Adr1ft is one of the most spectacular looking games I have ever had the pleasure of playing. It’s easily tagged as Gravity - The Game, although the sights on offer here are just as mesmerising as Alfonso Cuarón’s flick. Following a disaster the space station has been ripped apart; in tatters and floating serenely through a weightless vacuum. The looming backdrop of Earth puts everything into perspective, and for a game so heavily reliant on exploration it does a grand job of keeping you visually engaged. I should add I played the standard version of Adr1ft, lord knows how impressive it all is with a VR headset strapped on.
While movement speed is pretty much at a crawl, especially early on, I still found myself jamming on the brakes just to take it all in. The GTX 970 absolutely smashed through it as well, with not a hint of slowdown despite the sometimes huge number of objects on screen at any one point.
While Adr1ft is quite the spectacle though, the truth is it’s not a very good game. Aside from the epic vistas I’d even go so far as to call it pretty dull. It straddles an awkward line between ‘walking simulator’ and traditional game, and comes out not feeling great at either. I’m a huge fan of exploratory first-person adventure games, including the likes of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Gone Home, and Firewatch, but what’s on offer here falls short on that front.
The main issue stems from the oxygen supplies. The protagonist apparently has an oxygen tank designed for a pygmy shrew, because you can’t go more than a minute without a shrill warning to grab a fresh canister. These are handily lit up by blinking green lights so you can spot them a mile off, but any journey is swiftly reduced to narrowing down where the next O2 cannister is and making a beeline for it. You’re shrinking oxygen supplies means you’re punished with death for trying to explore, which flies in the face of everything else Adr1ft is telling you. It comes off as the developer trying to shy away from much-derided ‘walking sim’ term, shoehorning in gaming elements which don’t belong, to the detriment of actually poking around the impressive environment which surrounds you.
There’s more where that comes from as well. Electrified wires can kill you instantly; moving blades thump you about rooms. That would all be well and good if you had a decent level of control over your movement, but the six degrees of movement combined with frictionless thrusting makes for a painful experience when you get near any environmental dangers. Before long I just aimed to throw myself through anything as quickly as possible, to the detriment of the exploration elements.
Unfortunately that’s just about deep as Adr1ft’s gameplay elements go. Trapped in space and with no way home, it turns out the solution is accessing computer after computer, repairing elements of the broken station. There’s no puzzle solving to speak of whatsoever, the only challenge coming from movement and navigation through this complex 3D space.
Instead then Adr1ft relies on a narrative thread to pull you through, but it has a strange way of going about it. The game kicks off after the disaster. Not only do you not get the spectacle of this event which is what contributed to Gravity being so spellbinding, but you don’t build even cursory relationships with the crew aboard the station. It’s difficult to care about these characters when you’ve never met them and they’re already dead, no matter how much exposition you can drag from emails or how many corpses you see floating by.
Despite all of this I still felt myself compelled to play it through, above and beyond writing this review. The age-old argument of gameplay being more important than graphics still rings true, but for those interested in flat-out gorgeous visuals then there’s enough lurking here to perhaps warrant the price of entry. It’s a superficial reason to like it, sure, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that was the main thing which pulled me through. To that end, from my experiences with VR I can comfortably see a digit or two being tacked on to the score for the sheer immersion present. Without the $600 headset though, this is about as flat an experience as I've had in a long while.