It wasn’t until I’d delved halfway through developer Alkemi’s Drifting Lands that I fully appreciated the refreshing take they had on the shooter genre. This slow appreciation can be applied to most aspects of this game, as it takes a painfully long time to come to fruition. Despite this, Drifting Lands offers veterans of the shooter genre something new to chew on, while also appealing to newcomers with its polished art design and solid combat.
Even the greatest shmups struggle with creating a strong compelling story, with many opting to just focus on gameplay and leave the complicated details at home. Unfortunately for Drifting Lands, the story they tried so hard to present just ends up becoming a confusing mess. While the game’s post-apocalyptic, sky pirates setting is intriguing and rife with opportunity, poor writing and an incoherent plot line detract from it greatly. Characters lack any depth, and the enemies feel more like mindless targets rather than genuine foils for my character and the organization he works for. Drifting Lands tries to embrace a concept that is by in large ostracized by the genre it inhabits, which in turn ruined a large portion of the gameplay.
A good shooter is always defined by its combat and movement mechanics, and Drifting Lands applies their own formula to this with mixed results. Movement, both with a mouse and keyboard, and with a controller, felt sluggish. Even when I was playing as the Interceptor, which acts as the game’s low health, fast moving class of ship, movement felt slow and limited. This, however, does not deter from Drifting Lands inventive combat system. By mixing elements of an RPG and shooter, players are able to customize their ships with a variety of guns, shields, and abilities. This means that I was able to find my ideal ship design while also customizing its rate of fire and bullet spread. What’s more, the multitude of active and passive abilities helped me create a ship that was uniquely my own, and fought in a manner that fit me best. Players can also replay different variations on previous levels at a higher difficulty level for stronger loot and more money. This gave certain areas of the game a better sense of replayability, and had me chasing better and better gear on numerous occasions.
Essential to any great shmup is the overall look and art design. These components show off the varying degrees of destruction that the player causes, and help create memorable set pieces. Despite having rather simplistic level design, the artistry and overall look of Drifting Lands is one of its strongest aspects. The game’s hand-painted look and vibrant colors are nothing short of mesmerizing, and give the it an extra layer of polish. While the environments are limited and rather repetitive, the multitude of enemy ship designs provide a colorful band of fodder for the player to blast their way through.
Drifting Lands, while not completely living up to the shmup greats that came before it, is an admirable shooter at its best. An intuitive blend of action RPG and a dungeon crawler-esque loot system add just enough variety to keep things interesting, while a vibrant and colorful art design add to its charm. With just enough challenge to keep even the most hardcore of shmup fans interested, Drifting Lands is a game best bought on discount, but shouldn’t be completely forgotten.