Game review: ADR1FT on Oculus Rift takes VR into space

One of the first proper virtual reality games is like an interactive version of Gravity, but does it play as well as it looks?

Buying new hardware as soon as it’s released rarely pays off in the short term. Occasionally you get a killer app that instantly justifies the purchase, but the days of launch games like Super Mario 64 and Halo: Combat Evolved are long behind us. We’ve been playing virtual reality tech demos for years, but now that the headsets are officially released actual full length games are what’s needed. ADR1FT is one of the first, but it still only scratches the surface of what will be possible…

A good argument can be made that the VR headsets are their own killer app; that the experience is so intrinsically entertaining, and the volume of tech demos great enough, that it doesn’t actually matter that there’s nothing more substantial to do with them at the moment. But that still leaves the question as to whether ADR1FT is a good game, with or without virtual reality.

ADR1FT is perfectly playable without Oculus Rift (support for Vive is coming in May) but it’s clearly no accident that both the headset and the game were released on the same day. Certainly the premise of the game is well suited to VR, since it’s first person but doesn’t rely on fast-paced action. The obvious way to describe ADR1FT is as a video game version of the movie Gravity, although the focus of the plot is different and mostly deals with repairing the damaged space station you find yourself in.

For some reason fixing machinery in derelict space stations/ships has become a staple of modern sci-fi games, which is puzzling as the only thing that’s more tiresome is piecing together people’s life stories from audio logs that you find scattered about the place. And ADR1FT has plenty of that as well.

We’d be curious to know at what point developer THREE ONE ZERO started tinkering with VR support, because it really does feel as if the game was made solely to show off the new headsets. Since you’re stuck in zero gravity it’s one of the few modern games that has you moving through 3D space, which when you’re wearing a headset is great at giving the impression the game is more interactive than it really is.

Since you’re already supposed to be wearing a space helmet the feeling of immersion is almost perfect, and simply gazing out at the Earth as it rotates below you is an incredible experience.

It’s still impressive even without Oculus Rift, but playing it on just a TV makes the game’s limitations much more obvious. Right from the start your suit is damaged and is leaking oxygen, which is an especially serious problem because you’re using the same resource to power your jets and manoeuvre about. That’s a classic video game set-up, but it’s largely negated by the fact that floating gas canisters always seem to be easily at hand, so any sense of danger quickly evaporates.

Simply bumping into things, and smashing your visor, is a for more straightforward and serious danger. Although you get the distinct impression that the developers never really realised this, and there are few big set pieces that take advantage of this far more obvious and cinematic danger. Instead it’s all little bits of debris and smacking your head into a wall, and even then it’s often unclear how much you’ve actually damaged the suit.

The whole storytelling element is just as flawed, because everything is contained solely within the audio logs. There’s no George Clooney substitute talking you through your problems or trying to help, just endless recordings about how unfit for their job most of the crew seem to be, both mentally and physically. Rather than being imbued with the right stuff they seem to have been picked by the same mission controllers as the crew of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

The graphics and art design are very good though, further enhancing the sense of immersion – to the point where even without a VR headset it’s still almost worth experiencing despite the gameplay failings. Almost. There are a number of interesting elements to ADR1FT, but its only true worth is as a VR tech demo. Although the obvious problem there is that there are already plenty of really good tech demos, and most don’t cost £15.

But as we implied in our opening, gaming has a long history of visually impressive but otherwise vacuous launch titles, from The Bouncer to Ryse. ADR1FT is more interesting than either of those, even if, like them, it’s doomed to be forgotten as soon as the proper games start coming out.

Formats: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, and PlayStation 4
Price: £14.99
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: THREE ONE ZERO
Release Date: 28th March 2016 (consoles TBA)
Age Rating: 12

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