will also grant access to hidden chambers that hold other mysterious secrets.
You’ll soon encounter a Jackal, whom rather reminds me of Anubis, the god associated with mummification and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian religion, and I’ll name him as such. Anubis is an enemy of The Judgment and will show up occasionally to help guide you along. There is much more that he does for you than just simply being your guide, but I’ll leave that for you to discover as I feel I am already saying too much.
You’ll be joined at the start with a sprite companion. He’ll float around by your side and manage your inventory, maintain your shields, seek out hidden paths and will be your light in the ever encompassing darkness.
Hyper Light Drifter features a colorful and pixelated world. It is visually a simple game but also detailed and focused. Each of the four sections of the world feature beautifully different landscapes and an area in each where the massive titans fell. The scope and scale of these environments is only enhanced by the vast amounts of secrets hidden behind a crate, a tree, or at a distance until you recover the rail gun. Finding every secret takes a trained eye to look for clues that something could be amiss.
There are several cutscenes in the game as well and are told through stunning animations that are just flat out gorgeous. The look and style this game has is remarkable and a true highlight of the experience. There are so many large scale shots of the environments or sections of the level that show parts and pieces of the mighty titans that just show the grand scale of these behemoths.
Aside from the lore filled Monoliths that you happen upon, you’ll find various other items to aid you in your adventure. Health Kits are self explanatory and your storage of them can be increased. You’ll do so by buying various upgrades with Gearbit packs. Each pack is created upon finding four Gearbits. Most items are purchased with either two or three Gearbit Packs. You can buy a rolling grenade that has a cooldown that I found extremely effective against the hordes of enemies you’ll encounter.
Each time you slash at an enemy or the mounds of green crystals that litter the environment, you’ll earn back charges for various guns. You’ll have pistols, shotguns, railguns and more to decimate the various foes you’ll come across. Samurai’s, Robots, Wolves and Crystal Spiders are just the start and the evil forces will just keep coming. Each zone has a boss to destroy, with the western zone being the most difficult one to contend with. I suggest going east, north and then west to start with as south is blocked until progress of the others is complete.
I cannot stress how impressive and how incredibly engaging this game is. Combat is very satisfying and despite healing being a bit slow for my tastes, this game is a work of art. Alex Preston, the game’s creator and director, put a lot of himself into the game. Preston stated that he felt more at ease conveying the story through emotion and imagery instead of relying on dialogue and other vocal elements to convey the story. He also has the Drifter infected with a sickness as he himself has life threatening health problems as well. Typing that last sentence has probably just made me realize why the healing is so slow in this game. During the development of Hyper Light Drifter he spoke with the website Polygon about the parallels of himself, the hero, and the story the game conveys:
“I have a lot of health problems, like really serious life-threatening health problems throughout my life, and that is a deeper part of the story and the character himself and what he experiences. Those relationships come back to me as well.”
The subtle and somber notes that fill the audible ambiance in the game is breathtaking. Each musical piece is wonderful, adding that bit of tone and mystery to a game that is already about uncovering long lost secrets. If there was a better soundtrack for a game released in the past few years, I can’t simply recall it. Composer Disasterpiece, who previously worked on the highly acclaimed Fez, delivers an absolute gem of a soundtrack that is as every bit deeply emotional as the game itself conveys as well. As the game is about light and dark, the music shares in this concept only too well.
Preston has mentioned that the inspirations behind the game are combinations of many different sources, but three of them are more prevalent. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Diablo and the Hayao Miyazaki animated epic, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
“[Nausicca is] one of my favorite films of all time. It has that post-apocalyptic world where a society is still alive, still struggling in a really really brutal world. That’s an appealing idea to me.” spoke Preston to Polygon.
Hyper Light Drifter became a reality after it raised $650,000 from 24,150 backers via its Kickstarter campaign. The game will last you anywhere from 10-20 hours depending on your need to uncover each and every secret, even longer should you attempt the speed dashing challenges. I usually try to end a review with some clever word play that comes off humorous or fitting based upon the game at hand, but I’ll just end it like this; Go buy this game, download it right now and experience it in full. It truly is a masterpiece.