Review: Adr1ft

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Space has never looked so beautiful and so real and so lonesome in a video game before.

Adr1ft claims that honor as triumphantly as Neil Armstrong must’ve felt walking on the moon for the first time. Seriously, this is one of the most visually astonishing gaming experiences you will ever encounter. Floating around in open space and looking down on Earth or out at a vast, black sea of stars is truly mesmerizing. Then you enter the space station interiors, where supplies, personal effects, leaves and flower blossoms from cultivated plant life, and droplets of water are seen hanging and drifting about in weightlessness. And, perhaps even more amazing, the performance and stability are phenomenal, even at the highest Epic graphical settings. (I can only imagine how spectacular the game is to behold in VR!)

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Aurally, the game absolutely nails the cold, eerie silence of space, your character’s breathing and heartbeat, as well as the propulsion of the space suit, often the only audible ambiance. The occasional Beethoven piano sonata that breaks out only adds to the majesty of the experience.

A Gravity-esque “alone in space” adventure, Adr1ft puts you inside the leaky EVA suit of astronaut Alex Oshima, who, on July 8 of the year 2037, wakes up after an unseen catastrophe has left her space station destroyed, her crewmates all dead, her memory faded. The events behind what happened are eventually revealed as you guide Alex through a series of repairs to the station’s core, mainframe, and cerebrum module in order to access an escape pod and return back home to Earth, but in general the story is too vague, and the ultimate payoff too fleeting and anticlimactic, to resonate as much as it intends to. The most engaging aspect of the narrative is actually seeking out the bodies and personal effects of the deceased crew and learning more about their personal lives and interactions through audio logs and email conversations found on computer terminals. The individual characters are compelling, but sadly the overarching plot falls a little flat.

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For all of its interstellar beauty, Adr1ft also struggles to hit full takeoff as an actual gaming experience. For a handful of hours, you slowly drift through the space station wreckage and same-looking interiors, pressing and holding the action button when prompted to grab ever-present oxygen canisters, open doorlocks, and interact with terminals. An element of survival persists as the suit leaks (it also cracks from repeated run-ins with debris or walls) and oxygen supply steadily drains, which should promote a sense of urgency but rarely does given the almost absurd volume of oxygen tanks floating around. Movement is the very definition of methodical–slow and careful wins this space race as oxygen supply and EVA suit propulsion are shared resources, which means you can’t keep the thrusters on full blast, but rather you have to pulse to generate enough momentum to carry you in the right direction.

On the plus side, the game does an outstanding job of simulating the sensation of moving weightlessly through a zero gravity atmosphere. You’re afforded true freedom to propel forward and backward, ascend and descend, and barrel roll either direction, and after a bit of an acclimation process (the game starts with a tutorial) the controls should become second nature. The tricky part is maintaining a sense of direction within a fully three-dimensional space. An objective arrow and the ability to do an environment scan for interactive icons help keep you on target most of the time, but it’s not uncommon to drift too far in one direction and lose your bearings, a sure way to run out of oxygen and suffocate before you’re able to get back on course or reach an oxygen supply cache. Fortunately, checkpoints are auto-saved regularly enough that you shouldn’t run into instances of significantly lost progress to redo if you ever actually die.

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As breathtakingly immersive as it can be at the best of times, the main problem here is that there simply isn’t enough moment to moment activity or variation to maintain your full engagement. If there was something in the game to spoil this would be the time I would give a spoiler warning, but unfortunately nothing particularly eventful ever happens. After the initial wave of fear of being lost in space with a leaking space suit subsides, the game loses much of its urgency and tension. The game’s also lacking any sort of spontaneity or spectacle, since whatever caused the destruction of the space station has already occurred. You’re just floating around, absorbing the spectacular space vistas, sucking down your umpteenth oxygen tank, and delving into as much of the narrative as you care to until the story comes to a close. It’s a worthwhile experience for sure, but after the first couple of hours, once the initial audiovisual whammy has already caused your jaw to smack the desktop too many times to count, a sense of dullness does begin to set in as you rinse and repeat through the same objective flow and retread familiar locations at a snail’s pace.

Adr1ft is an impressive accomplishment on a number of levels, and I did enjoy my time with the game overall. As an interactive zero gravity experience and space ogling simulation, it’s a monumental success that brings the childhood fantasy of venturing off into outer space to fruition. As a narrative-driven experience, it’s reasonably compelling in the moment but not particularly memorable afterward. As a survival exploration game, it leaves a lot of potential untapped and sadly just feels a bit hollow by the end. How much you personally value those individual traits should hopefully provide a clear idea of whether or not the game’s right for you.

TryIt

Pros:
+ Space has never looked or sounded better than this in a video game
+ Realistic and satisfying zero gravity movement
+ Interesting personal character stories to uncover

Cons:
– Overall storyline’s forgettable
– Can be easy to lose sense of direction at times
– Not enough spontaneity, variation, or moment to moment tension

Game Info:
Platform: PC, Oculus Rift VR (also coming to PS4 and Xbox One later)
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Three One Zero
Release Date: 3/28/2016
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by publisher

Buy From: Steam

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!