ADR1FT Hands-On

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Do this writing about games stuff for a long enough period of time and you learn to go into every media event with no expectations. This time-built wisdom will pay off when you’re completely surprised by a game you’ve heard about in bits and pieces that’s shaping up to be a must-play title. ADR1FT was one of those games I’d heard about since its inception, but held off on writing a single word about until I was able to spend time with a demo. That happened yesterday thanks to 505 Games giving it a big screen premiere in two separate events for Boston and New York City games media. The Unreal 4 powered game headed to PS4, Xbox One, Steam (and yes, whatever rigs Oculus will run on) is one of those first games that leaves you breathless for a few reasons.

“SURVIVOR DETECTED”

The game’s story is a straightforward and simple tale of survival. You’re an astronaut who wakes up stuck in a damaged EVA suit on a heavily damaged space station orbiting Earth. Gameplay revolves around locating air supplies, repairing your suit and finding out just what happened that left you the only survivor. Part mystery, part survival game and all stunning to look at, it’s clear that ADR1FT has a mission in changing some perceptions about modern gaming. Sure, that sounds like an overly lofty goal. But again, it’s a case where if you see and play this one, you’ll “get” why it’s such an important release for its developer and publisher…

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Based on screens and B-roll alone, developer Three One Zero’s upcoming first-person adventure game will probably remind some of the award-winning film Gravity, but it’s a case where inspiration was coincidental and in fact, a bit more personal. Without getting into the gory internet details, ADR1FT is a case of its creator Adam Orth taking about a million pounds of lemons and making some of the best damn lemonade you’ll ever taste. In the game, you play as an astronaut who wakes up in a failing EVA suit aboard a destroyed space station floating above Earth. Trapped in this “worst day ever!” situation with no memory of what happened, you’re tasked with surviving, collecting data logs and yes, letting the folks down below know you’re still alive. The game has light echoes of Half-Life, but not a single weapon will be found, nor are there any enemies to shoot. It’s also faintly reminiscent of FromSoftware’s near brilliant Echo Night: Beyond, with data logs from fellow crew mates replacing that game’s ghosts and cardiac-inducing fright sequences.

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Watching Orth play the game was one thing. Playing it myself was something else initially. With that failing EVA suit only able to hold a small amount of oxygen, the demo was tense and compelling. Movement speed is slow, but required deft controller handling to keep that astronaut from bumping into debris, walls and other path hindering obstacles. The controls are a model of simplicity, yet take a bit of wrangling to master. Once you realize the lack of gravity and need to adjust movements incrementally (but quickly) makes the game flow, the focus soon turns to survival and data recovery. In addition to moving and looking with the analog sticks and rotating/stopping with the triggers, there’s a single action button that needs to be held down when you’re in range of something you want to view or use. Whereupon, it’s grabbed and used accordingly before being tossed away.

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Orth noted that the game wasn’t intending to be 100% scientifically accurate, but instead was based on his love for sci-fi and trying to create something that felt as real as possible while being accessible to anyone who picked up a controller. I ran out of air three times before I figured out how to efficiently move and grab objects, open certain doors and stay away from certain environmental hazards. On that huge theater screen, the visuals were beautiful and overwhelming (in the best possible manner). I noticed right away that the space station was designed as a single structure and broken up into the playable game locations. That was the only question I had, as everything else clicked from watching, then playing the demo build. Once the end of the demo was reached, I found myself wanting to see more and discover what happened to make things go so wrong all those miles above the Earth.

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In addition to the PS4 version, there was also an Oculus Rift-enabled demo to play. As a former VR skeptic turned not-so skeptic, after trying out the Rift demo I told the team they could set up a booth somewhere and charge people a buck a minute to play their game. While the grab controls were disabled, the build showed off some excellent 3D and despite the tendency for Rift games to look “bubbly”, convinced me that those who get the VR versions on whatever hardware it appears on will have a game to show off to fellow gamers and non-gamers alike. While it’s not even close to a “horror” experience, the brilliant sound design and haunting use of music in one key section showed that every piece is falling into place for a must-buy (and keep) game experience.

Orth noted that the game was about three to four hours long, but that wasn’t at all an issue. Like a great short story or film you go back to over and over after you’ve completed it, ADR1FT demands replaying. There are a few endings to discover and the sheer beauty of space as presented here makes it just a wonderful play. That and you see where the money and time went in making such an immediately accessible game experience. Keep an eye peeled for this one, as it’s just the beginning for a small studio packed full of incredible talent.

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