Gaming

This is the first VR game you should play

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David Cornish
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I'm in space. 

Well, I'm not - I'm in a lounge above a bar in London's Leicester Square - but as far as my brain is concerned, I'm in space.

I've plugged myself in to Adr1ft, one of the launch titles for the Oculus Rift, and one of the most compelling experiences I've yet encountered of the new wave of VR. 

I'm drifting through the wreckage of a space station, bumping my way inelegantly through shredded metal and debris in search of an air cannister to top up my failing suit. It's jangling those same nerves that were last shredded by 2013's Gravity - only this time, it's me who's in danger of slipping out of orbit, rather than Sandra Bullock.

The game's creator, Adam Orth, doesn't mind the comparisons to Bullock's space flick. "It's actually a good thing because, one, you're comparing our game to an Oscar-winning film, so thank you - it's a compliment. And number two, they've already bought into the idea before they do anything, they know the stakes, they know what they're up for."

Orth describes Adr1ft's VR experience as a "narrative-driven exploration game" - an isolating, breathless fumble through zero gravity that lends itself perfectly to the immersive format of the Oculus Rift. "The game was supposed to be out in Fall 2015," he explains, "but we held it an extra six months so we could be an Oculus Rift launch title. It's such a huge opportunity for us, as a tiny studio of only eight people."

That team of eight at ThreeOneZero stuidos includes developers and programmers who have worked on the likes of Medal of Honor and Call of Duty - but no amount of experience was able to prepare the team for developing for the new virtual reality format. 

"There's a lot of fumbling around in the dark, because it's new. We made a lot of bets: most of them paid off, some didn't, the ones that didn't we learnt a lot from," Orth recalls. "It wasn't super challenging - we just really wanted to connect emotionally to people through the hardware and we think we achieved that.

"It's been fun, because when you design and create for VR as a game designer and developer, you have to rethink everything from the ground up, things that you're totally used to doing, like simply grabbing an item or going through a door, whatever it is you have to rethink it. Everything is new again."

Despite the new ground (or lack of it, as far as Adr1ft is concerned), ThreeOneZero has accomplished something rather special. What could be a pleasant-if-pedestrian float through sci-fi corridors is enhanced to almost indescribable levels by the Oculus Rift headset. Describing the feeling of entering into VR titles like this is one of the biggest challenges for the new format: how do you sell the experience to people unless they've tried it themselves?

"First of all, there are a lot of consumers who don't really understand what VR really is - it's not swapping out a new monitor," says Orth. "Each one of these systems is also a platform, and they have their own unique features and focuses. It's not just like buying a new TV. 

"I think that part of that problem is because it's hard to try. You can't try it unless you buy it right now. That presents a difficult challenge. I think it's up to Oculus and HTC and Sony and whoever else to find where they're going to be in retail, put up kiosks and staff them with knowledgeable people. You can't just show them at trade shows and expect everyone to buy them. How many people go to a trade show?"

Set for launch on 28 March, Adr1ft should be one of the first experiences Oculus Rift owners seek out amongst its 30 launch titles when they've unboxed their new headset.

Is it worth the Rift's £350 price tag alone? Not quite - no new console is ever worth purchasing for one launch title alone - but it's an indication of the new, inventive, exciting experiences that the platform is going to bring gamers in its first year of launch. 

Rest assured, space never looked this good - nor this terrifying - before.

Adr1ft launches on Steam and Oculus on 28 March

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David Cornish

Shortlist.com’s esteemed Tech Editor. David has a keen interest in video games, Star Wars and stuff that runs on batteries.

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