As a lover of the good old point-and-click adventure, The Drifter was at the top of my list of games to check out at PAX Australia 2023 and it did not disappoint. Now all I want is more of it.
Developed by Melbourne two-piece outfit Powerhoof, The Drifter is the work of Dave Llyod, who tells me that the works of Steven King and John Carpenter were big influences for the pulp thriller. It’s been in development for several years, even featuring at PAX Aus back in 2019, but this year it was in attendance as one of the PAX Australia Indie Showcase titles. A worthy selection if you ask me.
The demo on display at PAX Aus, which is also available on Steam, sees protagonist Mick Carter returning to his hometown to attend a family funeral. Things kick off pretty quickly when a seemingly deranged man in the rail car alongside Mick is gunned down. Mick high-tails it out of there and is lucky to escape, ending up in a slum-type area. Here players converse with an old friend and a snoopy journalist while trying to find a way to charge Mick’s phone, which gives us a taste of the game’s puzzles, and thankfully they’re all logical. It’s something that Llyod said was important when designing the game – he wanted that classic point-and-click feel but with modern puzzles that make sense.
One of the game’s most impressive features is the interactivity wheel, which highlights nearby points or persons of interest on a wheel when playing with a controller, removing the need for pixel hunting and making it a lot more accessible. Objects and people that won’t help you progress are indicated as such, so only those that are useful can be interacted with at any given moment, which helps keep the narrative moving forward at a decent pace.
Mick is as Australian as an R.M. Williams mudflap, with a grizzly accent that isn’t overzealous but instead perfectly captures the hardened Aussie bloke that Mick is. In fact, all of the voice acting and writing has impressed me thus far, and the demo’s final scene really ramps up the tension thanks to some stellar voice work by Adrian Vaughan (the voice of Mick). It’s also dripping in atmosphere thanks to a pixel art style and colour palette that nails the tone of the scenes we got to play and features some impressive animations.
Although the demo was only roughly 20 minutes long, the story takes an intriguing twist at the end, with Mick murdered but somehow coming back to life. It’s a compelling way to end the hands-on and it left me wanting more and curious to see how the events at the start of the demo tie into those at the end.
While Powerhoof isn’t ready to commit to a release date, Llyod says he is hoping that it will be ready for release sometime next year, although given the scope and quality that the studio is aiming for, it might be a little longer. Whenever it is released, I’ll be diving straight in, as The Drifter is shaping up to be one of the most promising games the point-and-click genre has seen in years.