Mick Carter wakes up on a train and, attempting to leave the box-car, is witness to a violent shooting of another man who was sneaking a ride aboard the locomotive. He makes his way out only to meet a reporter from the Herald, who is then kidnapped by a group of super-spy-looking characters with night-vision goggles and a speed boat. Mick is kidnapped, dies, and wakes up alive to escape his death, tied to a weight in the middle of the ocean. That’s the demo for The Drifter from a two-person independent studio, Powerhoof, who are from Melbourne, Australia. It’s the first thing I played at PAX Australia 2023 and a recommended must-play on the show floor. 

When I read the announcement of the Indie Showcase winner for 2023 on the PAX Australia show floor, I was instantly excited to check out The Drifter and had assumed the demo would be on a laptop, as it’s a point-and-click game. However, the game was playable on a console with an Xbox controller and played really well with a controller in hand. As Mick woke up on the train, I could move left-to-right on the screen with the analog stick, and it only took me a moment to work out that flicking the right analogue stick around the room would highlight the objects you could interact with within the room. An ‘X’ appeared next to things that there was no point in interacting with to make it even easier to work out what you should be investigating.   

The puzzles were clear, and even as a point-and-click game, there wasn’t any clunky need to combine items that may or may not have anything to do with one another. This was great news as someone who loves narrative adventure games but not so much when they fall into old-school gameplay design.

Australian games sometimes can fall back into weird stereotypes when they begin adding voice-acting, and although The Drifters lead Mick has a true-blue feel about him, he still felt and sounded unique. However, there were a few other Aussie references outside of the writing and accents, with a particularly annoying reporter from the ‘Herald’ seeking a story on the “homeless and why they don’t have houses” ringing close to our modern world. 

With a combination of beautiful pixel art, a synth soundtrack, and a fully acted cast, the story of The Drifter grabs you instantly once you stick the headphones on and pick up the controller. I recommend checking this one out at the Indie Showcase area inside the Melbourne Convention Centre at PAX AUS 2023 over the weekend.