As much as it pains me to say this, and I write this knowing my editor will want to chew his own face off, Driven Out might just be the Dark Souls of 2D side-scrollers. Forgive me.
After an hour spent with Driven Out, there is one thing that struck me more than anything else: this game is hard. Really hard.
You play as a nameless farm girl who, after coming into possession of one heck of a sword and a strange device, goes on to swing the bugger with great vengeance and furious anger. The only kicker is that she has absolutely no skill, so you have to compensate by studying the enemy’s movements and attack patterns, trying to nail the correct block or else pay a hefty price for your misstep.
Developed by No-Pest Productions, the same team who gave us 2016’s A Bastard’s Tale, Driven Out is a title in much the same vein: a 2D side-scroller with a prettier 16 bit retro aesthetic. There are no quick-time events, no save points and zero loot to be found here. All you have is the speed of your own reactions and the limitations of your patience/sanity. Only a few minutes into my playtime, I quickly learnt that this game will punish you relentlessly. Honestly, the image of the game over screen has been branded into every dream I’ve had for days now. You, too, will come to know it well.
However, Driven Out does offer a slight reprieve in the unusual artifact she finds at the very beginning of the game. When dropped, the device offers a form of checkpoint. Activating it will beam a holographic image of the farm girl, so if you die (you will), you can respawn wherever you placed it with full health. However, the device does come with its own drawbacks.
Because Driven Out isn’t already cruel enough, the checkpoint device is very fragile. Enemies will attack it until it breaks, meaning you risk losing your checkpoint. This can be even more brutal if you’ve just managed to overcome a boss. Additionally, the artifact can’t be spammed – it has a limited energy source, so you can only use it up to three times before it gets drained. In my experience with Driven Out, the only way to refill it is by beating a boss. It goes without saying that you’ll need to be very economical with when and where you place a checkpoint, because, take it from me, there is always a tougher enemy just waiting for you off screen.
The combat itself is fairly basic, in principle at least. You have three attacks: high, middle, and low. Pressing the block button, along with the corresponding attack command, will block in that particular direction. It’s a real challenge to master, as you need a fast hand and nerves of steel, as opposed to my regularly sweating palms and generally anxious disposition. Not to mention that each new enemy you encounter will brandish a variety of attacks, singular or in combo format. You’ll often need to take a few Ls just to get an idea of how your opponent operates.
With that said, the sense of achievement when conquering a new enemy or boss and progressing to the next area of Driven Out gave me some of the most pride (and relief) I have experienced in damn near any game so far. Even though it can take what seems like an eternity to get past one enemy or to the next environment, and even though you will die again and again and again and again, there’s something about Driven Out that kept me coming back for more.
It’s a cruel game, definitely, but hot damn is it addictive.
Driven Out is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on October 18th. Code provided by publisher for coverage purposes.
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