Too Long; Didn't Play: ADR1FT

Sponsored By: It came in a Humble Bundle with Dangerous Golf. Enough said?

Time dr1fting:: Exactly an hour

Zero Quality Control Review

You play as an astronaut, wearing a space suit so fragile that she can’t bump into a wall without cracking her visor, as she investigates what possibly could have caused a space station manufactured by the same people to explode.

Oh, the mystery!

Vancouver, We Have a Problem Review

An interesting question for developers of walking simulators is how to convey dramatic tension through what gameplay is possible in a game that is, at its core, an audio-log scavenger hunt. Gone Home used gratuitous jump scares and misdirection. Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture used a run button that acted as more of a suggestion than a control. BioShock added machine guns and magic powers.

ADR1FT has you navigate a destroyed orbital space station with a slightly clunkier version of the controls from Descent, and a space-suit manufactured by the lowest bidder. Your suit is leaking air at a constant rate, and the only way to propel yourself from point A to point B is by spraying oxygen in the opposite direction, like Wall-E with a fire extinguisher.

The object of the game is to find out what happened and, presumably figure out how to get home. Prospects don’t look good for either outcome, because the protagonist persistently refuses to acknowledge distress calls over her communication system, opting instead to float around the station reading other people’s emails and listening to their audio journals.

I’m sure this will somehow lead to some sort of resolution for the main character, hopefully one that doesn’t end with her gasping for breath as her suit depressurizes, but after an hour of flying around in a hard vacuum, following a trail of perri-air cans from one checkpoint to the next, I’m not feeling the main character’s motivation to actually do anything productive, like repairing the radio or finding something that can be used as an escape pod.

The game mechanics try to keep the tension high as you try to navigate the ruined station, but the story beats that the game is giving me don’t line up. It’s very sad that one of the engineers stationed on the space station wants to go home to be with his family, but I find it hard to believe that any human being in this situation could possibly care. Compassion is a beautiful thing, but if the choice is between learning about the backstory of a (probably) dead engineer and not having my eyeballs sucked out by the pitiless vacuum of space, I know which way my moral compass would point.

Nothing else about the game gives me much cause to complain. The graphics are excellent, and the art design is suitable. The debris floating around in open space looks like it belongs there, with layers of insulation and metal and so forth. I may not know what actually goes into the construction of an orbital space station, but everything has a ring of authenticity to it that suggests that someone did a modicum of research on the subject. If they did, good for them for being diligent. If not, good for them for being lucky.

The sound design is similarly well done. Most of the sounds you hear come from your radio and your character’s own breathing. I’d like to give a brief round of applause the the voice actors. They give some of the most convincing audio-log performances I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard some good audio logs in my time.

The real star of the game is the controls, though. Traversing the station, trying to snag the odd air tanks as you pass by (and failing, and then flying back around for another pass) is genuinely interesting. Most of the game is spent trying to figure out the most efficient way to use your air supply to maintain your momentum without crashing into a bulkhead and springing a new leak in your suit, and it’s holding my attention so far. We’ll see if the story beats pick up enough to carry me forward when the mechanics start to wear thin.

Will I Keep DR1FTING?

In spite of what I wrote above, I am finding the backstories of the various characters interesting. I’m not in mortal danger, after all, and therefore have the luxury of caring about them. For the time being, I’ll press on and hope that the game does something more interesting than being an exquisite zero-G traversal simulator.

Is it the Dark Souls of FL04T1NG simulators?

Most walking simulators don’t test anything but my patience, but this one gives me pitch, roll and yaw controls in a claustrophobic, momentum-driven environment and expects me to avoid bumping my head on narrow doorways. It does that while demanding that I maintain my fuel supply or risk death.

With no enemies but time and the environment, it manages to keep me challenged and perpetually on the edge of doom.

A round of applause, please, for Three One Zero, developers of ADR1FT, because they’ve done the impossible: They created the Dark Souls of walking simulators.

Comments

Thanks for this. It'd been on my list for a long while, but I was worried it'd be less interesting in practice than the descriptions.