PAX Aus 2023 Highlight – The Drifter

Posted on October 19, 2023

If you’re a fan of pulpy thrillers, this next indie highlight from PAX Aus 2023 is for you! The Drifter is a point-and-click adventure with gorgeous pixel artwork set on the rough streets of a fictional Australian city. We played the hands-on demo at PAX AUS 2023, and spoke to Powerhoof’s Dave Lloyd about his vision.

The demo covers the prologue and some of chapter one, which took about 20 minutes. You play as Carter, a middle-aged homeless man who is stowing away on a train back into his home city to help his sister organise their mother’s funeral. He’s been away for 10 years, and is anxious about meeting up with his ex-wife after so long. The first few minutes tricked me into thinking it was going to be a personal family drama… and then Carter’s fellow stowaway is shot right in front of him, putting him on a dangerous collision course with a mysterious organisiation armed with night goggles and guns. It’s an instantly engaging start to a story, and sets the stage for a mystery, or maybe even a conspiracy. I wonder how deep the rabbit hole goes?

The pixel art is moody and atmospheric, but also incredibly detailed when it’s called for. The gameplay so far seems to be pretty standard for point-and-click adventures, with Carter picking up objects to use on other objects in the environment, though so far it seems very down-to-earth: a large chunk of the demo was dedicated to trying to find a way to turn on and old abandoned car to charge your mobile phone. Carter also has to navigate an extremely frustrating conversation with a news reporter making a lot of assumptions about the homeless folks taking shelter in a nearby tunnel. Through this discussion, we can see that The Drifter will be taking an empathetic view of homelessness. Dave Llyod says that although the game isn’t about homelessness per se, it is framed from the point of view of someone who lives that life and so the story will unavoidably tackle some of those topics.

The demo culminates with Carter getting captured by this mystertious organisation and drowned… or does he? Right as he’s fading away, Carter wakes up again a few moments before his death, giving him a chance to change his fate. The demo ends just after this, so it’s not yet clear if Carter truly reversed time, has some sort of premonition, or if it’s a figment of his imagination. When I asked Dave, there was a glint in his eye when he refused to say.

If you’d like to hear more about The Drifter, we spoke at length with Dave about his game and point-and-click adventures at large on an episode of our podcast! Listen on the JOY website, or on your favourite podcasting app.