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Wot I Think: ADR1FT

Event Hurlizon

ADR1FT [official site] manages the impressive trick of simultaneously convincing that the current generation of VR can definitely do 'proper' games, and making me flinch at the idea of ever donning a headset again. At least Sandra Bullock didn't turn green and have to go for a half-hour lie down when she was fighting for her life in space.

First person astronaut sim Adr1ft's been out for a while now, but I've only just gained access to an Oculus Rift CV1 so I finally went on a low-grav survival spacewalk. Adr1ft - and yes, I do want to do shout awful things right into the face of whoever decided that '1' was a snazzy idea - is also available in non-VR form (both versions in one purchase, either from Steam or the Oculus store), and a Vive version is due in the not too distant as well, but at the time of writing the premium experience is Rift-only.

Gravity is the overt inspiration, this being a tale of an astronaut stranded in space, the torn and shattered wreckage of a space station all around her. The pursuit of oxygen and repairs is the main driver, but it's more a (albeit melodramatic) recreation of spacewalking than anything else.

The risk of O2 depleting is ever-present, but an be reliably (if temporarily) resolved by collecting floating pickups; forget to harvest them frequently enough and you'll perish, but it's no biggie really. Mostly you'll be preoccupied with gazing at the titanic sights of space-debris, the tranquil Earth and an impressively-detailed, authentic-feeling space station from two decades hence (or what's left of it).

You jet and gust around with a gamepad, rolling and drifting and ascending and descending with well-judged controls, entirely feeling as though you are lost in space, locked inside a bulky suit, haunted by the desperate sound of your own laboured breathing. ADRIFT recreates a specific experience, one we feel we know from cinema, and uses VR to make it both magical and traumatic.

The need to repair certain machinery ushers you around the place, sometimes with a degree of backtracking involved, and this makes for an uneasy balance between walking simulator and fetch quest. The freedom of the former is compromised by the routine of the latter; the challenge of the latter is compromised by the gentleness of the former.

It hasn't quite got the balance right and, paired with the constancy of grabbing oxygen cannisters, sadly the consequence is that ADR1FT is slightly boring. It feels repetitive and rigid instead of either unrestricted or dramatic. I love poring over its detail, a careful blend of authentic technology and futurism, but the twin pressures of air and door-opening quests rip away a lot of the magic. (An infinite o2 mode is unlocked upon completion of the main game, by the way).

As it stands though, this is a distant secondary problem because it takes about 15 minutes before ADR1FT makes me feel as though I'm going to lose every lunch I've ever had. Research suggests that while this isn't the case for everyone, ADR1FT is certainly upsetting more tummies than most any other VR title out there.

It includes a button specifically dedicated to combating this, which effectively blacks out most the screen bar a tiny porthole, designed to significantly reduce the sensation and effects of its lurching, low-grav movement, but it wasn't enough for me.

Perhaps if I'd planned in advance, resolved to press that button for a while every five minutes, I would have been able to stave off the worst, but entering that mode once I already felt sick just wasn't effective. I just had to take the headset off, and even then, writing as I am some two hours after having last played ADR1FT, I still feel shaky.

I will never, ever return to ADR1FT in VR mode, and right now the thought of any VR turns my stomach - something that has not hitherto been the case for me with the Vive or Oculus CV1. I suppose it's the nature of the low-g movement, but given the inclusion of that insufficient anti-nausea button, clearly this was a known issue, and I hope its causes are well understood enough that they won't haunt other sims with similar motion.

Your mileage may vary of course. I've always been a motion sickness-prone kind of fellow, but if you've never turned green on a long car journey chances are you'll be fine here. Me, I had to continue playing ADR1FT in desktop mode, which robbed it of its celestial, I-am-really-there majesty and amplified the tedium of its tasks.

A great shame, because from a visual and sensory point of view, ADR1FT is right up there with VR's best and brightest. I'd become dolefully accustomed to jagged shapes and block-colour textures, and though the VR version of ADR1FT is a step down from what its desktop version can do, it's still punching much harder than most of the facebox competition, and running smoothly on min. spec hardware (I've a mere GTX 970) for it too. It unarguably makes a case for more elaborate, beautiful and longer form VR games.

But, sadly, not this one - not for me, at least. It makes me too sick, and because the underlying experience collapses from operatic space disaster into rinse and repeat all too soon, I am not minded to endure that awful lurching sensation. Despite that, some of my VR confidence has been restored. Maybe this thing can happen after all.

Adr1ft is available now, on Windows.

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