How Adr1ft got me to believe in VR

A new game from Three One Zero takes players on their first space walk. While it'll hit consoles and PC this summer, I'm sold on the game's VR ambitions.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
3 min read

Watch this: This space-walk VR game will make your stomach drop

I've sat in the chair and strapped in plenty of times before. But it wasn't until I tried out the VR version of Adr1ft did I finally say out loud, "OK, I'm sold on VR."

Adr1ft is being developed for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC, but also simultaneously for VR platforms (which seems like a no-brainer). It's a narrative-driven story about an astronaut stranded on an obliterated space station. The player must make their way to checkpoints throughout the debris, all along the way discovering bits of information about the other people on board and just what the hell went wrong.

It's impossible to ignore the striking similarities the game shares with the film "Gravity." They're right there in front of you, literally smacking you in the face. Nevertheless, Adr1ft focuses on mechanics of oxygen management and strategic booster thrusting. The more you engage those thrusts, the quicker your oxygen depletes -- not to mention you're breathing it in as well.

Adam Orth is Adr1ft's game director and the co-founder of Three One Zero, the title's developer. He explained to me that the game's primary hook is the idea of storytelling through a series of discoveries and audio logs. The cinematic aesthetic the team is shooting for is exemplified through the game's use of claustrophobic sound effects and realistic depictions of weightlessness.

It helps to reinforce your cinematic ambitions when you demo a game inside an actual movie theater, which is exactly where I checked Adr1ft out.

Three One Zero

The demo I watched was being played on a PC and looked fantastic. Every bump the astronaut took shook the screen with a disorienting blur. Her heavy breathing was suffocating and desperate. It was uncomfortable, but also entertaining.

Even though the demo was only around 10 minutes, I'm eager to check out the rest of what Orth says is roughly a four-hour ride. While the console and PC version will hit this summer, it's the VR version that had me completely rocked.

The Oculus VR demo wasn't as meaty as the PC demo. Instead it placed me inside a space lab where I flew around whacking boxes and flowers in zero gravity. I fell into a deep transfixed gaze with a floating bubble in front of my face. It forced me to do that cross-eyed focus you tend to do with your eyes -- like you're trying to stare at the tip of your nose.

Then it was time to go outside. Into space. I floated my way toward a portal that auto-opened, leading me out to a spectacular scene. A shattered space station with what seemed like thousands of shards and pieces of debris hovered in front of me, with the gigantic backdrop of Earth behind it. It was then that my stomach dropped. My brain gave up, like it was saying "All this doesn't compute, you're on your own, dude."

Three One Zero

I looked down and saw my feet just hanging there. I couldn't help but start to tread air, the way a dog does when it's in water. Then I looked behind me, and was faced with endless nothingness. Deep space, a few stars in the distance. That's when it was time for me to take the headset off -- just to make sure I didn't completely lose it.

The thing is, this version of the Oculus wasn't even the most current piece of hardware out there. The latest iteration shown at CES was more impressive, and we're hearing that the Valve/HTC Vive is even more mindblowing. So even at the lower resolution I played Adr1ft in, I was still completely immersed in the fantasy. Just the thought of playing with better hardware and even crisper and clearer graphics gives me a very vivid picture of what the future of VR might hold. The promise of it and the a-ha moment I felt with Adr1ft have officially sold me on it.