Hyper Light Drifter
Hyper Light Drifter
April 12, 2016
Download at Bandcamp
Hyper Light Drifter was the widely acclaimed indie game from Heart Machine, led by Alex Preston and soundtracked by Richard Vreeland a.k.a Disasterpeace. The game is a love letter to SNES classics with all the plush pixel artwork one would expect. And its soundtrack is full of character, texture and love for (what some might argue was) the golden age of gaming.
It only takes the briefest look at my contribution history to VGMO to see a pattern. Indie games. I love niche experimental music, have a beard, drink craft beers and so on. Near the quintessential hipster and so it tallies that also love indie games and the soundtracks they spawn. One name that has become a regular in the circles I follow is Disasterpeace. Probably best known for the soundtrack to Phil Fish’s hipster hallmark Fez, but also demonstrating his dark ambience skills in the 2015 horror film It Follows, the music for Hyper Light Drifter sits somewhere in the middle. Full of brooding, beautifully textured synthetic pads, heartrending piano riffs and all the niche glitches required to satisfy my inner tech nerd.
“Titan” recalls the Vangelis-esque bright synthpad washes of Blade Runner. Full of foreboding and history, it beautifully complements the scenery of far of giant war machines fallen and decaying mid raiding distant mountains. The texture in the synthesis is one of the highlights throughout much of Disasterpeace’s repertoire, but especially noticeable and welcome in a game, with no on-screen text or speaking. It feels like the soundtrack is part of the scenery and almost the inhabitants language.
The game follows the adventures of the Drifter, a character endowed with power but haunted by their past, through illness and psychosis. The sense of an intangible evil following your every footstep is greatly enhanced by the soundtrack rarely providing any beat driven tracks, always full of these slick pads that slither through the soundtrack. The grandiosity the game, echoing predecessors like Zelda and Diablo, is captured in Disasterpeace’s epic constructions. “The Last General” excels at this, conjuring up memories of classic boss fights in Super Mario Bros. Expect lots of 8 bit style saw waves, brooding chords and solitary arpeggiators.
If I were to pick out something that the soundtrack fails in, it is its lack of definition of character. I mentioned previously how Disasterpeace is becoming a regular name on the scene, not just through his own productions, but even feature on other soundtracks, such as one my favourites Nuclear Throne. I’ve become familiar with Disasterpeace’s sound and many point in the soundtrack, it becomes a little indistinct what game this is for. Whilst playing Hyper Light Drifter, the music seems so intertwined with the atmosphere and story, yet on listens away from the game, I couldn’t outright say some of the more soft pieces weren’t from Fez or even Rise of the Obsidian (it’s less chiptuney admittedly).
A fantastically textural dive into the synth that Disasterpeace has been honing for the last seven years. So many composers try to pay homage to those wonderful 16-bit game soundtracks with saw waves and chiptune sensibilities (indeed Disasterpeace is of this lineage), yet somehow miss the most important element, texture. That’s not the case in this soundtrack: every synth, every pad wash, every pluck is full of character and texture, making the soundtrack a joy to listen to. Perhaps not as impactful without the context of playing the game itself, but still a great piece of work. The soundtrack is available on Bandcamp now and will be coming to vinyl later this year.
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Posted on April 22, 2017 by Pete Thomas. Last modified on April 22, 2017.