Adrift: A stranded astronaut’s struggle for oxygen leaves us breathless - Games Weekly

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Adrift: A stranded astronaut’s struggle for oxygen leaves us breathless

The debut teaser trailer for Adr1ft isn’t easy watching. A single-shot, first-person journey through a wrecked spacecraft (the cause of the disaster is unclear), it follows the game’s protagonist as she desperately seeks an oxygen canister. Desperate because, as her suit keeps telling her, she only has a few seconds of air remaining before she dies.

Halfway through the video, she swipes helplessly at a floating tube, only to send it spiralling away with clumsy fingers. It’s empty anyway, so no use even if she could control it. She drifts past useless debris, looking around for a lifeline, and eventually travels out into the void.

A beautiful view of the Earth is her reward along with the still, drifting body of a fellow astronaut and with the last of her energy she steers her body into the husk of a giant cylindrical arm of the stricken station. When all seems lost she spies what might be a viable canister of oxygen in the distance and slowly,  achingly slowly, moves towards it, reaching out with her hands until… the trailer ends.
Torn leaves and foil bags with emerging shoots are suspended
“I’m a huge fan of Martin Scorsese films,” explains creative director Adam Orth after we watch the trailer for the first time ahead of its world premier at December’s The Game Awards event. “And I just love all of his single-shot steady-cam shots. It’s 100% gameplay, but we wanted a single, continuous shot that told a narrative, and I’m really proud of it. It really speaks to what our game is about.”

Our experience with Adr1ft isn’t quite as cinematic. We’re dropped into the world at the exact point where the trailer begins, but our action button’s disabled, meaning we can’t grab those containers and must instead float past them. On the plus side, our oxygen supply isn’t quite as desperate, so we’re given time to explore an area lifted from the complete game.

Bumpers rotate our body, triggers thrust us upwards and downwards, and along with the analogue sticks that’s the extent of our moveset. The opening room is sparse, containing just a couple of computers and a locked door, but when we move through the hatch and into the hydroponics lab we’re rewarded with a room worth exploring. The walls are lined with half-open research cabinets containing plants, while torn leaves, foil bags with shoots emerging from them, slivers of glass and even the odd bubble are all suspended in the vacuum.

When we bump into the canisters and packets they slowly drift away, although we pass right through the bubbles without bursting them an understandable symptom of this being a very, very early build of the game. Invincible bubbles aside it’s a gorgeous environment to poke around, matching Alien: Isolation for visual impact, if not its grime or dark aesthetic. Tonally, Adr1ft’s aiming much more towards the clean, white 2001: A Space Odyssey end of the design spectrum.

There’s much more to admire outside the capsule. Sparking wires and plant matter float through empty space, and when we finally find our bearings we track down that dead astronaut from the trailer. Turns out he’s not dead (our suit’s repeating message is, “Survivor detected, target in aerospace of Northstar IV” Northstar IV being the fallen space station) but in our demo he’s unconscious, so we can’t do much more than rub against him. 

The final game won’t be quite so serene. The goal to power up escape pods involves numerous visual and musical puzzles (Orth is coy about how the latter will work), and Adr1ft’s narrative is being heralded as a major component Orth’s designing it to be a metaphor for his tumultuous departure from Microsoft. There’s only so much we can learn from a puzzle-less drift through two rooms er, the floating feels nice! but  Adr1ft’s vision and use of Unreal Engine 4 is, so far, rocketing our interest levels.

Entering the void
The very first breath of the Adr1ft project
When Orth started working on selling Adr1ft to publishers, he didn’t want to piece together a long design document. “No one reads them. They’re a total waste of time,” he says. Instead, he decided to create a single image that best summed up the premise, combining a picture of Earth from Deviant Art and a shot of Felix Baumgartner. The resulting image is so central to Adr1ft’s core that the team still refers to it daily.

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