Out of the gate, ADR1FT immersed me into a thrillingly anxious experience where the constant worry of having enough oxygen to survive tampered with my nerves. It’s a 2037 space odyssey of sorts, plunging you into a wrecked space station while floating aimlessly in zero gravity like a perpetually-rolling sumo wrestler defying Newton’s laws. However, once you learn to properly use the EVA suit and the perception twisting thrill of navigating a 3D space environment wears thin, ADR1FT doesn’t have much left to offer except the vacuum of space.
ADR1FT is seen through the eyes of Alex Oshima, the commander of what appears to be an international space station–the Northstar. Unfortunately, we have no idea as to what happened to the Northstar heretofore (and we never do learn), because the game begins with the station already in shambles, bits of it scattered across space’s vast playground. Alex is the only survivor of the Northstar’s calamitous fate, so she is tasked with traversing to separate sections of the substantial space station in order to retrieve certain objects. These objects are used to complete Alex’s mission: reassemble the space station’s critical parts just enough to escape and return home to Earth.
Being the uninformed player controlling a primarily silent protagonist, I knew nothing of my crew or what happened to the space station I was in charge of. Initially, getting used to the EVA suit I was encased in was quite a trip, but the equipment was badly damaged and in dire need of repair. That was my first real objective, to find a repair station and ensure my continued survival. In the HUD, next to the suit’s status, were velocity and directional indicators, along with my oxygen level. Anxiety struck me when I noticed that my thrusters were co-dependent on my oxygen. A nerve-wrecking balancing act ensued. For me to arrive at my destination in time, I couldn’t overuse my thrusters or else I would perish from asphyxiation. There were oxygen canisters littered everywhere for the intention of refilling my ever-depleting supply. However, as soon as I transcended the EVA suit’s learning curve, these canisters gradually devolved from a stressful lifeline into a plentiful mechanical nuisance.
After using my EVA suit for about an hour, I became adroit with navigating through the zero gravity atmosphere. It came down to a slow and steady turtle race. I had to utilize existing momentum and velocity, all the while manipulating directional force to crawl toward my intended destination. Once I understood the sluggish movement mechanics, I prepared to be swept away in a spectacular space odyssey. I noticed similarities to the Gravity and The Martian films, but the likeness to those entertaining movies dissipated the longer I played ADR1FT. Exploring the space shuttle’s sections was entertaining to an extent, especially one memorable moment when I entered a hydroponics greenhouse wing where drops of water hung in the air. Nonetheless, beauty was the sole remaining marvel once the initial rush disappeared.
It was beautiful, flying through the open, dark space trying to reach a disembodied shuttle far away. Every part of the station felt authentic to the future years and was convincing enough to make you think you’re alone in space. For how compelling the atmosphere and graphics were, the gameplay boiled down to chasing a waypoint on the mini-map. And then another waypoint. And then another. All along, I had no idea what I was seeking or why I needed to get to that waypoint. The reason for this is the essential lack of a coherent and engaging storyline. Thrusters propelled me around the station, but the absence of a plot just as well propelled me into boredom.
Sure, narration was peppered through the shuttles with the intention of illustrating the past lives of my other astronaut crew members, Like many adventure indie titles of late, I listened to nostalgic audio recordings, read crew emails from the past, and collected SSDs (let’s hope Moore’s Law would dictate they’d be at least M.2 after 20 years). All of these glimpses into my crew members didn’t mean much or advance a certain plot. I couldn’t care less about them. Their lives had no bearing on me since the game started with them already dead. Despite being exceptionally well voice-acted, most of these plot devices were irrelevant to any semblance of a story.
Gameplay was another dissatisfactory element altogether. As I mentioned at first, the dependency on oxygen was flustering. Although, after learning to use the EVA suit properly and eventually gaining an upgrade to oxygen capacity, its dependency became more of an incessant inconvenience. Yes, the EVA suit ultimately receives upgrades, but you don’t really work for them, and two of the upgrades should have been implemented within the suit to begin with. One of them was a boost to the thrusters which would have trimmed a dull seven hour game into a justifiable and more reasonable three hours. The overall gameplay consisted of repairing the ship by merely chasing one waypoint after another with no logical reason or player intervention. My interest in the game depleted as fast as my oxygen level once the core gameplay lulled into repetition.
I can imagine that ADR1FT would be an entirely different adventure using the Oculus Rift and Virtual Reality. The game would be more like a rollercoaster ride rather than a 2D walking simulator with a nearly absent storyline with ineffectual gameplay. Virtual Reality would bring all the best aspects of ADR1FT—the 3D zero gravity movement, the beautiful graphics, the vast space and harrowing loneliness—to the forefront, beguiling you into forgetting about its lackluster core mechanics. ADR1FT does have worthwhile moments, but they’re just that, moments. Too often do modern games sacrifice core mechanisms, like story or gameplay, to focus heavily on another aspect, such as experience or simulation. ADR1FT illustrates the common pitfall games slump into by putting all its chips toward one facet and relinquishing all the other imperative components that constitute well-rounded, full-bodied titles. Possibly the experience would have been more enjoyable in virtual reality, but this leads me to another future worry: Will games built for Virtual Reality defer the aforementioned qualities, therein leaving tradition gamers once again… adrift?
ADR1FT was played on PC and was provided by the developer.
Publisher: 505 Games | Developer: THREE ONE ZERO | Genre: First-Person Adventure, Indie, Space Simulator | Platforms: PC, VR, PS4 & Xbox One (Late Release) | ESRB: Teen | Release Date: March 28, 2016 | Controls: Mouse/Keyboard, Gamepad/Controller, Oculus Rift VR Support