ADR1FT PS4 Review
Beautifully designed world
Great representation of zero-gravity
Poorly presented impersonal plot
Terribly unfulfilling conclusion
Dearth of mechanics
Slow and dull gameplay
Reliance on music
I’m unsure if developer Three Zero One sought to further develop the first-person experience genre or just take a crack at a narrative driven game. ADR1FT, released for PC on March 28, 2016 and now available on PS4 and Xbox One, fails to cover much ground in either territory. While aesthetically appealing with its elegant, minimalistic visual design and tasteful soundtrack, it lacks any substance beyond dazzling the eyes and ears. Impersonal storytelling, minimal player interactivity, a nearly static environment – they all add up to make for one of the most tepid gaming experiences I’ve ever endured.
You wake up to the sight of a shattered space station, debris, supplies, and equipment strewn about the destruction, and no recollection of the catastrophe or the events leading up to it. You must explore the wreckage in an effort to repair three key units and render an escape shuttle back to Earth functional. Players begin their mission knowing nothing of the situation or even the protagonist. The recollection, which includes identifying which member of the crew you’re playing as, is told entirely through collectable audio logs and journal entries that, while decently written and acted, absolutely fail to ignite any interest, especially in the more intimate logs wherein characters talk about their memories of home or the personal struggles.
There’s never any reason to care about any of the game’s supporting characters at all; your only connection to them is through collectibles and ID portraits. As players we never share experiences, interact, or even communicate with them. I am truly without a clue as to how developers thought we might become emotionally invested at this point.
The narrative presentation is horrendous for a title who doesn’t have much other content to juggle. The tutorial, for instance, sets players completely out of context in a small zero-gravity room where a prerecorded voice calmly explains the various functions of the space suit one step at a time. Once the tutorial segment ends, the game begins; there isn’t a single effort to weave the two together or perhaps convey some character or story through the former. If the tutorial is first and foremost in your narratively driven game, make it count; it’s the player’s first chance hands on with the material so it had better mean something. The game’s conclusion similarly lacks any personality despite involving most eventful moment in the entire playthrough; without giving anything away, you’re treated to an incredibly short audio transmission, then the screen dims to black.
ADR1FT starts later and ends earlier than it should. Experiencing the events leading up to the destruction of the station by interacting with your teammates and watching the devastating decision unfold, then experiencing the aftermath of the survival might’ve actually tied me to my character on an emotional level. The game’s focus on experiencing zero-gravity and the slow – and I emphasize “slow” – journey to uncover an ultimately bland story leaves very little on the table in terms of actual enjoyment. Floating around the destruction, observing the juxtaposition of plantlife and outer space, and enjoying a little Debussy is nice for a minute or two but gets old fast. I imagine the enjoyment would go a little further in VR, though right now developers have no plans to bring the title to PSVR.
Developers leaned too much of the game design on their great soundtrack. While the juxtaposition of space-faring man and classical and impressionist music works – an obvious reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey, I found myself enjoying the music much more than what I was actually doing. Yes, Claire De Lune is beautiful and when paired with a nice vista can stir some emotion, but an awful lot of the work here seems to have been left up to Debussy.
The actual feel and presentation of space are breathtaking. While never having been to space myself, the feel of weightlessness and movement by inertia was captivating, if only briefly. I was, however, somewhat confused by the physics of the space station: If my character were to jet away from the space station, she would continue to travel in a straight line until affected by another force. How come the fragments of the space station are all static? If the station had exploded, shouldn’t debris perpetually be spinning outward from the station rather than sitting completely still? Afterall, there presumably wasn’t a force to oppose the explosion or to bring all the stations fragments to a halt. Again, I haven’t been to space myself.
Mechanically, there’s little enough that I’d readily relate ADR1FT to a walking-sim in that the only tools you’re given to work with involve movement and single button for interaction. The movement itself is interesting as the propulsion system allows you to navigate multiple axes with ease. Your propulsion system shares oxygen supply with your life support systems, meaning you’ll constantly be calculating the distance and direction you need to travel so as not to suffocate. Oxygen refill containers are aplenty in the wreckage and some vital suit repairs along the way make the journey a little easier. Really, though, there isn’t any challenge to gameplay. No navigation or hacking puzzles, timed events, nothing. Anything more intricate than floating simply requires players to push and hold a single button while your character performs more intricate maneuvers like opening doors or accessing an oxygen station. I never thought I’d find myself in a situation where I would’ve appreciated some QTEs.
The experience is quite immersive just played on a TV but doesn’t have the same draw that it does as a VR experience. The first few times my character nearly ran out of air, I felt it, as my heart began to race and my breath picked up along with hers. I got over it quickly though as I nearly ran out of oxygen every two to three minutes soon after. Breaking the overall elegant aesthetic, several environmental objects clip through the player, orbs of water floating in space remain static even when you bat at or pass through them, and, while it never tanked, the frame rate will spend a good amount of time in the 20s on the PS4. Still, the game’s pretty – I’ll give it that.
ADR1FT’s a bore. Despite influence from Journey, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Half-Life, developers failed to borrow any similar strengths or vigor. I constantly felt the game expected me to make an effort to care about the characters, the story, or anything; it all feels lazy and does next to nothing in its own right to grip players. Even if you’re just looking to zone out and float in space for a few hours, give the VR scene a year or two and I’m sure you’ll have an entire catalog of superior alternatives to choose from.