Driven Out harkens back to the days of disk operating systems (DOS) in PCs, which over time created a certain style of gaming experience. PC games during those days often provided better graphics and animations compared to what consoles achieved, and they often relied on this visual presentation to compensate for the gameplay (at times, lack thereof). Developer No Pest Productions, hailing from Sweden, haven’t been around for long with only two games in their resume so far. Their latest is Driven Out, an action game where sword combat is the core essence of the experience, and it is legitimately a very difficult game.
There’s no real setup or story here, as the opening scene sees a woman working peacefully on her farm before a device lands in front of her, immediately leading to a confrontation with a knight. This opening scene is quite significant because it serves as the game’s only unspoken tutorial, as the knight armed with a stick tries to take a few shots at you without taking damage; it is here where you figure out through trial and error just how swordplay works in Driven Out. It’s certainly a great example of the lost art of scaffolded and implied video game tutorials, but of course it will be jarring to most modern players as even Dark Souls had a little bit of text to explain some of its mechanics and systems.
The core combat is essentially the main crux of the entire experience, and this is situated in a large and seamless 2D world that can be explored at your whim. Still, the gameplay and game design eventually boil down to one-on-one combat, although there are situations where you face multiple foes. The protagonist has a low, high, and medium sword attack and has very little options in the way of defence, given that she is barely armoured. Still, the basic movement and evasion can come in handy with enough practice and timing.
Talking about timing, and it is everything in Driven Out, from when you initiate a strike and how quickly you step back before you get hit by an enemy strike, and the blocking/parry system in particular requires razor sharp precision and can take quite a lot of practice before you can even execute it properly. The character is as barebones as they come, and while there is the luxury of new weapons and upgrades even in the most difficult Dark Souls game, there is none of that in this 2D adventure.
The difficulty can be infuriatingly cumbersome, even from the very opening moments of the adventure. The precise timing-based sword combat is admirable in its design, but the execution is never satisfying and the challenge never feels rewarding. Ultimately it comes down to excessive trial and error where you tediously figure out the right pattern and flow after countless retries. It’s one thing for a game to provide a satisfying old school challenge, but Driven Out isn’t hugely enjoyable as the core gameplay mechanics feel utterly cumbersome and the enemies are often irritating rather than interesting.
Luckily, there is a checkpoint system of sorts, where the mysterious device uncovered during the game’s opening scene can be used to plant checkpoints, making the trial and error process a bit more bearable than otherwise would be the case. Despite some quality of life improvement afforded by the checkpoint system, the device needs to be physically planted for it to work and enemies do have a tendency to attack and destroy a checkpoint.
The graphics are decidedly retro style, going back to the style of older PC games which featured detailed sprite art and animations. It’s certainly cool to see detailed movements which are similar to what was present in games like the original Prince of Persia. The art style is quite colourful with the enemy designs all over the place; everything from typical knights to the armoured gorilla on the game’s cover artwork. There is a great deal of variety in enemies and their attack patterns, but with the core combat being as limited and tedious as it is, this enemy variety doesn’t necessarily spice up the gameplay. The limited hit points can’t be upgraded either, so if players find the early portion infuriatingly difficult then they are likely not going to find enjoyment as the game becomes exponentially more difficult.
Driven Out on Xbox One presents an interesting swordplay fighting system within an open 2D adventure design. While it deserves some credit for producing a variety of locations and enemy types, the core character and combat system remains basic and unchanged throughout the adventure. It is an extremely difficult game which overtly handicaps the player to the point where the challenge is often overcome with tired trial and error rather than gameplay skill. Even for gamers looking for a challenge, Driven Out just doesn’t provide a satisfying experience.