Imagine Shigeru Miyamoto, William Gibson and Ultravox collaborated on a game. It would be an LSD-induced cyberpunk fairy tale. That game exists and it’s called Hyper Light Drifter. Inspired by 8-bit and 16-bit games Heart Machine has created an Action-RPG that looks nostalgic, sounds nostalgic but doesn’t control like shit – and I can’t stop playing it.
You play as the Drifter, an unnamed humanoid suffering from a terminal illness, in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by anthropomorphic creatures. Your goal is locate and activate triangular pedestals, presumably so you can activate a massive laser beam that destroyed a race of cyborg giants; their corpse’s litter the world like monumental bin bags, decaying and stinking up the place. Why you would want to fire up that death machine is beyond me, as the giants are already dead.
Hyper Light Drifter is an ambiguous game that tries to use the world to tell its story. There is no language, spoken or written, to indicate what you’re supposed to do. Usually the lack of direction would annoy me but I’m actually enjoying being left to my own devices. I have so many questions that I doubt will be answered but the notion of discovering something new keeps me hooked. This isn’t Assassin’s Creed where feathers and the like are dotted around to be collected. Finding something, anything, in Hyper Light Drifter feels like you’re accomplishing your goal and moving closer to the bigger picture – whatever that may be I haven’t the slightest!
Heart Machine has hand-picked elements from classics like Legend of Zelda and Metroid, and infused those ideas with the aesthetics of Bladerunner and the sound of 80’s synth to create a world that is technologically advanced but brimming with naivety. On occasions you will walk through an area and take notice of an upgrade just out of reach and you will make a mental note to return. These mental notes will pile up however, as these occasions are frequent. You would think back-tracking would be a chore in Hyper Light Drifter but you can teleport out of areas on the fly and you can quick travel to certain points on the map to save time.
Besides activating pedestals and slaying your foes there’s not much to do but there is more to see. Hyper Light Drifter has cinematography that doesn’t take away control but still manages to show off beautiful vistas that you’ll convince yourself you found. The world is, for lack of a better term, decorated with detailed pixel art; one minute you’re crossing a bridge guarded by Aztec-inspired monuments, the next you’re in a clearing face-to-face with a rusting, retired android. You never know what lies around the next corner – a visual metaphor for death, most likely.
The plot isn’t visible enough to keep my attention but there are enough dangling carrots that do. And just like how the illness has its claws in the Drifter, Hyper Light Drifter has its claws in me.