I certainly don’t need every game I play to be a thrill ride, if my long lists of beloved point-and-click and hidden object games didn’t tip you off. I appreciate slow-burns, atmospheric exploration, and other low-key outings sometimes even more than big action-setpiece adventures. But there has to be something to latch onto, something to hold my attention in those moments of serenity. You would think a game about surviving the destruction of an orbital station would have no problem with that, but if we can be honest for a second, ADR1FT is the first first-person game that I’ve ever fallen asleep in the middle of playing.
You are Alex Oshima, commander of the Northstar IV station and sole survivor of its destruction. You awaken in your EVA suit to find the station absolutely shattered and your oxygen quickly leaking out. The only way you’re going to survive this mess is to get the emergency systems working long enough to launch an escape pod, and to pop oxygen canisters like PEZ before you suffocate. Your scramble for survival will take you from one end of the debris field to the other, through tight access shafts and the vastness of space, and into the path of some hard truths about what happened leading up to the catastrophe.
If you’re imagining the film Gravity right now, lemme cut you off before you get too excited. It’s certainly a similar premise, and the scope and spectacle of the destruction are sure to impress once you get your bearings on what’s left of the station. But Gravity traded in intense action sequences and absolutely dire threats to keep you on the edge of your seat. ADR1FT, in stark contrast, just gives you a big static space junkyard to tool around in. Even in their disassembled state the four wings of the station form fairly clear paths to follow, dotted with plentiful cases of oxygen to suck down. There are only two occasions where you even need to worry about moving debris or devices, and they’re quite easily avoided.
On top of that, the game’s structure is so decidedly video-gamey it threatens to defeat what immersion you can get from the presentation. You’ve got to get the station’s escape pods working, but for some reason they require that all four central mainframes be fully operational. All four have suffered identical catastrophic failures and must be repaired in the same way, by traveling all the way to the end of their wing to fabricate a new core. And you can’t access the fabricator until you get that wing’s components back online, like communication arrays or power relays. Essentially you have to get the entire station functional again just to launch the escape pods… you know, the things that are supposed to save you in an emergency. I don’t normally go this hard on a game’s premise, but building the whole thing around four identical fetch quests leaves a lot to be desired.
This is where the other ill-advised part of the design rears its ugly head, the fact that you are slooooooooow. I really cannot overstate how slow the pace of this game is, how gently you drift everywhere, how it takes whole minutes to float out to satellites to tap their comms. Because of the sorry state of your EVA suit your thrusters consume oxygen as well, so the less you try to jet around the better. That just makes you even slower and less engaged as you lock in a direction and wait to drift to your destination. There’s a fair number of collectibles to find, from audio logs to SSDs, but the interminable travel is hugely discouraging to exploration.
It’s almost a shame the game looks as good as it does, because it’s almost enticing to play it just to see a beautiful disaster in space. But it’s very much a disaster on the gameplay side as well, all the way down to the sluggish controls and aggravating bumping you’ll inevitably be doing because they modeled collisions for your whole body. In a way it feels like ADR1FT got stuck between two concepts, a tense battle for survival and a gentle sightseeing tour of space, and somehow ended up with the worst parts of both. However it happened I’m sad it did, because all the graphical and technical prowess in the world can’t save this one from the tyranny of boredom and poor design.