Adrift

EDGE - - PLAY - De­vel­oper Three One Zero Pub­lisher 505 Games For­mat PC, Rift (tested) Re­lease Out now

Adrift is at its best when you’re sim­ply tak­ing in the view and ab­sorb­ing the grav­ity of your sit­u­a­tion

Given the grandeur of its set­ting, Adrift is a sur­pris­ingly in­ti­mate game. Open­ing in the af­ter­math of a cat­a­strophic event on board the Hardi­man Aero­space Northstar IV re­search space sta­tion, you find your­self in the space boots of mis­sion com­man­der Alex Oshima as she tries to piece to­gether what caused the event and find a way home. But while the ma­jes­tic wreck­age of HAN-IV floats around you in the deadly vac­uum of space, you’ll wit­ness events from within a space hel­met with noth­ing but your own thoughts and an ever-de­creas­ing oxy­gen meter.

This con­trast of epic scale and in­tro­spec­tive hu­man tragedy is Adrift’s most pow­er­ful trick, mak­ing for a dis­arm­ingly mov­ing jour­ney through the ster­ile re­mains of a bro­ken sci­ence ves­sel. When you open a door to what was once a cor­ri­dor and is now a dark void awash with shrapnel, and float be­yond the thresh­old of what re­mains to look down past your feet to the Earth be­low, the ef­fect is ex­hil­a­rat­ing. Later on in the game we’re forced to cross a large sec­tion of space in or­der to reach the rel­a­tive safety of the sta­tion’s hub sec­tion, our EVA suit’s thrusters push­ing us slowly to­wards our des­ti­na­tion while minimalist elec­tron­ica un­der­scores the awe-in­spir­ing view. For a game about sur­vival,

Adrift is tran­scen­dently peace­ful. Oshima’s EVA suit sprang a leak in the dis­as­ter, and your oxy­gen re­serves re­quire con­tin­ual re­plen­ish­ment from O2 can­is­ters that float about the place or, later on, O2 sta­tions. The suit’s propul­sion sys­tem also suf­fered dam­age, ini­ti­at­ing an emer­gency mode, which shares your air sup­ply for fuel (we’re not sure if Hardi­man Aero­space’s en­gi­neers should be pros­e­cuted for this in­no­va­tion). So both breath­ing and mov­ing put you in dan­ger of suf­fo­ca­tion, but at least re­fills are plen­ti­ful.

Ad­di­tional suit-re­lated dilem­mas arise from bump­ing into any­thing, cre­at­ing omi­nous frac­tures that form around the edges of your vi­sor. Leav­ing this unchecked will lead to your suit’s sys­tems be­ing fur­ther com­pro­mised, but re­pair sta­tions dot­ted about HAN-VI will pro­vide a quick patch up. The pre­car­i­ous­ness of your sit­u­a­tion is fur­ther high­lighted by the fact that the slow leak of oxy­gen stops when­ever you find your­self in a por­tion of the sta­tion that hasn’t been breached, mak­ing trips out­side feel in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous.

Avoid­ing smashing your suit into bulk­heads and equip­ment is a tall or­der at first due to the idio­syn­cratic con­trol scheme. Your thrusters al­low you to as­cend and de­scend, roll to ei­ther side and move on which­ever plane you hap­pen to be ori­ented, but keep­ing things grace­ful and in check re­quires gen­tle in­puts and con­tin­ual small ad­just­ments. De­spite the sim­plic­ity of the ba­sics, the reg­u­lar­ity of in­puts re­quired takes some mas­tery and makes nav­i­ga­tion sat­is­fy­ingly com­plex.

Three One Zero also fully ex­plores the po­ten­tial of a zero-grav­ity en­vi­ron­ment by po­si­tion­ing the frag­ments of HAN-IV in such a way as to dis­ori­ent with­out con­fus­ing. You might en­ter a sec­tion only to dis­cover you’re up­side down, up and down can just as eas­ily be for­ward and back, or a po­ten­tial route could be ob­scured by the an­gle at which it sits in re­la­tion to you. But chunks of sta­tion are also used to sub­tly sug­gest the way for­ward with­out ever look­ing con­trived. De­scent vet­er­ans will cer­tainly en­joy the ex­ploratory free­dom, even if Adrift’s re­duc­tive mini map isn’t up to the job of point­ing you to your next ob­jec­tive. Those ob­jec­tives are al­ways the same: four sys­tems must be brought back on­line in or­der to ac­ti­vate the es­cape ships, and in all four cases that means find­ing the sys­tem’s main­frame, fab­ri­cat­ing a new core for it, switch­ing on its cool­ing mod­ule, and fi­nally in­stalling the core. Vari­a­tion in­stead comes on the jour­ney to each of th­ese ar­eas, with each route made in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous by ex­posed com­po­nents, fast­mov­ing de­bris and less clear sign­post­ing. De­spite this slow trickle of fresh ideas and a few stand­out lo­ca­tions, the con­vinc­ingly re­al­is­tic de­sign of HAN-IV re­sults in a se­ries of in­dis­tin­guish­able cor­ri­dors and rooms which, while un­de­ni­ably beau­ti­ful, com­bine with the rep­e­ti­tion of grab­bing oxy­gen can­is­ters and com­plet­ing sim­i­lar ob­jec­tives to make for a rather samey whole.

Even so, this is mit­i­gated by the rel­a­tively short length of the game and suit up­grades later on that re­duce your re­liance on oxy­gen can­is­ters and al­low for more freeform ex­plo­ration. The well-con­ceived and per­formed story, which un­furls via au­dio di­aries, emails and the oc­ca­sional trans­mis­sion from Earth, pro­vides sur­prises along the way, and the plea­sure of pro­fi­ciently ma­noeu­vring your suit about the place never wa­vers.

Adrift earns its In­tense com­fort rat­ing on Ocu­lus’s store by test­ing the lim­its of your body’s tol­er­ance for mo­tion sick­ness as you som­er­sault and bar­rel roll through space. But it’s worth ac­cli­ma­tis­ing for what VR adds to the ex­pe­ri­ence: the claus­tro­pho­bia of your suit’s dwin­dling air is in­ten­si­fied by the feel­ing of be­ing in­side a space hel­met with a vi­sor cen­time­tres from your face; and the dizzy­ing scale of float­ing miles above Earth when out­side the sta­tion be­comes over­whelm­ing.

In fact, Adrift is at its best when you’re sim­ply tak­ing in the view and ab­sorb­ing the grav­ity (or in­deed lack of grav­ity) of your sit­u­a­tion. A post-re­lease up­date that adds a mode that al­lows you to ex­plore in­di­vid­ual lev­els (once they’ve been com­pleted in the main sto­ry­line) with un­lim­ited oxy­gen is a very wel­come ad­di­tion, but it’s dif­fi­cult not to feel that there was a mid­dle ground to be ex­plored be­tween the game’s two ex­tremes. Adrift none­the­less re­mains an ab­sorb­ing and re­mark­able game, and one of the most pow­er­ful il­lus­tra­tions of how vir­tual re­al­ity can trans­form our re­la­tion­ship with game­worlds.

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