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Hyper Light Drifter released, some thoughts

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The rather pretty action adventure game Hyper Light Drifter is now available after a lengthy development period. I dove in right away to see if it was any good.


I should start start with a disclaimer. Hyper Light Drifter is a game I backed on Kickstarter nearly two and a half years ago; I was taken in by the beautiful art style and promises of exploration and rewarding gameplay. Crowdfunding is always a risk and, as we Linux gamers know all too well, our platform usually gets games with some delay if at all. Thanks to Knockout Games we’ve managed to get the game as a day one release.

I have to start my impressions with the few niggling problems that affected me when first launching the game. For starters, the game supposedly officially supports Xbox 360 and PS4 gamepads but I was unable to get my wireless Xbox gamepad working right away. I had to resort to xboxdrv to get it to work properly. It seems like this problem isn’t just limited to Linux so we might get a fix sooner or later. The second annoying thing is definitely an oversight by the porter as the game requires the 32-bit libraries for OpenAL but doesn’t ship with them bundled. This caused music to be missing for me on a fresh install on a machine other than my main desktop – took a few minutes to figure out and checking terminal output but still annoying.

For those unfamiliar with what the game is about, Hyper Light Drifter is clearly heavily inspired by the 8 and 16-bit generations of the Zelda games. Gameplay consists of exploring different areas and dungeons, fighting monsters and bosses, navigating hazards,collecting pieces of equipment and upgrades, and finding secrets. Combat is fast and fluid, more so than Zelda, and it rewards mastery of the dash function to dodge oncoming attacks. This is a game that’s clearly taken lessons from its predecessors and, after about three hours with the game and killing my first boss, I came away feeling satisfied with its gameplay. I think that some players may find the combat a little too punishing but I felt it was just the right level of challenging. Dying isn’t a big deal, anyhow – fall and you respawn at the beginning of the room you’re in, all ready to try again.

There’s a stylistic simplicity which sets the game apart from most things I’ve played recently. The game has nearly no text at all – the story is advanced by short scenes and and images here and there and NPCs’ backstories are equally shared through series of images that do a very effective job of replacing the traditional short lines of dialog. This simplicity extends to all aspects of the game word: purchasing upgrades at stores require self-explanatory amounts of yellow dots that you pick up exploring he world and advancing past barriers or closed doors require whatever symbol happens to be etched upon it. It’s an effective way of immersing the player in the game world without bothering to drown the player in overdrawn tutorials and explanations.

I’m admittedly a fan of pixel art and I can think of only few indie games in the last few years that manage to mess it up. That said, the art in Hyper Light Drifter still stands apart from most other pixel art games. The fluidity of animations are impressive as are the backgrounds and effects like beams or rain. It’s clearly a labor of love and looks convincingly modern and clear when fullscreen in a 1080p monitor. So far I’m enjoying the visual differences between enemies as well as the contrast between environments. I’m not sure how much content will be reused as the game goes on but hopefully it’ll continue to keep me surprised.

The sound design is subdued most of the time, with often background noises being things like wind on a snow-swept mountaintop with synth-heavy music punctuating moments here and there. It definitely transmits that somewhat lonely and vaguely futuristic vibe of the setting effectively. Most importantly, there’s nothing overly annoying or repetitive that I’ve found. Nothing bothers me more than a game with bad music that loops over and over.

I suppose the real question for anyone thinking of getting the game is whether or not it has enough content for the price tag. There’s no real way of knowing how long the game is as of the time of writing but, judging by the size of the overworld map and other games of its type, I’d guess it’s probably somewhere between 7-10 hours.

I’m reluctant to recommend any game after only a few hours and, as much as I’m currently enjoying the game, I’d suggest to those on the fence to first look at a few gameplay videos to see if they’d like it. Combat might be a little hard to get into for players that prefer slower-paced games and, since it’s a big part of progressing through dungeons, I think it’s something worth thinking about first.

