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In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Played entirely in zero-G
  • Most of game takes place outside of space station
  • Visually striking space-disaster

WHAT I DISLIKE

  • Constantly picking up air canisters
  • Station is repetitive and featureless
  • The escape pods don't work if the station loses power or the computer goes down?
  • No PSVR support

Overall Impression : C-
A bit too committed to its premise?

ADR1FT - cover

Developer:
Three One Zero

Publisher:
505 Games

Platforms:
PC (via Steam),
PlayStation 4 < (via PSN digital download),
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $20 USD

Original release date:
28 March 2016

Genre:
sci-fi

Player(s):
single player

Play time:
4-6 hours

ESRB Rating: T (for Teen) for:
Drug references, mild sexual themes

Official site:
twitter.com/threeonezero_

While I was searching the PlayStation Store for some VR games to play on my PSVR2 headset (and on a PS4 VR headset that a friend let me borrow, since the PSVR2 headset isn't backwards-compatible), I stumbled upon an old sci-fi game that had apparently slipped under my radar when it released back in 2016. That game is a near-future space disaster game called ADR1FT. Unfortunately, this particular game doesn't have PSVR support, even though it apparently does have PC VR support, but it looked pretty and intriguing, so I bought it anyway.

Space station by Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich

In ADR1FT, the player plays as an astronaut who is a survivor of a catastrophic disaster aboard an orbital space station. The entire station has broken apart, and even the sections that are still intact are without power or life support. It is up to the player to explore the debris, look for any other survivors, and restore enough power and computer functionality to escape back to Earth in an Emergency Escape Vehicle (EEV). Personally, I think it's silly that an Emergency Escape Vehicle would be rendered useless in the event of an emergency that disables power and computer functionality. Kind of defeats the purpose of such a vehicle. One would think that such a vehicle would have an independent power supply and computer, and some way of detaching or ejecting the vehicle without the station being powered -- like, I don't know, some kind of explosive decompression of the clamps that attach the escape vehicle to the station, which works based on simple physics, rather than requiring power or computers.

But whatever, suspension of disbelief. I have to restore power to the main computer to get the escape pods to work. Fine. I can live with that contrivance.

The space station debris hovering over the Earth is a striking visual.

The space catastrophe itself is loaded with striking visual details. From the vistas of the Earth spinning below, to the fields of debris suspended in space, to water bubbles floating around certain chambers, ADR1FT really sells the look and feel of being trapped on a near-future destroyed space station. This includes the feeling of isolation, loneliness, and hopelessness of being trapped in space. In fact, it might be too good at selling this aesthetic, because it does so to the point of occasional frustration.

Navigating 3-d space can be difficult and disorienting, and doing so is difficult and disorienting in ADR1FT. I don't want to hold this against ADR1FT too much, because this is a problem that is inherent to almost all games that have 3-d spatial navigation. I had the same problems in the early hours of Outer Wilds, for instance. But while Outer Wilds was long enough that I eventually got used to the controls and thinking in 3 dimensions, ADR1FT is over in only a couple hours, so the player doesn't have a whole lot of time to get accustomed to moving around in 3-d space. I had an especially hard time after receiving the thruster upgrade. I was just starting to get a feel for the slow, precise movement, when the game gave me stronger thrusters. Suddenly I was constantly smashing into walls and getting myself turned around. It didn't help that the character was occasionally getting stuck on the space station geometry, and even tiny impacts were enough to damage the space suit. If the space suit gets too damaged, it decompresses, and it's Game Over, unless you can find a repair station first.

Navigating 3-d space can be tricky and takes some getting used to.

I was also frequently unsure of where to go. This is despite the fact that the game is linear, and the objectives are laid out in sequence along fairly straight lines. The problem is that the map doesn't do a very good job of communicating where the next objective is along the z-axis. There are little arrows on either side of the map that indicate if the objective is to the left or to the right, but no such arrows telling me if the objective is up or down.

