Adrift (or ADR1FT as some seem to like to call it) is a game born out of a very public, and tumultuous time in Adam Orth's life. Being a little too casual and sarcastic over Twitter in defending Microsoft's "always online" angle, Orth found himself the target of gamer rage. Ultimately, it led to his departure from Microsoft and the whole experience was the inspiration for Adrift, a game that deals with isolation and catastrophic fallout.
The game initially launched on PC for Oculus Rift, and it has clearly been designed with VR in mind. But now it has launched on PS4, with no guarantees that it will support PSVR when Sony's headset launches (in fact, given that it's already launching suggests to us that maybe plans for PSVR have been abandoned, if they ever existed). We sat down in front of a 65 inch curved 4K screen to review the PS4 version, and maybe it was our minds playing tricks on us, but the uneasiness of floating in space, trying to find your bearings, actually gave us a slight headache and a sweaty forehead. Once we'd mastered the rather complex control system things settled down, but clearly zero gravity comes at a cost.
In Adrift the player is Alex Oshima and you wake up floating in space after a catastrophic event has ripped a space station apart. You're task is to try and bring the station back to some sort of operational status in order to be able to return home, while you'll get to know your dearly departed crew mates along the way (courtesy of audio logs). It's a slow paced and solemn experience, where you'll likely gasp for air more than once.
This game has a few issues that need to be brought up. The first one is that some of the mechanics are at odds with each other. The stress of having to pick up canisters of oxygen both to propel yourself and for breathing - a neat resource management mechanic), doesn't mesh very well with taking your time to explore the surroundings, reading emails, and well, taking in the scenery (perhaps the biggest draw of Adrift).
Another thing we found annoying was the small font used to deliver some rather important information. A sign that not enough testing was done with people sitting more than a foot or two from the screen. At times you'll find yourself chasing arrow directions rather than searching for items to complete a task, as the details of what you're currently trying to achieve are obscured. In a game that relies heavily on the story component (along with the visual splendour) as its main attraction, it is a shame that players run the risk of missing out on vital moments - not by free choice (which is always fine), but as a result of the game's design.
We mentioned the complex control scheme. Clearly this is what sets it apart from your standard "walking sim" - there's skill involved with navigating the zero gravity environments - but perhaps the ambition here is both a positive and a negative. Honestly, we're not sure whether we like the controls or not, as they frustrated us at times, but they also allowed for some rather neat manoeuvring. There is some peril as the station has been ripped apart, exposed electricity and the likes that you'll want to avoid. You're able to ascend and descend, control propulsion (using the same oxygen resource that you breath), and you can reset yourself, as well as roll with simple button presses. With objects floating around you'll seldom find yourself casually floating in a straight line towards you're next objective, instead you'll try and parry and adjust for the most part. That said, for a space station that has been torn to pieces, the parts are remarkably stabile and the machinery in fantastic condition.
We've mentioned the visuals in passing once or twice already, but it begs for another mention. Adrift is a stunning look at life in orbit. There is a lot of attention to detail, particularly in the crew quarters of the individual astronauts. While looking down on Earth may not have quite the impact it would in real life, it's still an awe inspiring site inside of a video game. This is something that, along with the careful selection of music and sounds, really stands out with Adrift. On the downside the loading times on PS4 are a bit lengthy, and while the checkpoint system is good it does feel like double punishment at times when the controls caused you to suffocate only for you to have to suffer again as a result of the long loading.
It is quite possible that the immersion afforded with a VR-headset would paint Adrift in a different, more favourable light, but as it stands it's difficult to wholeheartedly recommend this game on PS4. It is quite evident that the game has been designed with VR in mind as you won't see the entire "HUD" in you helmet unless you move your stick (direction you look in). All the vital stuff is centered, and it does add to the feeling of being inside an actual space suit, but clearly you're missing out on something by playing this without a headset on. It certainly has its moments, and there is a nice theme there, but ultimately it falls short of greatness. The main issue is that the mechanics don't really come together, the narrative fails to immerse and engage the player fully, and the tasks will make you feel more like an errand boy with a really tricky route rather than an astronaut trying to desperately stay alive and get back to Earth.
Overall, in spite of some enjoyable moments and some sights to marvel at, Adrift felt a bit too much like the wrecked space station itself. The parts that make up the game don't really come together fully to create the sort of immersive experience we had expected.
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