I’ve never been a big fan of side scrolling shooters. Actually, I’ve never been a big fan of the bullet hell genre period. I don’t have an issue with the concept. I can see that it’s all meant to be fun, frantic and heart pounding. The thing is, I’m just impressively bad at them. I have a tendency of playing the first few levels, getting blown to bits far more often than I should and giving up in annoyance that my fingers won’t do what my brain is telling them to, which is why Drifting Lands caught me by surprise.
This could well be the game that has actually changed my mind about the entire genre. I’ve realized – now that I’m quite a lot more than a few levels into the story – that I’m still alive, still enjoying it and actually doing pretty well, thank you very much. It’s got nothing to do with this game being too easy; rather, instead of having a difficulty spike big enough to impale a baby elephant, Drifting Lands has a difficulty curve. This is marvelous. This is a game that doesn’t have it in for you from the moment you load it up.
Welcome to the Rift
With this awesomely pleasant surprise out of the way, what other nice things can I say about this title? Well lets start with the story. You’re a pilot defending the Ark – basically a big floating battle cruiser – from enemy forces. There’s quite a bit of intrigue going on, which is why I’m enforcing my “no spoilers” policy. All I’m willing to say is that if you give the game a chance, you’ll be wanting to know exactly whose side you’re on. You’ll realize quite quickly that some of your leaders probably aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. The characters you meet have substance. Way too often in games of this type, the story comes second to the action. In Drifting Lands, the two go hand-in-hand in the most marvelous way.
Drifting Lands is a hugely customizable game. You start with a choice of three basic ship classes. I went with the big, slow bullet sponge that is the Sentinel. Of course, if you want something light and nippy or something a bit in between, the game caters to that as well. From here it’s all about the scrap you pick up throughout the levels. You basically build your ship based on the armor and weaponry you accumulate. I absolutely love this. In far too many shooters the weapons you use are what you pick up during the level, you will default to what you collect regardless of whether you want to or not. Here you can really play your way. If you want a powerful beam weapon for instance, go out and find one, I’ve gone for a Trident which is a speedy spread laser. I don’t care whether it naturally fits my ship. I might be big and clunky, but I absolutely don’t want the thing I’m shooting with to be.
It’s your ship. Build it your way.
Another massively customizable feature that I really like in Drifting Lands is the way skills work. You start with some basic skills but, as you enter more difficult areas, newer ones will unlock. You essentially have three skill trees: Active, Advanced and Passive. Within these are a bunch of subheadings which become unlockable. Now the kicker here is that you only have six skill slots to play with. Two of these are passive slots and as such are effectively turned on all the time. I suggest keeping auto-retreat as one of these, as this isn’t a game you want to be getting shot up in. The other four are your weapon skills, repair skills, etc. and you’re going to have to make some pretty big choices as to what you go for. You’ll be using your skills a lot in a level so you really want to be picking what works well for you. As everything is choice driven, skills aren’t so much earned as bought and this brings me neatly onto my next point.
Your skills define you. Choose them wisely.
You will earn thousands of credits playing levels, but on average are only allowed to keep 10% of your plunder. When you’re buying skills, gear for your ship (something you won’t do too often but you can), and stat points to make you faster, stronger etc credits don’t go very far. This is something that I think is really clever. You can do anything you like within the realms of the game, just make sure you can fund what you’re doing. It’s so much better than being able to farm experience points until you’re more lethal than everything that moves and outfit yourself with the most expensive gear just to rub it in. Be honest. How many games have you played where you become so powerful that gold ceases to matter and you can do virtually anything based on the stuff you find? This isn’t going to be happening in Drifting Lands.
There is a real RPG feel to this game. In my honest opinion, a lot of bullet hell games mask the fact that they aren’t hugely long by ramping up the difficulty to a level that’s so high that you have to replay the levels a hundred times to get anywhere. Drifting Lands has a hell of a lot of meat on it. As the story progresses you will find yourself going up in levels of difficulty. The thing is you can do this at your own discretion. If you don’t think your ship is up to scratch for harder battles you can farm earlier levels until you find the gear you want to proceed. This is a really smart way of playing. It takes a lot of the frustration that can build with games of this type away because you are playing on your own terms. There is a level of control here that I can’t remember the last time I saw in a game of this type.
So this is the bit where I have to complain about something isn’t it? Well … I hate to say this but I genuinely can’t. The cartoony graphical style of the game is gorgeous, the story is entertaining and it will keep you going for ages. I’m not even going to get snippy about the controls; you’re told up front you’re best off with a pad but the keyboard control system isn’t hideous when you get the hang of it. The game has a lovely difficulty curve and is massively addictive to boot.
Just go out and get this game. For bullet haters like me, Drifting Lands may well change your mind. For action fans, the game is an absolute must and I think I’ll be punching many more hours into this title before I’m done. Absolutely stunning.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
An absolute blast.
Look and Style - 10/10
Challenge - 10/10
Customisation - 10/10
Replayability - 10/10
This is a title that's awesome in just so many little ways. I reccommend Drifting Lands to anyone. Give it it's fair share of time and it will give you a huge amount of fun in return. Well worth a look.