Today we will be looking at Hyper Light Drifter, a top-down game developed by Heart Machine and scheduled to be released soon. Its Kickstarter campaign raised a whopping $600k, but let's see how HLD holds up under the scrutiny of critical analysis, and if it shows any promise for the final release.
The first thing that struck me about this game is that no one with an old computer is going to be able to play it. It took up 900MB of RAM on my computer. What the heck kind of 2D game needs to load that much at once? It's perfectly okay to have loading screens so that your game doesn't dump every single asset into RAM upon starting, but rather when they are needed. Taking two minutes to boot up the game isn't cool. Some huge incompetence on the part of the developer here, maybe they don't know programming? Let's hope that this is fixed in the final release.
Some other issues are immediately apparent. You are thrust into the game without a menu of any kind, and when you press escape to look for a Settings menu, there is none to be found. I was looking for the settings because the sound in the game was not playing, but no, there are no options or anything of the sort. Let's hope the developers care more about their final audience than they do about the people trying their alpha. Okay, I restarted the game and the sound is working this time. (Note that although I was able to quit the game with Escape initially, I was unable to do so later and had to use task manager.)
I like the way the game teaches you about how to play. There are no instructions, tutorials, or controls listed. Instead, the game throws a few easy enemies at you, so you try to attack. After guessing at a few buttons, you figure out how to swing your sword. Then you encounter a few enemies that shoot bullets at you, so you try and you figure out that you, too, can shoot bullets at them. Then you see a gap, and you try to jump over it, and you figure out how to dash. This is all cool, and I hope it stays this way.
Well, the combat is completely unimpressive. The enemies get stuck behind walls because their AI is just "move in a straight line towards the player." Braindead enemies kind of fit the theme of a braindead game, though (more on this later). You also can't move while swinging your sword or shooting your gun, which really annoys me. What is the point of completely immobilizing the player during combat? I want to feel powerful, yet the combat makes me feel unable to do anything. It sucks.
But even though there is no nuance to the combat, and all you do is stand there holding the mouse button, well at least the visual effect of the sword swinging is cool.
I think my biggest gripe is how boring this game is. It's linear, the combat is uninspired, and every level feels exactly the same. The way the stages are designed is just so uninteresting. There's no exploration, it's more like a menial chore of completing a level, then going to the next one, over and over - it's monotonous. Sometimes, when you go through a door, it'll close behind you and force you to complete the current stage. I felt a big burden in my heart when I saw that for the first time, because I know all too well the kind of game that closes doors behind you. I remember at one point, I died at the end of a totally boring obstacle course, and didn't feel like going through it again. But, because the door was closed behind me, I had no choice. Really lame to take choices away from the player.
Another reason this game is so sleep-inducing is the music. There's atmospheric music, then there's ambient music, then there's HLD's music - random doodling of disconnected notes, at an extremely slow pace, with no progression. It's pretty maddening if you actually stop and listen to it. You can try to ignore it, but it'll make you fall asleep at your computer. The best option is to turn your speakers down - because remember, there is no settings menu to turn the music off.
Well, I was hoping this would be a rad sci-fi game with some gnarly new ideas, but it was a pretty big let-down. I'm disappointed, but not really surprised. I don't see many good games come out of Kickstarter nowadays, since it's become a platform for marketing people rather than actual game makers. I'd say that I enjoyed the game at least a little, but truth is, I was really just bored and felt like I was wasting my time throughout my playthrough.
Also, it should be noted that although I did find a few bugs while playing, I did not mention them all in this review. After all, the purpose of this text is to inform people about what promise this game holds, and not to alpha test it.
So with all that said, I think I will not be playing the final product. Even if someone sends it to me for free. Unless, of course, the developer makes some pretty massive changes as a result of reading this review (which I know they are)... but I doubt that. So, taking into account that this game is unfinished and unreleased, here is the final score:
Will Overman play the final product: No
Are there any other games you'd like to see reviewed? Let me know in the comments below!