Being a fan of RPG dungeon crawlers is easy. There is a so many games of that genre available, it’s ridiculous. Any style, any difficulty you can easily find one that suits you. The same can be said for Shoot em’ ups. These games are typically a dime a dozen and you can find them in all different styles on many different platforms. But what if you want to mix it up a little. Maybe you want a little more story than Villain X is trying to kill every one or you want to do a little more than just dodge and shoot at things. Well the small French developer Alkemi may have just what you’re looking for in Drifting Lands. But why have story in a shoot em up? Because it’s awesome, that’s why!

The title says it all

Drifting lands has a depth and feel to the story that you don’t often get when playing your typical shoot em’ up. Instead of dropping you into a fighter to go kill random aliens or evil militants, the game introduces you to an interesting and fleshed out world on that is frozen in time on the brink of destruction. First and foremost it makes you care about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. You are part of one of the small pockets of resistance on a shattered planet filled with floating chunks of rock that are held together by strange gravitational anomalies. In this future, large corporations have taken the place of government to control and exploit the planet for all of its natural wealth of resources. Being a mercenary for the resistance, it is now your task to strike out against the corporations to free their iron grip over the peoples and resources of the planet. Drifting Lands does a pretty good job of steeping the player in this lore through “talking heads” style interactions between each mission with multiple different characters in various locations. Even those most of them are mission givers; they all have unique qualities motivations which can be for or against what’s happening in the current situation. Sometimes the player will be offered side missions to go behind someone else back in the hopes of unlocking some new weapons, technology, or just cold hard cash to spend on your ship. And of course this will be tempting as the ship is the lifeblood of the player.

Lock and load

The shining star of this game is absolutely the ship customization. Most shoot em’ ups leave you wanting so much more as you keep killing the same enemies over and over again just to get pre-generated weapons that typically just grow in size or damage. Drifting Lands does an amazing job of making upgrades feel organic. You don’t feel like you’re just floating throw space randomly grabbing power ups, you actually feel like a mercenary on the hunt for baddies and loot. The power ups, items and resources you find along the way are very incremental in the bettering of your ship, but it never feels like a grind. The core mechanics of it make it feel like the armored core series where you various different upgrades that you can make to your ship including engines, weapons, special abilities, and shields. Of course these load outs not only have infinite customization, but throw into the mix the ability to use a light, medium, and heavy version of your ship and you have the ability to build a ship for any situation. The game also understands that not every ship was made for every mission, so you also have access to save slots for different ship load outs for any mission or play style. The sheer quantity of items you can put on your ship is massive and they all come with separate stats, strengths, and weaknesses. Just having the ability to have everything from a heavy single laser cannon behemoth to a small agile bullet sprayer ship shows that the developers really put a ton of love and effort into making it as customizable as possible. Another thing that really sets Drifting Lands apart from a lot of other shoot em’ ups is the ability to customize your special abilities for the load out of your ship. If you’re a player that likes to get down and dirty in the mix, they have a lot of options for repairing and close quarter strikes with devastating damage. Or if you like to hang back you can load out with abilities to improve damage at distance and collect more money on kills. And now that you can build your ship the way you want it, it’s time to shoot stuff!

Fire in the skies

It wouldn’t be a shoot em’ up without any shooting right? So of course after you customize your load out you’re going to want to go kick some corporate ass and Drifting Lands delivers… mostly. Players will usually have a choice of multiple levels to take on through a central hub map each with their own story and objectives. The great part is if you ever miss an objective or want to earn some more cash you can typically go run the level again to do it even better the second time around. When players dive into a level they’re going to see some beautifully animated back grounds and simple ship animations. Game play is typical shooter where players are able to move in all directions on a slowly advancing screen with waves of enemies placed throughout the level. The controls are tight and responsive and enemy hit boxes are well down and on point. The part where Drifting Lands loses a few points for me is first in it’s on screen notification of action. Most shoot em’ ups can get hectic in a hurry when enemies flood the screen and this is totally understandable. But the issue I found was when the screen floods with enemies and bullets, your ship just gets lost in the battle. Most games will have a glowing circle or an arrow on your ship that signals where you are located in the chaos, but this game is gentle with these visual cues. Your ship is barely highlighted, loot to collect is almost microscopic and faded, and enemy bullets are tiny and lightly colored that get lost on any of the light pastel colored backgrounds in the game. And even when the bullets and lasers hit your ship, your ship barely reacts to being shot. There’s no shaking, no explosions, no flare; Just a faint red flash when you take damage. And it highlights my second point about the overall feel of gameplay. Drifting Lands is lacking impact. When I get shot, I want to feel like my ship is being torn apart. When enemies shoot their weapons, show me a projectile that looks more offensive than a glowing tennis ball. And when I shoot down enemy ships, I want to see huge colorful explosions and noise. The game is just too polite and gentle sometimes with its pretty graphics. I feel like a little more saturated color palette and more intense visual combat interactions would really bring the game to the next level. But ultimately with those issues aside, players will still end up feeling like a badass mercenary in a pimped out ride.

All in a day’s work.

  Drifting Lands was a breath of fresh air for me. It was great to experience a developer trying something different with a tried and tested formula loved by so many people. Even though I do enjoy mindless shooting from time to time, it was great to see a deep and enjoyable story with a great cast of characters in a game like this. The ship customization makes it a truly unique experience for any player because of the endless possibilities for ship play styles. And even though the gameplay lacks some visual impact and feedback, it’s ultimately a great looking, fun shooter to play with some really great and unique ideas at play. If you want a something more than your average shoot em’ up or bullet hell shooter, you should definitely check this one out.

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Creative Director and Co-Super President at Digital Fiasco
Dandr0id is a podcast host, let's player, concept artist, and indie game lover, aka Super Nerd Turbo II Alpha Edition. He is also an avid fan of pizza and is probably a ninja.