E3 2015 – ADR1FT Preview: Serenity in Weightlessness

Space terrifies me. The idea of a vast emptiness. The lack of heat. The lack of air. The lack of basically anything. The vacuum of space is an infinite terror only held back by atmosphere. Here on the planet, I feel pretty safe. The atmosphere is a massive bubble around me, and something that I can feel pretty confident living in without the fear of the vacuum eating me up. The idea of a space station or shuttle is nerve wracking to me, the small false atmosphere creating a barricade between you and the emptiness. But floating around in a spacesuit, not to mention one that’s leaking oxygen and not tethered in any way? I’m sick just thinking about it. 

Playing on a Sense of Fear

ADR1FT plays on this fear in the most intimate of ways, placing you in first-person in a cumbersome space suit, floating amid the wreckage of a space station, leaking oxygen, with no memory of what occurred. Survival is my instinct and I started off the preview by flying towards the space station wreckage. There was no way I was just going to let myself float around in empty space. I needed to feel as grounded as I could. Unfortunately, moving meant that my oxygen depleted faster, so there’s a risk and reward to moving about. 

I find an oxygen canister and attempt to reach for it but overshoot as I am moving too fast. I slam into a piece of wreckage and cracks appear in the glass on my helmet. My oxygen level meter indicates that my maximum oxygen level is lowered, and the damage causes me to burn through oxygen even faster than before. Slowly turning myself around I finally grab the oxygen canister, but not before smashing into a few more things, damaging my suit even further. 

The controls are unwieldy, but that’s the point. It really feels like you are in an environment without gravity, and there is no atmosphere to stop you quickly.  Crashing into things is all too easy to do, but will do a lot of harm to your oxygen capacity. Finding a balance between moving quickly while still being careful is key, but far easier said than done. 

A Balance of Fear and Wonder

As I floated through the space station, I came across small collectibles, like an audio recorder here, or a photograph there. In my brief time with the game, I didn’t much understand the context, but in the grand scheme of things, these will help you piece together the story of what happened to result in my floating there, the sole survivor in the most terrifying of situations. 

The best (and perhaps most terrifying) part of ADR1FT? It’s coming to VR when the hardware is available, and it’s a game that fits into virtual reality perfectly. Watching others standing in front of the VR station and playing, I could see their entire self become immersed in the weightlessness, ducking and moving out of the way of debris and doorways. Inside a space helmet, your view is limited, and the bulky controls translate well. As I try to spin my head to look around, I am limited by the edges of your helmet, and my view doesn’t move as quickly as it would in a standard first-person game. This is space after all, and the VR immersion feels like it is going a long way to instill that fear of empty space into the pit of my stomach. 

ADR1FT is the simplicity of a lonely journey in a vacuum and it imbues both a sense of fear and a sense of wonder into players. The quiet tranquility of space is punctuated only by the sounds of my breathing getting louder as I run out of oxygen, and it is this frantic serenity creating an abutment of emotions that should be further apart in my head. ADR1FT is one of the best applications of VR and will likely end up as a must-have game for Morpheus when Sony’s VR solution releases early next year.