The first time I reached out and snatched an oxygen canister in Adr1ft I felt tremendously satisfied. The first-person adventure takes place following a disaster on a massive space station orbiting Earth (if you’ve seen the film Gravity you get the idea), and as I floated in zero-G amid clouds of wreckage and debris, my space suit was rapidly leaking O2. While struggling to control my movement with thrusters, small oxygen canisters spun and drifted just out of reach. I held down a button to grab one and my arm extended, my hand desperately reaching for the bottle as it tumbled past. A little more thrust in the right direction and my hand clasped the bottle, plugged it into a port on my suit, then discarded it, letting it spin slowly away into the void.Unfortunately, grabbing O2 canisters is something you have to do dozens, maybe even a hundred times before the end of Adr1ft. Your suit continues to leak O2, and since your thrusters also use oxygen you need to replenish your supply almost constantly. As you make your way slowly through the enormous, shattered space station, activating computer terminals and restoring power to critical systems, you’ll spend almost all of your time trying to spot spare O2 canisters and wall-mounted oxygen stations so you don’t asphyxiate. Later you’ll upgrade your suit to hold more oxygen, meaning less frequent top-ups, but it’s still something you need to closely monitor. Like the number 1 crammed into Adr1ft’s title, the O2 hunt feels intrusive and distracting, taking away from what might have been an immersive and haunting experience.Adr1ft is a beautiful recreation of floating through the terrifying and lonely vacuum of space in a bulky, near-future spacesuit. This journey through a thoroughly destroyed space station has some moments of serenity and beauty, especially when looking down on the Earth below. But it struggles to build a game around its simulation, and soon becomes as directionless as its name suggests.The opening is a huge missed opportunity. When you complete the training tutorial, Adr1ft begins by having the main character wake up as the sole survivor of a disaster that destroyed her space station, and that left me feeling felt cheated. Not only do we not get to see an elaborate destruction scene like the one that most likely inspired this game in the movie Gravity, we don’t get much of an idea of what this enormous station looked like intact. It’s understandable that developer Three One Zero isn’t made of money, but this is a case of a cut corner that hurts: an implied spectacular event just isn’t effective.I played most of Adr1ft on my PC but also tried it in VR using the consumer version of the Oculus Rift. As you’d expect, Adr1ft looks fantastic in VR. Since the Rift doesn’t have VR hand controllers yet (I used an Xbox controller), it doesn’t really feel like you’re reaching for something any more than playing on a regular monitor does, but it’s still a far eerier and more immersive experience, and the zero-G debris and views of Earth are stunning.It’s a little odd as well. Since your spacesuit helmet is fixed on your shoulders, turning your head doesn’t mean you can look behind you: you just wind up looking at the inside of your helmet. So, you can’t look over your shoulder to see a nice view of the Earth, you still have to physically turn yourself around to see behind you. You also have to crane your neck down at the inside of your helmet’s visor to see HUD elements like the O2 readouts and minimap. It works in most respects: it does really seem like you’re wearing a big-ass spacesuit. At the same time, I wish the HUD was a little easier to see, especially since you have to check your air supply so frequently.On the other hand, the bits and pieces of story that are presented in audio logs and emails from your former crewmates are all well written and acted, and some of the characters who wax philosophical about life and death in space have genuinely interesting things to say. However, having finished Adr1ft, I still don’t fully understand what exactly happened that caused the station to break apart or why – I just know who was responsible for it. Maybe that answer is floating out in space somewhere. It’s all a little awkward, too, since our semi-mute character clearly knows exactly what happened the whole time, but we have to figure out the mystery while embodying her.While it dramatically overstayed its welcome, I still couldn’t help but be impressed whenever I floated outside the ruined station. Adr1ft revels in the beauty of viewing the Earth from orbit, and that is its single best quality. At certain points we see the surface lit up by the lights of civilization, and even tinged green by aurora borealis. So at least it leaves us some awe-inspiring sights to remember it by.I never felt sick playing in VR. Rolling myself from side to side gave me a brief, mildly uncomfortable feeling, but only the first few times. I should say that one of our video shooters and editors Max Barbanell also tried it, and he felt extremely uncomfortable after only a few minutes of play.
As long as you can stomach it, there are bits of story to find as you travel through the wreckage: audio logs you can pluck from in front of you and play (and plenty that play on their own) and personal emails to read (why I’m reading emails while I’m seconds away from death, I can’t really say) to uncover the reasons behind the disaster. The voice acting and writing is well done, though I didn’t find the story particularly compelling—as in Gravity, the visuals and setting are more important than anything else.Exploration games like Dear Esther draw a fair amount of ire from players who don’t consider them real games, but Adr1ft and its near-constant O2 hunt feels like it’s trying too hard to be a game, and the experience suffers for it. While VR certainly adds to the immersion and excitement, it doesn’t do anything to overcome the repetition of tasks that stifles the enjoyment I might get from really examining Adr1ft’s space.