You can grab Hyper Light Drifter DRM-free at either GOG or the Humble Store. Alternatively, you can grab it through Steam instead.
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amelcher 31 March 2016 at 4:10 pm UTC
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Sorry about the controller and openal issue.

Currently trying out some controller fixes, but we tested a bunch prior to release and they all checked out (given drivers are properly setup). I'm using SDL2 Game Controller api (just like steam) so anything that works in Big Picture mode via Steam should work with the game.

The game uses Gamemaker so sorry about the 32bit openal thing, the engine build is unfortunately out of my hands. Glad to hear you are playing and it is working out otherwise!
Glog78 31 March 2016 at 4:21 pm UTC
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amelcher maybe ship a open_al lib and make a small sh script which setups LD_LIBRARY_PATH for the open al library could fix the open al issue too. Cant wait for the controller fixes.
amelcher 31 March 2016 at 4:26 pm UTC
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Honestly I've never shipped openal with my ports and I'd be concerned with doing that. You should grab it from your distro's package manager since shipping one could cause compat issues. It is certainly something I'll be adding to the README.
HadBabits 31 March 2016 at 4:43 pm UTC
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No issues here with a Steam controller.

I've gotten through the first boss so far, really enjoying it The narrative feels like a mix of Zelda and Super brothers Sword and Sorcery. The boss fight was quite Dark Soulsy; very satisfying and challenging. The visuals are georgous, though I too am a sucker for some good pixel art. :B
anewson 31 March 2016 at 4:54 pm UTC
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Excited to check out the game! And thanks amelcher for the port.
Renzatic Gear 31 March 2016 at 5:02 pm UTC
I've managed to work my way to the boss on the northern end of the map, and so far, the game has run flawlessly for me.

I did have some issues with my Steam controller, but it was the usual "I need to run sudo chmod 666 /dev/uinput" again moreso than any problem with the game itself.
BTRE 31 March 2016 at 5:37 pm UTC
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amelcherSorry about the controller and openal issue.

Currently trying out some controller fixes, but we tested a bunch prior to release and they all checked out (given drivers are properly setup). I'm using SDL2 Game Controller api (just like steam) so anything that works in Big Picture mode via Steam should work with the game.

The game uses Gamemaker so sorry about the 32bit openal thing, the engine build is unfortunately out of my hands. Glad to hear you are playing and it is working out otherwise!

Weird, I haven't really run into issues with SDL2 games before. Usually it's plug and play so to speak. Hopefully you'll manage to sort it out. I wasn't home for my initial impressions so I didn't get to try out my whole array of wired and bluetooth gamepads to see what worked.

As for the openal thing - yeah that should be prominent somewhere, maybe a little popup if it doesn't find the lib on the system. I'm all for native libs otherwise.

Good job on the port generally! I haven't encountered any issues while actually playing and it's been a smooth ride. I had no idea you were involved with bringing MN9 to Linux too (saw on your site) and I'm glad it's being handled by rather competent porters
Glog78 31 March 2016 at 10:30 pm UTC
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amelcher some more feedback:
1st) the steam controller is takesn as an ps4 controller which isn't a good choice cause that way you don't have a map key at all. Better -> take it as xbox 360 controller (which you can change in setup but yeah ...)
2nd) I didn't had any music at all. Someone mentioned it on my stream. So i looked it up. lib32-openal was installed but it still didn't work. So i checked my /etc/alsoft.conf. The issue was the sources=128 , which shouldn't be a problem but it is. I raised it to 256 and all was fine.

I hope that feedback helps a little.


Last edited by Glog78 at 1 April 2016 at 6:46 am UTC
HadBabits 31 March 2016 at 11:39 pm UTC
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Glog78amelcher some more feedback:
1st) the steam controller is takes as an ps4 controller.

Ah, yes, forgot about that; good to know it can be changed in the menu though
dilly 1 April 2016 at 2:37 am UTC
I tried to search the openal 32bit libs on Synaptics but couldn't find it.
One of you guys now the command for Ubuntu 14.04?
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