Drifting Lands, which I find tucked away in the Indie Garden at gamescom 2016, is the shoot ‘em up for the shoot ‘em up hater. I say that with some experience, being not the greatest fan of the bullet hell genre yet still enjoying artistic takes on the concept. Luftrausers, for example, remains a firm favourite of mine. Developers Alkemi have designed Drifting Lands to be a mix between the frantic pace of a shoot ‘em up with the RPG elements of a game like Diablo.
Alkemi aims to remove the mindless auto-targeting that can occur in a lot of bullet hell games and add in some strategic skill. In a world where humans are struggling for survival amidst the floating chunks of rock that used to be Earth, they must strive to defeat enemy ships and bosses to free the fractured world from oppression. To do that, the player is going to need a pretty awesome ship, and Drifting Lands aims to give them that ability. Blasting bad guys from procedurally generated levels will earn upgrades for your ship’s four active and two passive abilities.
So far, so similar. Yet Drifting Lands has an ace up its sleeve. Players are able to select what levels they want to attack at will. There are more than a dozen levels, each punctuated with ten stages of difficulty. I started out on level 1-5 and then, when I’d proven my credentials, was bumped up to 4-5. Each level is populated with a different ship type that must be dealt with in a different way - you can’t expect to be able to just blast your way through every single foe. Overall Alkemi hopes to include more than 100 levels in the game. Another small, appreciated nuance in Drifting Lands is that your enemies also appear on screen from the foreground or background and give the player a lot of time to line up shots or work out a strategy.
Randomised loot, upgrades and coin drops will enable you to upgrade your ship along way. The build I got my hands on had three types of ship - each with their own stats - that can be used for every level. Upgrades get carried across when you select a new ship type, saving you the pain of having to drag and drop your favourite skills across before a fight.
Graphically Drifting Lands is a darn good looking game. It’s hard to gauge from still screenshots how well the game flows, so I’d recommend looking at some footage of it in action. While some shoot ‘em ups stutter and become too crowded in later levels, Drifting Lands avoids that with some beautiful enemy movement and positioning on screen. While sometimes the level will become swarming with enemies it’s never too many that you have no idea what’s going on. All in all it makes for a heart-pumping game that keeps you on the end of your seat.
If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed, however, the game also allows you to retreat to fight another day. You’re not punished for trying levels beyond your skillset or ship quality, in fact if you escape before you die then you get to keep everything you collected on that level - minus a difficulty multiplier. There are even power-ups and skills that will keep you in the fight longer or resurrect your ship if you die prematurely, perfect for those who like to live on the wild side.
Drifting Lands has been in development for some time and already has a demo mode available online through Steam. With the game going from strength to strength, however, keep a look out for it in the near future.