When you think “point-and-click adventure” you probably think of something a bit sedate, something you play with a hot drink near at hand while taking plenty of pauses to mull over what you’re going to do next. The Drifter is not that kind of adventure game.
Within minutes of starting the demo I was trapped in a boxcar being shot at, and shortly after escaping that I was dumped in a reservoir with a weight round my ankles. Having to escape these situations with whatever tools are at hand makes The Drifter feel less like a mug-of-tea kind of game, and more like a near-death experience.
It’s the work of Powerhoof, an Australia studio you may know from local multiplayer games like Crawl or Regular Human Basketball, but who’ve quietly been releasing classic-style adventure games on the side for free, including Sierra-esque quest fantasy The Telwynium and Antarctic research-base horror game Peridium.
“I’ve always done adventure games,” says Dave Lloyd, the programmer/designer half of Powerhoof. “The first game I ever did was an adventure game, like 20 years ago when I found Adventure Game Studio, which is really what got me into making games.” Peridium, made for a game jam, featured a sequence where the protagonist was being hanged by the neck from an extension lead, and had to use a pair of wirecutters to cut themselves free. Lloyd watched players frantically fumble through the simple action of clicking one thing and then another, panicking the whole time, and had an idea.
“That was the first inkling I got that you could make a point-and-click adventure that’s a bit fast-paced and has that heart-thumping kind of feeling like you’re up to phase three of a boss battle, which you don’t expect to have in an adventure game,” he says. “That became one of the core pillars of The Drifter: how do we get these really fast-paced-feeling elements into what’s usually a slow-paced genre?”
That’s not all there is to The Drifter, though. In between the demo’s pulse-pounders you can have a long conversation with a friendly man by a burning bin, and walk back and forth between a few screens as you collect the information and tools you need to solve a classic multi-step ‘repair the thing’ puzzle. “There’s some sections in the game where there’s a lot more locations you’ll be wandering around as you try to piece things together,” Lloyd says, “but then it goes back to really fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat kind of stuff. Trying to balance that is a big part of it.”
Lloyd found inspiration in the movies of John Carpenter and David Cronenberg as well as books by Michael Crichton and Stephen King. As Mick Carter, the drifter of the title, you’ve returned to your home town for a funeral and immediately got yourself caught up in something unexplainable. There’s a murder to solve, but there’s a deeper mystery than that. As you’d expect for a game that draws from Stephen King there’s a spooky side to The Drifter, with Carter seemingly able to come back from the dead—but not without bringing something over from the other side when he does.
You can play a demo of The Drifter on Steam, and Powerhoof will be showing it at PAX Australia in the Indie Showcase area from October 6–8.