E3 2015: Adrift is a Disorienting, Beautiful Trip Through Space

Adrift is not the first game about being alone in a space station, but it may be the first to be coming to fruition which can fully utilize virtual reality. Now, it’s worth noting that my demonstration of the game did not come complete with an Oculus Rift headset, but I definitely got the feeling that the game was designed with one in mind. We’ll get to that later though. First, it’s worth discussing the basic mechanics and what exactly makes Adrift tick.

Players begin suspended in midair in a hallway of the space station. Viewed from a first person perspective, you see the world through the protagonist’s spacesuit helmet. Unlike most first person games, you even see “your” own hands as they float out in front. This isn’t a violent game, so it’s not as if you’re always hoisting a gun in front of your face. Instead, you might need to reach out to grab something important such as an oxygen canister. Although there appears to be no danger from enemies there’s certainly a need to keep oxygen flowing through your suit. Without it, well, things aren’t going to turn out very nicely.

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Although the idea of an exploratory game within an abandoned, partially destroyed space station might not sound totally unique, the methods by which you travel through it are. This is because the controls mimic that sort of free-flowing nature of the protagonist who is floating throughout rather than walking. Your controls work better as guides than definite motion. For example, press forward a bit and you’ll definitely see yourself moving forward… but then not stopping. Maneuver a bit too much up, down, left, or right and then you’ll find yourself actually knocking into the sides of the room you’re contained within.

Despite being a lifelong gamer, I found myself flying around like a pinball. My poor astronaut’s helmet was completely cracked and I feared that one more hit would end it all. Eventually, the controls began to make sense, but they still were still a bit wobbly. After all, you’re more of an influence on movement rather than 100% in control. Something odd that I found myself doing while playing Adrift was that my head and neck kept craning left and right. Apparently, I was attempting to correct the protagonist’s orientation with my body rather than the controller. This is the main reason I feel that the game is ideal for virtual reality headsets.

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With a headset on you would actually see things as the protagonist and be able to get different viewpoints by moving your head about. Without it, my neck straining was just a weird automatic reaction that made me look like a bit of a goofball at the PC. Again, as I’ve not actually tried VR with Adrift, it also seems like an impressive level of immersion would be guaranteed by playing that way. Honestly, the first moment I stepped outside of the space station into the vast expanse of space it frightened me a bit. I didn’t want to actually look “down” at the immense openness of the space and instead focused on another portion of the ship. Had this occurred within a VR headset it would have been less possible to simply ignore all that was going on in the surrounding environment.

Of course, it’s easy to get immersed even without a headset because Adrift is downright gorgeous. Then there’s the fact that storytelling appears to occur in an unobtrusive fashion as you solve tasks throughout the station. Yes, there are still audio logs but there are other remnants of past crewmembers to seek out as well. If you’re a VR devotee and somehow haven’t played it yet then definitely rectify this error when the game launches this September. Adrift is coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One.