Drifting Lands Review
Release Date: June 5, 2017
Platform: PC, MAC
Whenever my parents would take me to see a movie as a child, I almost always bolted to the row of arcade games lining the perimeter of the lobby. The cacophony of beeps and buzzers, the bright lights, and the allure of achieving the high score on a towering arcade console were intoxicating. I tried every game at least once, but the one I always returned to was Raiden Fighters, a top-down shoot em' up where you control a fighter plane and collect power-ups in your quest to destroy enemy planes, tanks, and ships.
Fast forward nearly 20 years and that same wonder I felt playing Raiden Fighters as a child was rediscovered with Drifting Lands, the most recent game by Alkemi, a small independent French gaming studio. Drifting Lands is cut from a different cloth than the older Raiden Fighters, but they both share the same core principle — that it's very satisfying to blow up waves upon waves of baddies.
Drifting Lands combines the gameplay of a traditional horizontal shooter with some RPG elements like different skills, classes of ships, and plenty of loot to collect and upgrade. As the captain of your ship, you have countless options to customize your flying death machine. Want to be a glass cannon? Pick a ship class with high attack and low defense, invest in offensive-minded skills, and spend your in-game currency on the biggest and baddest weapon you can afford. Are you like me and struggle to avoid oncoming projectiles? Perhaps invest in a defensive ship with more armor and some shield and health-based skills. The world of Drifting Lands is your oyster, and the game leaves plenty of room for — or perhaps more accurately, encourages — experimentation.
As you progress throughout the game's 100 levels, each of which gets progressively harder, you collect more money which you can spend on ship and part upgrades. This is where a bulk of the RPG elements come into play. You'll spend a fair amount of time sifting through the shop comparing and contrasting potential parts and weapons for your ship. Is it worthwhile to sacrifice 10 armor for 1.5% attack speed and additional 1% critical strike chance? Decisions like this are commonplace in games like Diablo, and they're very much present here. I found myself getting sucked into theorizing how to best optimize my ship instead of playing the randomly-generated levels themselves. The same thing happened to me when I played Diablo, Path of Exile, and Skyrim, but such is the nature of games that give you so many options!
The game has a lot going for it from an artistic standpoint, as well. The art team for Alkeli deserves a lot of credit for the look and feel of Drifting Lands. The landing screen for the game has a gritty watercolor painting vibe to it, likely meant to reflect the derelict game world our characters live within. However, the levels themselves come to life with a beautiful combination of 2D and 3D character models and animations. Enemies fly into the foreground and retreat into the background, ships catch fire and explode, and the projectiles filling the screen aren't overwhelming. It's a really good balance for a game with so much happening at once.
Similarly, I found the soundtrack to be pretty pleasant overall. The game doesn't have a ton of music tracks, but there's enough variation to where you won't get tired of the songs you hear. The in-game music is upbeat and definitely calls back to the old-school arcade vibe I mentioned earlier. As the action picks up, so does the music. It's a small touch that really helps build the atmosphere of the game.
One of my few knocks on the game is the potential for grinding, which has become commonplace for RPGs across the board. At a certain point, you're likely going to find yourself replaying levels to get more cash so you can buy a particular upgrade or ship. Though, to Alkeli's credit, the randomly-generated levels to break up this tediousness by throwing new situations at you every time you replay a level. It doesn't completely alleviate the frustration of grinding for items, but it does make it more tolerable.
Another disappointing aspect of the game is the lack of multiplayer. While the game does feature online leaderboards so players can compare their high scores to others around the world, it would have been cool to team up with a friend and tag-team a level. It's not a must-have feature, but it does seem like a bit of a missed opportunity.
Overall, Drifting Lands is a thoroughly pleasant experience for those of us who miss the glory days of the shoot em' up genre. The added RPG-like customization really beefs up what can sometimes be a shallow style of game. With beautiful art, music, and tight gameplay, you'd be wise to give Drifting Lands a shot.
- Character models and animations are gorgeously blended with 2D and 3D elements
- Tons of customization options for your ship
- RPG-style loot system adds depth and replayability
- Randomly-generated levels keep the game fresh during each playthrough
- The difficulty curve is fair, rewarding players who are genuinely good at dodging bullets or getting the most out of their items
- Players might find themselves forced to grind for in-game currency to purchase item upgrades
- Lack of multiplayer is disappointing
Many thanks to Alkemi for sending us a review copy of Drifting Lands!