This is confounded by the repetitive environments and constant backtracking. Many of the rooms and hallways look identical, other than maybe some colored decals on the walls and doors, and very few of the rooms actually have anything for the player to do. The vast majority of the rooms and hallways in the game are just featureless filler that the player has to float through to get to the room that actually has something to do in it. I often float into a chamber, and wonder, "Wait, wasn't I just here?" And when I do go into a room that I've been in before, I recognize it, but I'm still wondering "is this the place I was before? Or just a room that looks exactly the same? Is this where I'm supposed to be?"

Because of the disorienting nature of the perspective, and the indistinct nature of the levels, I was heavily dependent on the objective marker, which marks the next chamber that you're supposed to go to on the path to the current main objective. But this marker only appears if you click the left stick, and only stays on-screen for a few seconds before disappearing. So I was constantly clicking the left stick to show and re-show that objective marker. I wish there were an option to permanently display that marker, but I didn't find such an option in the game's settings.

Many of the rooms and chambers look virtually identical to each other.

The fact that we never get to see what the station looked like before the disaster, and the fact that all the rooms look so similar and are so heavily damaged, means that I never really got a good sense for how the station is supposed to have functioned prior to the disaster. I think they were trying to grow plants in space, and experimenting with whether those plants could generate enough oxygen to allow for permanent space colonies. There is one section of the station that has a lot of rooms with planters, but I still have no clue what the other 3 sections were supposed to do, other than to house some of the station's communication and life support systems. Maybe that is all they did?

Space-walking simulator

The actual gameplay is about as simple as could be. This is basically a walking simulator, except that it is played entirely in zero-gravity. So instead of walking around and reading notes left scattered around, you're floating around and reading emails on computer screens or listening to audio logs. To the game's credit, if I'm going to be playing a walking simulator, moving around a space station in zero-G is a pretty cool way to do it. The space station setting is certainly a much more visually exciting and legitimately threatening setting compared to the random houses or city streets that are the settings of most walking sims.

The repetitive nature of the rooms means that there's also little in the way of visual or environmental story-telling, which really separates ADR1FT from some of the better walking sims like Gone Home, and it lacks the personality of What Remains Of Edith Finch. The only time we ever see any personal touches are when we visit one of the crew's rooms, which have personal affects floating around inside. But that's it. The rest of the station is empty and sterile.

There are no puzzles; just fetch quests.

There's a few mild environmental obstacles. In one section, you'll have to avoid electricity discharges, and in another section there are spinning debris that could hit and damage you. But that's about it.

There's no puzzles either. All the objectives are simply to get to a place, pick up a piece of equipment, and bring it back to the central hub to restore some station system. There's some easter eggs and collectibles if you explore a little bit, which (again) is difficult because so much of the game looks so similar and it was hard for me to tell where I've been and where I haven't been. But that's it! The vast, overwhelming majority of the game is just floating from point A to point B.

The only real limitation is that your suit is constantly hemorrhaging oxygen. You need to pick up oxygen cannisters or refill your oxygen at specified ports within the station, or else you'll suffocate and get a Game Over. So this is one of those rare walking sims that does have a "Game Over" screen. The oxygen containers are all floating along the path to the objective, and this is pretty much the only reason that you even need to follow the intended path, as opposed to simply floating through open space to the next destination.

The gravity of the situation

What ADR1FT lacks in gameplay variety and challenge, it partially makes up for in mood and style. It looks fantastic (even 7 years later), and really does feel like the player is desperately struggling just to survive in the hostility of space. As a metaphor for the responsibility and accountability of command, the story is also serviceable, if a bit underwhelming and forgettable. It was just engaging enough that I continued playing through completion, even after taking a break for a few weeks to play Star Trek: Resurgence and go on a Cities Skylines bender. But I did come back to finish the last couple levels. So that says something.

The suit needs constant oxygen refills, which forces the player to stay on the intended path.

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