Three One Zero
From the moment ADR1FT begins, something doesn’t feel right, and I’m not talking about the fact that your space station has been blown to smithereens, leaving every member of your crew floating lifeless through space. Such an explosive, dramatic event would make for an utterly thrilling beginning to any work of fiction. And yet bizarrely, ADR1FT skips it entirely, instead commencing moments after the cataclysm, when your character Alex Oshima awakes from unconsciousness to find her spacesuit venting oxygen with the force of a right-wing shock-jock.
It’s an underwhelming start which, unfortunately, encapsulates ADR1FT as an experience. Like space itself, ADR1FT is beautiful and terrifying, but also empty and weightless.
Let’s begin with ADR1FT’s merits, however, for despite its problems there are good things here. Most notably, the environment design is incredible. Not merely in terms of visual prowess, although Three One Zero’s superb work with Unreal Engine 4 makes it one of the most beautiful games to date. What’s truly impressive about ADR1FT is how it conveys the sense of being in 3D space. The shattered Han IV space station has scattered across Earth’s orbit like a dropped plate, comprising four or five large and dozens of smaller chunks which float above, below and around one another in what initially appears to be a completely disorienting mess.
The most satisfying aspect of playing ADR1FT is finding order within this chaos, learning how to move around in three dimensions, constantly adjusting your position within the station’s fractured corridors to account for the new “Up” in that particular area. Even played on a standard monitor, it’s an impressive thing. Cleverly, ADR1FT never lets you become too lost. Smaller chunks of debris are arranged in vague trails which hint at the path you need to take, while objects that can be interacted with flash at you in the darkness with different coloured lights.
Although ADR1FT is captivating as a piece of environmental design, as a game it soon begins to exhibit serious problems. To begin with, the desperate nature of your situation, while demonstrated clearly by your surroundings, is less well conveyed through the game’s systems. ADR1FT’s core mechanic is that O2, which you need to stay alive, is also your only source of propulsion. In other words, moving around slowly drains your health. To avoid asphyxiation, you must minimise using your propulsion jets whenever possible, instead making small adjustments to your trajectory and relying on inertia to get around.
By all rights the merging of these systems should be a great source of suspense. Sadly, opportunities to replenish O2 are so abundant that the tension falls away quicker than a satellite re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. A more effective resource that needs managing is suit integrity. Bumping into objects even slightly causes damage to your suit, which will eventually rupture if you are too careless, instantly leading to death.