ADRIFT is the story of Commander Alex Oshima, an astronaut perilously floating adrift in the atmosphere above Earth. Waking up completely alone among the silence and the wreckage of the destroyed space station with no memory of the situation he’s found himself in, you’re forced to frantically search for oxygen as the damaged EVA suit slowly leaks out into the void. You must juggle the risks of using limited resources of oxygen to move around the debris and repair the only potential source of rescue: a severely damaged emergency escape vehicle.
The story element starts out strong, throwing you into the midst of a disaster with a short time to adjust and react. Unfortunately, this is the high point in the narrative as the small pieces of audio tracks and crew logs become the only other form of narrative throughout the experience. Instead, the game relies on the atmosphere and movement of space to entice you through the story, along with a potential positive ending for Commander Alex. The popularity of a space adventure-focused narrative set in the foreseeable future is only strengthened by the movies Gravity and more recently The Martian. Like the two main characters in these movies, you’re are forced to quickly solve puzzles under the stress of impending death, mostly due to suffocation from lack of oxygen.
The idea of having a game where the setting and the story are secondary to the importance of exploration and puzzle solving is similar to Jonathon Blow’s recently released puzzle game The Witness. ADRIFT also keeps you drawn in with puzzles and exploration in the unique medium of free floating space while the story unfolds naturally with progression.
The gameplay and controls are clearly made with the growing trend of VR in mind, while also allowing the use of a gamepad or keyboard for those without a VR headset at the ready. The movement speed of the EVA suit is set at a slow crawl, something which, for those using a VR headset, would appreciate, as the slow pace would assist in lowering chances of motion sickness. However, those playing ADRIFT without a headset will have to put up with it as well, which is a bit annoying. Initially, the movement controls are fun and creative for the premise of free moving in a weightless environment, but soon becomes irritating due to the slow pace and lack of control. Attempting to zero in on an oxygen canister from a few meters away is a futile task, as it floats by just out of reach as your arms flail helplessly in its general direction.
Half of the gameplay is spent waiting for the character to float across a hallway towards the next door, taking cautious extra boosts forward while keeping a safe level of oxygen inside the suit. The game seems to break up repetitiveness right when it feels like an issue with a small alteration to the scenery, animations, as well as giving you the chance to read astronaut logs when you’d like. These refreshing moments are then lost, as it returns to the same formula with either a hallway with oxygen tanks or open space debris with more floating oxygen tanks.
The issue of oxygen as an important game mechanic is also fairly simple and ultimately unthreatening due to the vast amount of oxygen tanks floating around in your vicinity. The radar leads you through endless corridors and open space debris – a linear path constricted by the need to follow a straight path from one oxygen tank to another. This limits the exploring and story building elements as straying from the main path is necessary, along with more desperate flailing at small floating objects.
Both the outside environments and the interior of the spacecraft are extremely nice, but scream of Unity Engine 4, making the game feel like every unity-built Steam Greenlight open world survival game.
ADRIFT is not perfect but the components here are worth a play. With an average game time of four hours, the experience of free floating in space is one I enjoyed playing. Any longer and the game would overstay its welcome, as it finishes right when it needs to. With stunning graphics, a unique environment experience, and a challenging control system, ADRIFT is a compelling early VR title, one in which I would highly recommend trying out for yourself.
Developer: Three One Zero
Publisher: 505 Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Xbox One