Earth is destroyed and evil corporations reign, but you fly far above them. In Alkemi‘s Drifting Lands you’re a pilot on the Ark, a floating base where engineers, pilots, and smugglers survive. You’re provided with one of three ships, each one playing differently, and basic supplies. To get stronger, you fly out into randomly generated horizontal space shooter levels. Apparently risking your life in a daily bullet hell for 10% of your earnings is still better than living in the totalitarian states below. The story is told through “missions” that pop up from time to time where you receive quests from various characters. There are ten ranks of difficulty, with each higher level being unlocked after finishing a certain quest line. Unlocking the higher levels let you upgrade your ship.
This is where the RPG elements come into play. There are nine different ships: three ranks of three classes. Each class plays differently, and you can buy different ships at any point. Each ship has three stats that you pay to upgrade. Certain items can only be installed if your stats are above a certain level. These items can be bought in the store, but for the most part you’ll find them during missions. Each item has its own stats that influence your health, armor, strength, and a number of other stats. There are very few items that are clearly upgrades, most items will give you their own stats but remove the benefits of the items they’re replacing. You can also equip four manual skills and two automatic skills for even more customization. When you buy a new ship, you can transfer the items and install the same skills, but the pay to upgrade stats are reset to zero.
Now I need to talk about dying. This game doesn’t handle death the same way a typical shooter does. Let’s use this analogy: you’ve just died. Go back and read the article from the beginning. You’ll only have to read a few paragraphs and you’ll read faster because you’ve already read it, but it’s still a nuisance. Dying is kind of like that. The first default automatic skill is the automatic retreat, which makes you lose all of your money and cargo but you survive with your ship intact. If you replace that with another skill, upon death your ship will be destroyed. You’ll lose all of your equipment and you’ll get a basic starter ship as your replacement. You still have your money, but you’ll spend most of it on the pay to upgrade stats. The rest of it will go to buying items in the shop. Then you’ll be replaying missions to grind for money and equipment.
This isn’t necessarily good or bad. It’s a good opportunity to try out a new ship class, and because the missions are randomly generated it isn’t incredibly tedious. While it does add something that other games don’t, it’s incredibly discouraging to play the game for hours only to be left with a basic ship with decrepit parts.
The game was designed with the controller in mind, and I recommend playing with that. You move with the analog stick, shoot with the right trigger, and each of the four buttons is bound to an ability. For the most part, it controls just fine. When I took too much damage or had to auto-retreat, it always felt like my fault. The game feels fair… mostly. Instead of free movement, the ship seems to move along a grid. When you tap the control stick to the right, you jump forward a square instead of drifting. It’s something you don’t notice until someone points it out (oops), and it’s very rarely an issue. However, colliding with another ship does massive hull damage, and the slight imprecision can make you crash into a boss and die.
I’ve been nitpicking controls a bit too much lately, so I won’t bring that up again. For the most part, the game plays very smoothly, and it’s awesome learning enemy telegraphs to take them out by dodging their attacks. The ability to customize your skills adds an extra layer of variety while pummeling the numerous different enemy ships.
The soundtrack, written by Louis Godart, is amazing. This is music I’d listen to even while not playing the game, and while playing it adds to the exciting arcade shooter feel. The art style isn’t my favorite, especially concerning the characters, but that boils down to personal taste. Each enemy ship type looks different from another, so you’ll see it and immediately recognize what each ship does and how to take it out. The battlefield looks exciting filled with bullets and ships and lasers, but it’s doesn’t distract from the gameplay. The background adds a bit of dimension as well, and being able to see the Ark in the background of some levels is a nice touch.
If it weren’t for death being a huge setback, Drifting Lands is definitely a game I could sit back and waste the better part of a day playing. It adds RPG elements and an interesting story to the Arcade Shooter genre without removing too much from either. It looks fine, plays well, and sounds great, and the randomly generated levels add plenty of replayability. Most importantly, it feels awesome to mow down enemy ships, and killing a boss that absolutely destroyed you before makes the climb back up from death almost worth it.
Just a quick note before wrapping this up: this is a minor complaint that wasn’t worth mentioning before, but the text is really small and you have to lean in close to the screen while choosing which items to equip and during the story sections. It’s just a minor annoyance and won’t affect the score, so I give this game 8.5 points. Which I believe is also the font size.
Final Score: 8.5/10
Product provided by Alkemi