In this reviewer's opinion, space disaster is one of the most interesting concepts in entertainment. You have the likes of Gravity, Apollo 18, and The Martian in film, Seveneves in literature, and Alien Isolation in games. Adr1ft, the debut game from developer Three One Zero, now joins the party following its PlayStation 4 release. Pitched as a first-person experience, does this space adventure reach the heights of the cosmos classics that have preceded it – or does it simply drift away among the debris? Unfortunately, Adr1ft won't catch many people's eyes as they look up into the night sky.
Adr1ft takes place in the year 2037, 462 kilometres above Earth. You assume the role of Alex Oshima, commander of the Northstar IV, with control given to you as she looks out onto the ship's wreckage. The two main objectives of the game are immediately obvious: survive and repair the ship so that you can return to Earth. It's an interesting premise that it in itself is more than enough to spur you on throughout the entirety of the game. But that's not all, you'll uncover audio logs and emails throughout the ship that tell the tale of certain crew members and their lives. Topics such as drug addiction, marriage struggles, and conflict are explored within these optional pickups, and they help to turn a lifeless environment into something humane.
It's a shame then that while Adr1ft's story and setting are so fascinating, its gameplay cannot even begin to reach those heights. At its core, gameplay revolves around traversing the environment as you repair the ship, and collecting oxygen canisters to keep you alive. Alex's space suit can only hold a limited amount of O2, so obtaining these tanks are imperative to your survival. Furthermore, the little oxygen that you do have drains very quickly, and there's only just enough to get you to the next canister, meaning that problems arise when you want to explore the locations that you're in. Want to risk it and grab that audio recording? You may not come back alive.
Another thing you must take into consideration is the usage of your space suit's abilities. Thrust, boost, and scan manoeuvres all drain oxygen, and so you must use these functions sparingly or risk death. There are a lot risks within the core gameplay loop of Adr1ft, and it does help to rack up the tension exponentially.
But while this is all well and good for the first hour or so, it eventually becomes apparent that Adr1ft isn't willing to build on its core mechanics as you progress. A quarter of the way through Alex manages to upgrade her oxygen tank which doubles the amount of O2 that you can hold, but this decreases the importance of collecting oxygen canisters as you go. This leads to later portions in the game where we felt that our input was minimal, as we only really had to hold up on the left thumbstick. On multiple occasions we knew exactly where the game wanted us to go, but all we could do was wait for our slow space suit to take us there. Had more mechanics been introduced throughout the four hour adventure, this flaw could have been alleviated. The story will keep you going to the end of the game, but the gameplay will become monotonous and tiresome the more that you progress.
Thankfully, the mundanity of Adr1ft's gameplay does not carry over into its graphics. Three One Zero has done a fantastic job here, because everything is visually stunning. As you slowly glide through the debris of the Northstar IV, you'll be treated to some mesmerising vistas of both space and Earth that rival the likes of Destiny. Graphics are just as good inside the ship, too, as you glide past individual droplets of water and colourful trees that still appear to be bursting with life. This is all supported by a stable 30 frames-per-second, with no bugs or glitches encountered. The game did crash on us once, but this seemed to be an anomaly.
Adr1ft is by no means a bad game, but it comes with a few key caveats. Its opening hour is fantastic, as you begin to piece together what has happened and perilously search for the next oxygen canister, but it's the back half of the game that severely lets this intergalactic adventure down. And despite the story and its setting being so intriguing, it's not enough to paper over the glaring flaws present.