Sometimes game developers take chances, mixing and matching genres in the hopes of creating something fresh and unique. Alkemi, a small independent studio based in France, set out to do that very thing and ‘Drifting Lands’ is their latest game with this genre marrying focus in mind. With a mix of Shoot-em-up and RPG elements, Drifting Lands attempts to marriage two unique genres with a fair amount of success. So sit back and grab a coffee as we dive into Alkemi’s Sci-fi Shoot-em-up/RPG. This is our Drifting Lands review.
Thrown into a future where your home planet has suffered a cataclysm that has left the planet shattered but still held together by unknown gravitational forces (because science!) You find yourself part of a group of nomadic outcasts. The only habitable continents left are controlled by totalitarian corporations leaving you and your tribe flying from rock to rock searching for resources in order to survive.
All of this back story is presented in a simple motion comic with some solid voice over work. Story it seems, is a major element of Alkemi’s hybrid SHMUPRPG. I was quite impressed with the amount of story that was presented in those first few moments and even more surprised that this carried through as level progression took place. For a game based in a genre that has also been called a bullet hell (not typically associated with story) it was refreshing to see this type of care taken.
Delivery of said story (after the opening scene), is done mostly through the use of motion comic. Although this was appreciated the lack of any real animation between dialog and action transitions did make the cut scenes fall a bit flat. For the lore lovers, you probably won’t notice and will most likely appreciate the time and care put into the story elements of the game. However, for the less focused this could get old quickly and leave you mashing the keyboard to skip to the action.
Speaking of action, Drifting Lands was built from the ground up with the controller in mind. The game actually opens letting you know that you should be playing with a controller. I personally found this to be the best way to play the game as the keyboard just felt clunky and slow by comparison. The layout on the controller is tight and well placed, with many of the buttons mappable. The controls themselves react well and feel tight, which for those familiar with SHMUP style games, is paramount to successfully surviving for any real length of time.
My only real gripe with gameplay was that although responsive and tight, movement felt a little too slow for a game that is all about dodging and weaving your way through endless hordes of enemies. Thankfully this was offset by some great mobility skills (more on skills below) which worked well at compensating for the otherwise slow movement.
As mentioned I want to touch on skills along with the many other elements that make up the RPG side of this hybrid SHMUPRPG. Alkemi has really done a great job at creating layers of player progression through the use of customizable skills, skill points, and gearing. Did I mention that you can also own multiple ships? That is totally a thing and it is a great thing.
Starting with skills, as you progress through the campaign you will be introduced to a wide variety of active and passive skills ranging from a revolving fire shield that does damage to anything that comes into contact with it all the way to a booster that teleports you across the screen. With a limit of four active and two passive skills, it allows the player to really develop their personalized play style. Throw in the fact that you can have multiple types of ships, ranging from light cruisers with crazy firepower to heavy battleships with insane armor, the options for how you progress really begin to open up.
Next on the list of progressive options are your skill points. As you collect coin in the game you will be able to spec into three base stats: power, structure, navigation. Each of these stats works towards strengthening different aspects of your ship as well as unlocking the ability to equip certain types of gear. With a fully equipped gear store along with all of the sweet look you collect in combat, the player is once again given another layer of character development that further refines your unique play style. In regards to the mix of RPG and SHMUP elements, it feels that Alkemi has really found a nice balance in “Drifting Lands”.
The Art style and visuals for “Drifting Lands’ are clean, stylized and overall quite nice to look at. It feels like a game that will age well visually. Level design, on the other hand, begins to feel pretty repetitive quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that at their core SHMUP games tend to be repetitive in nature, but some of the best ones still offer variety in design and layout. This is one area that ‘Drifting Lands’ seems to struggle a bit early on. In all fairness, I didn’t get all the way to the end of the game so this may very well be a premature assessment. However with almost 10 hours in the game at the time of writing this is something that began to wear on me.
Final Drifting Lands Review Thoughts:
If you have been a long time fan of the SHMUP genre and want a fresh take on it, “Drifting Lands” is worth picking up on Steam. With the blend of RPG and story elements, it is a nice refreshing take on the genre. However, with lackluster story delivery, some repetitive level design and somewhat slow movement might be a turnoff for others. “Drifting Lands” is a well-balanced SHMUPRPG that brings something new to the table.