Do you remember the film Gravity? Well, it’s only been three years since it came out so I’d be surprised if you forgot about it. The basic plot of the film is astronauts, played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, are put in severe danger when debris from a destroyed satellite strikes their shuttle and causes all kinds of problems. Take that concept, put it in a video game, make it VR compatible and you’d think you have a great video game on your hands. Unfortunately ADR1FT didn’t strike that chord with me.
I’ve always been an avid fan of space games: building and flying around in my hyper advanced craft, exploring planets, taking down space pirates, all that jazz. Space also terrifies me in a way that is only matched by my fear of the ocean and what could be down there. Space junk or meteors can came out of nowhere and ruin your days as an astronaut. The one concept I’ve never really seen explored heavily in space games is that of a marooned astronaut and how to get yourself out of that situation. If you’re a fan of that then look no further than ADR1FT.
It goes like this: players wake up as Commander Alex Oshima, who finds herself all alone on the Northstar IV space station after it has suffered a colossal disaster which leaves the station in several pieces. Stuck in a zero gravity environment, you will guide Oshima through the wreck with the use of her EVA suit. Unfortunately the suit’s primary fuel source no longer works and now relies on your oxygen supply to propel you in your desired direction. As you scour the wreck you will solve puzzles, collect oxygen tanks to keep your O2 levels topped off, and discover more and more about what happened to the station and the rest of your crew. Ultimately your main goals are to survive and make it home safely.
Floating through the space station, what you notice is how stunningly beautiful ADR1FT is. The bright white interior of the various rooms in the station, coupled with the crippling darkness of areas where the light no longer shines produces some of the most gorgeous lighting scenarios I’ve seen in a video game. And the colours. Oh my goodness do they ever stand out. In one instance, I was floating down a long, cylindrical part of the station that acted as a botany lab for the station. The vibrant green of the plants lining the walls was piercing and made me feel like I was floating through a rain forest. Then I came upon a giant tree stored in another piece of the outpost with a dull but somewhat distinct shade of brown as the trunk, and elegant pinkish white petals dotting the limbs. The station itself also featured vibrant colours throughout, giving off a Mirror’s Edge vibe.
The story, although simple enough, is very compelling and I found myself growing more concerned with the fate of my other crew, and what might ultimately be my fate. Exploring the dismal halls of Northstar IV, I came across several audio logs from my crew members and got to learn who they were and the life they lived. The logs that stood out to me in particular were from a man named Andrew. I learned about Andrew’s life back on Earth; the wife and kid he left behind back on the ground so he could provide for them in the sky, how he wasn’t supposed to be there as long as he initially planned, and he felt terrible about breaking his promise of being home soon. Oshima, the player’s character, had put in a transfer for Andrew so he could take a job with the company back on Earth and be with his family. He was supposed to leave the day of the disaster. I started feeling responsible for what happened, like it was my fault he wasn’t home sooner.
The story and graphics were definitely compelling and a highlight of ADR1FT, but that’s about where the good news of this game ends.
I’m going to be blunt: The core mechanics of this game are what bring me down. This is a game about maneuvering around in zero gravity, and Three One Zero have done an excellent job replicating that. But this game requires patience. You can only maneuver so quickly and constantly thrusting around wastes your oxygen. The key is to do slight thrusts and adjust your direction as needed, and make sure you have oxygen left to reach the next set of oxygen tanks floating around. If you’re not up to waiting around to reach the tanks and get too trigger happy trying to get there faster, you’re going to have a bad day at work. I haven’t felt as much stress in a game from running out of oxygen since Sonic 2‘s underwater song. A sense of patience, as well as thinking about the best way to ration resources are things I enjoy seeing in modern games. ADR1FT just gets to point where you wish your suit wasn’t apparently the result of space exploration budget cutbacks and could actually work.
ADR1FT also feels like it’s incredibly demanding graphics wise. Running it on a laptop with brand a brand new processor and graphics card, along with 16gb of RAM, I had to turn the game’s graphics down to low so its framerate would go above snail’s pace. Maybe this will work better on a custom built PC, but for now this is my baseline. Framerate dips appeared to be an issue, even when I was running the game optimally and just standing around, but they were few and far between. Cranking up the graphics made this more noticeable. I wonder if this to due with the VR support for ADR1FT. I wish I had the chance to see this game through a VR headset. It may very well have improved my experience with the game if I had the opportunity to actually feel like I was Oshima floating through the wreckage of the Northstar IV, but nevertheless, it integrated well enough on to a computer screen.
With all that said, I still had an enjoyable time. ADR1FT combines the terrifying elements of space disasters and loneliness with interesting puzzles, magnificent scenery and a straightforward but gloomy story. These help outweigh the subpar controls and mechanics along with the graphical issues making this a satisfying experience that puts an interesting spin on space games.