PAX East 15: Consequence and Redemption in Adr1ft
The first game from Three One Zero studios, headed up by Adam Orth and Omar Aziz, puts players in a unique predicament. As (presumably) the only survivor of a terrible accident on a space station, you've got to find a way home... from hundreds of kilometers above Earth. The journey will be challenging, and your mettle will be tested, but Adr1ft is about more than returning to the safe confines of the planet below.
"This is not a save the world story at all," Orth explains as I sit down to watch a demo of Adr1ft in a mostly empty movie theater. When Orth kicks things off, the game picks up about 20 minutes in. The current objective has our character tasked with reinstating the oxygen systems on what remains of the damaged orbital lab. Were it not for all the detritus floating around and the warning chimes echoing through our ears, it would be nearly impossible to tell anything was wrong on the station. The clean futuristic look presents an almost immaculate haven in the stars, and it isn't until we progress slowly through the chambers and pods that the sense of dread takes hold.
As has become commonplace in gaming these days, much of the backstory of the person you are, and the people you knew, on the space station is related through audio logs scattered all over. We get to hear a few different recordings as we make our way through the O2 generation wing, each telling another part of the same story. The tale is made even more melancholy by the idea that we know this person is now likely dead, and his hopes and fears will forever only exist as an audio wave trapped in a tiny box orbiting the Earth. Still, we push on because no one can save us now but ourselves, and as heartbreaking as it is to think of those we lost, we must survive.
To reboot the system, we've got to locate a key, but unfortunately it was still on a fellow scientist when the accident happened. The objective marker outside the ship tells us everything we need to know about the person's fate. It's here that Adr1ft truly impresses. In the first moments outside of the station, alone in space with a view only a fraction of a percentage of humanity has ever seen, the majesty of the infinite beyond comes to life. Of course, when oxygen levels are low, the view is quite literally breathtaking. Focused and determined, we find our friend floating nearby, the key still dangling from the suit. If it wasn't so harrowing, it might have been incredible.
For the most part, the demo reveals little about Adr1ft beyond how it looks and how it controls. Obviously the story is a key component that can't quite be related in 15 minutes, but the hints of what's there have me intrigued. Comparisons to Gravity are easy, but that's just because there isn't much frame of reference for a story like this beyond a segment in Armageddon, and the immediate need to compare something to something else is a quick shorthand for having to put any real thought into it. That said, there's more to Adr1ft than a remarkable presentation; we just haven't been given the whole picture yet. Actions have consequences, and it's how redemption happens that Three One Zero believes will set the story apart.
As great as it was to watch Adr1ft in action, putting myself in the situation was another thing entirely. This was my first real attempt at using a virtual reality headset. Playing Adr1ft on a screen where you are still aware of your surroundings keeps you grounded, and it's easy to remember you're just playing a game. When you strap the goggles on, you are in space. It's the closest many of us will ever come to being up there, and it's a feeling that's at once terrifying, empowering, and thrilling. There's a tiny bit of disconnect with the body on the screen projected before your eyes, as it's almost impossible to recreate a real feeling of weightlessness, but you get to look at Earth from the space. You get to stare off into nothingness without the worry that you'll be lost and forgotten out here amongst the debris, even if it takes a moment to remember you're safe in a chair with another person nearby. Coupled with what's happening in Adr1ft itself, it's easy to get swept up in the moment.
Three One Zero has put a lot into the heart of Adr1ft, and beyond the stellar presentation, there are grander aspirations in narrative and storytelling that I only caught glimpses of in my brief time with the game. "If you have to opportunity to say something, you should," Orth said as the demo wound down. What it is Adr1ft hopes to say remains to be seen, but I'm all ears.
Adr1ft is expected to arrive for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC this summer. The VR version will be available as the peripherals come to market.