Space is exciting. As stated in the opening to the original Star Trek series, it is the final frontier. It represents so many possibilities for humanity. So much expansion, so many new ideas and experiences to behold. We can make many educated guesses as to what's out there, but we'll never really know until we go there ourselves and set foot in a new place.
Space is horrifying. Horror is a fear of the unknown and there's so much that's unknown out there. Even in the space that we do understand, there's a thin line between life and death. This piece of glass, that piece of plastic, this screw; small feats of simple and complex engineering is all that protects those who venture into space from the harsh realities of the cold vacuum. There's an oppressive loneliness to the idea of space, something that's frightening to people who prize society and connections.
Adr1ft is about the latter idea. It begins with a lone astronaut, floating in the midst of a destroyed space station with no memory of her real name or connection to the catastrophe that left her stranded. She's trapped in an EVA suit with a limited supply of oxygen. You step into her world and her situation, searching for containers to replenish your oxygen supply while also searching for answers. Who are you? Why are you here? What happened to this space station?
Adr1ft plays like Gone Home in space, with our protagonist searching for clues and hints across fragmented bits of high technology. My actual interactions were light in the demo. You can float around in zero-gravity, using up your precious oxygen with each movement and access computers to find new information about your situation. Emails and voice dairies give you a glimpse into what life was like in the station before everything went to hell. You'll float around medical bays and corridors teeming with hydroponics growth. An observation room acts as a window out into space, but its focus is a cherry blossom tree floating at its center. The tree looks vibrant and alive, but without human help it's dying in this unfamiliar place, releasing cherry blossoms that float around the room, gently parting at your passing.
The oxygen limitation keeps you focused on your survival, a constant reminder of impending death in the middle of this beauty. Your protagonist's breathing is a constant; from her gulps for air when you find a new O2 container to her hoarse breathing when you're low on oxygen.
Death is your ever-present companion. You'll see food meant for employees, stations where they worked. When I floated out into an exposed part of the station, I marveled at the scenery, fragments of metal and plastic floating above the vision of the Earth below. Even then, a cold body in the EVA suit floats by, reminding you how easy it is to die in space. Short breaths remind you that you still need oxygen. There's a tension when you're trying to right yourself in zero-gravity and you cruise by a nearby O2 container, barely missing it. Your vision starts to cloud as your oxygen runs out. I'd say that's a special kind of horror.
Adr1ft can be played traditionally on PC, PlayStation 4, or Xbox One, but the game's central experience really comes into its own when you strap on a virtual reality headset like the Oculus Rift. I've previously note that one of the major failings of VR is when your physical body does not match your situation in real life.
Adr1ft gets around this through the use of the EVA suit. The controller is controlling the suit, not your body. As you glance around with the Rift strapped to your head, the EVA's viewpoint will remain fixed. Swivel your head all the way in one direction and you'll see the edges of your suit's helmet. This enhances the faux reality of Adr1ft, anchoring you within the world of the game. You realize that the protagonist isn't trapped alone in the station, she's trapped alone in the suit. The EVA suit is the boundaries of your world, a way to protect yourself from the space beyond it.
When I was wearing the Rift, the sense of loneliness and desperation felt real. You'll understand being trapped when you look down and see the edges of your helmet, a thin layer of glass protecting you from certain death.
My time with Adr1ft was short. Maybe 15 minutes at most. But there's something to the game's central idea: letting players experience a harsh, unforgiving environment. Adr1ft presents space as something that's very beautiful, but also very terrifying. You won't chase down a bad guy, run from a vicious alien, or fire a laser gun; it's just you versus the majesty and menace of space itself. I wish you more luck than I had.