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Space. Shooting. Killing robots. Loot. These are a few of my favorite things. And Drifting Lands checks all those boxes.
Shoot ‘em ups aren’t normally my favorite, but I made an exception for Drifting Lands, solely based on the really gorgeous cover art and stills that I saw. And boy, I’m glad I did. Drifting Lands is a new 2D horizontal shmup with ARPG elements from Alkemi, a small independent games studio from France. The game takes place in space, specifically in mid air above a broken planet, as you transport cargo to and from your home. Your goal is simple – survive and bring your resources back to your community, then take your cut. All you have to do is fly your ship, which sounds easy, right? Well, add in a bunch of enemy vessels with the capacity to produce infinite floating mines along with bosses and ranging difficulties and you start to find some complexity in your seemingly simple goal.
While it seems like a simple shmup from the start, it does have some intricacy to it. There are three main classes of ship to choose from: the marauder, the sentinel, and the interceptor. Each has a unique play style so you can adjust battle mechanics to whatever is more your speed, to an extent – in my case, I went with the Sentinel, which promised to limit the instances of me dying considerably.
This was not a lie, as I bombed almost instantly with the Interceptor, and decided perhaps the Sentinel was a better idea for the remainder of the game. Just like investing in any RPG, once you commit, there’s not much point in switching midway through – especially since your attributes and other cool skills you upgrade along the way don’t transfer.
Skills are definitely the most difficult and interesting part of the game, as once you learn how to use them constantly, they are your saving grace. You unlock them through beating areas of the game and reaching new difficulties. You can also change the equipment on your ship by grabbing cargo when you see it during combat – this includes the type of gun, the multiple shields, even the helmet you are using. That is, if you are using a helmet, you daredevil. You can customize the attributes of your ship too – but keep in mind that nothing gets done for free. Spend your money wisely, and level up your finances and equipment by replaying older levels.
The biggest thing that sets Drifting Lands apart from the crowd is how gorgeous this game really is. The environment was disorienting at first – with the style of the 2D graphics, depth-perception can be a struggle when you begin. However, each level had a new and beautiful background and a variety of soundtracks, all of which were bangers. The art drew me in from the start, but the easy mechanics kept me playing level after level. The UI is intuitive and friendly, and even the menu feels like part of the game. Once you get the hang of the skill tree, you start to grasp things pretty quickly – something that doesn’t always go hand in hand with aesthetically pleasing games.
As shoot ‘em ups go, Drifting Lands has set a new standard in beauty and ease. For an early access game, this feels remarkably polished. It gives a certain grace to blowing shit up on repeat and makes it feel just challenging enough for both the beginner and the expert to feel comfortable. With the level’s random generation, you don’t ever get desperately bored and the replay value is there. It’s difficult to find fault in this game, other than the extremely light storyline – in the version, I played, there wasn’t a whole lot of introduction before throwing you right in. The idea of “Drifting Lands” neglects the actual drifting land part and doesn’t explain much about who you are and why you do what you do – with a little more investment in knowing more about the residents of your home station, I think this game would have another dimension that most shmups don’t cover. As it stands, this game is still a 9/10 for me – simply because it’s doing something new, and it’s doing it really, really well.
Drifting Lands is available starting June 5th on Steam.. As a side note, your author did discover that the creators of the game had one of their other games stolen, and published by a different company, and has just recently relaunched it under their own name back in August of 2016. That sucks, and for a five person studio to come back and launch this beauty? Well, that takes some doing. I’m rooting for them moving forward, and I hope this game marks their well deserved comeback.
Esports Edition was provided with a copy of the game by the developer, free of charge, in exchange for an honest review. As with all our reviews, we do not provide positive reviews for games unless they are earned through excellent gameplay. Please review our ethics policy if you have any questions.