Icarus, Circa 2016
HIGH Jetting across a hundred meters of nothing with my air on red, desperately reaching for an oxygen canister.
LOW Trying to find the next waypoint in a screen full of clutter.
WTF Um… where is the sun?
Adr1ft is a first-person stranded-in-space sim that has a lot of style to offer. About half an hour into the experience, I realized that the game fully intended to coast on it, and I was interested to see just how far it would get. The answer? Further than I expected, but still not far enough.
As Adr1ft opens, the player is reeling from the destruction of the space station that their character was commanding. An improbably huge edifice to be operated by just seven people, the station has broken up into several pieces that must be navigated by carefully directed floating.
The central conceit is a good one: the main character’s space suit is badly damaged, and the same air she breathes provides the thrust she uses to get around the station. As a result, every movement brings her a few seconds closer to suffocation, and players must spend the entire game lurching from air supply to air supply. It adds a sense of desperation to the standard walking simulator formula.
In the moments between panicked rushes for survival, Adr1ft’s environments really impress. Everything is sleek and white, with rounded corners and slightly futuristic technology. The whole thing looks like the developers were attempting to redesign 2001 with modern tech in mind, and the result is stunning to behold. The modules look amazing both from the inside and out (while spacewalking) and there was always something gorgeous right around the corner.
Actually moving inside the space suit feels fantastic. I can’t speak to its realism, but the first sensations of drifting out of the station and towards my destination with the earth below me and nothingness above… it was a breathtaking experience. The developers have simplified the controls so that I was never frustrated by movement and there’s also a training room. By the time I made it to the main game, the suit was completely comfortable to operate.
Beyond the production design and tight controls, Adr1ft doesn’t have much to offer.
The objectives revolve around fixing enough of the station to get an escape vehicle operational so that the player’s character can return to Earth. Right away the game loses huge logic points—what good is an escape shuttle that doesn’t work if the station has an emergency?
The mechanics of how repairs are accomplished are dull and repetitive. On multiple occasions I was asked to fabricate a hexagonal piece of tech and bring it to a nearby location—there are no puzzles to solve, technical, mechanical, or otherwise. Frankly, I often forgot what I was supposed to be doing, and the tasks were so generic I found myself wondering if they were even worth completing.
This wouldn’t be so bad if the game didn’t make navigating around the fractured station such a chore. The suit doesn’t have a map of any kind, and the omission seems ridiculous. What players get is a nearly-useless radar and a ping-able HUD that puts a waypoint on the screen, for all the good it does. Unfortunately, the developers made the color of the waypoint icon the exact same color as the metal of the station’s interior and exterior, meaning that it has a bad habit of visually blending into and disappearing among the wreckage. How could a design mistake this big make it into the finished product?
The story segments aren’t much better. Throughout the adventure there are audio logs to pick up, all of them offering insight into the now-dead crew and the events leading up to the destruction of the station. They’re painfully generic, with squabbles and infighting among thinly-sketched characters being the closest thing to drama Adr1ft offers. If a player goes to the trouble of finding all of the logs there are a few mildly intriguing twists to the story, but this is prohibitively difficult to accomplish since the audio log markers suffer from the same lack of visibility as the waypoints, and half of them are so far out of the way that a casual player would have no chance of coming across them.
Half of Adr1ft is a fantastic experience. The spacewalking segments are like nothing I’ve ever encountered in a game before—freeing yet claustrophobic, beautiful and terrifying. If it was judged solely by how well it captures the mystery of and fascination with the great emptiness beyond the earth, it would be a success. This isn’t just a floating sim, though, and once simply being in zero-G gets old, there isn’t a compelling reason to get through the rest.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Three One Zero and published by 505 Games. It is currently available on XBO/PS4/PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains drug reference, mild sexual themes. The game is largely safe for even younger teens. All of the sexual themes and drugs are simply references made during audio logs. Even then there’s nothing particularly salacious or risque, just largely matter of fact references to addiction and personal relationships.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game is set in space. It’s almost completely silent already. The audio logs have subtitles.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Nothing relevant to this conversation, that's for sure! Because we're here to talk about (sorry, write and read about, respectively) GC_Danny, who's updating this profile for the first time in thirteen years!
So let's take a gander back at that time and see what's happened! In addition to writing hundreds of video game reviews, Dan produced a book that can be legally purchased by almost anyone! He also wrote two short films, two episodes of television, and two movies! Although, sadly, and through much fault of his own, the movies have yet to be released.
In addition to general game reviewing, he's also dabbled in more long-form work, writing some of the longest and most comprehensive game reviews of all time. Then there's his non-GameCritics blogging, where he's famous as the world's foremost expert on the TV show Criminal Minds, as well as the co-host of a weekly podcast - he's even working on a new videogame/critical experiment, which you can find out more about here!
If all that wasn't enough, just a few months ago he rebranded himself as 'The Hidden Object Guru', hoping to stake another claim of ultimate expertise, this time over a genre of casual games! Will he be successful? Only time will tell, but you're free to join the thrilling ride at his YouTube channel!