A GEARVR NEWS RETRO REVIEW
In VR terminology, “drift” is an unwanted situation which occurs when your VR device slowly loses the internal compass of where forward is supposed to be and is need of calibration, or “reorienting”. In human terms, a similar word is “confusion” where you slowly lose your sense of yourself, where you are, or what you’re doing. In both instances, the affected thing may ultimately end up needing a calibration of some kind to get re-oriented again properly.
“Reorienting” is something you have to do in GearVR often due to more than a few games having drift issues that weren’t ironed out by the coders, such as Bomb Squad or Netflix. Literal drift is not a real issue in this game. Instead, the DRIFT found here is more about an A.I. that’s gone a muck, lost its way, and doesn’t know itself anymore... Thus, through another kind of “drift,” it has become confused. And so it needs help finding itself.
While I haven’t yet finished this meaty 15-level game, with up to 6 more hidden levels, I am pretty close. Something which would have been impossible without the Devs (Ferdinand Dervieux & Aby Batti) having a penchant for Saturdays. I’ll explain what that means in a moment, but right now I will just assure you from what I’ve played so far, I know that the title DRIFT wasn’t one chosen at random. It is deeply meaningful.
The plot line centers around you, an assassin with unparalleled abilities, and a computer interface named Watson, who is an A.I. that has … drifted somehow. It has gone so far out of its own mind, it no longer knows itself. The mystery of your strange ability to enter “bullet time” like from the Matrix is somehow derived from Watson, an A.I. construct (I believe to be) operating within you. Watson is what gives you your super-slow-motion ability to become a bullet and control time. But that A.I. has “drifted” and is now in need of a serious calibration. In a way, your use of bullet time IS that calibration, as you wind through an elaborate labyrinth of still moments locked in time (most likely assassinations you’ve already carried out in the real world) but are now re-playing inside your own mind as you try to help Watson remember who he is, and what this is all for. Or is Watson actually helping you? Are you in a coma? Is Watson trying to revive you?
This is mostly conjecture, based on the story bits that I’ve gleaned so far, but without having won the game and seen for myself, I can’t be sure if any of this is spoiler material or not. I could be way off base. But in numerous ways, piecing together the clues given over 12 levels so far, it seems to me Watson is broken. He seems intent on perfecting you, as if that’s his Prime Directive. And it feels like we’re in some kind of impossible situation, with our sense of being the actual bullet feeling more like a probability matrix of some kind. A way to restore either Watson’s mind, or possibly … our own. If this game were really just about assassinations using bullet-time, it would be way different than what it is. You feel that there is so much more at work going on here, behind the scenes.
I therefore see this entire game as a simulation running inside Watson, but then the only thing that could explain this simulation involving you is if Watson is also running … inside YOU. Perhaps you were a trained assassin and Watson was an AI construct put into your brain giving you the ability to cover the probabilities of an assault on your target? So that you can play through all of the scenarios in your mind? With Watson in charge, acting as the neural inducer, he safely allows your mind to speed up (which is what makes the world appear to slow down) entering bullet time, experiencing time at a fundamentally different level. So you can out-think your opponents. At this mentally-fast operating level, you are able to predict who is going to do what, where the bullets are going to come from, and where the enemy is potentially hiding from you. So that you can do your job as an assassin much better.
And so the strange anomalous things Watson says, especially after level 8 and beyond, as he becomes more incoherent, questioning reality, questioning everything, running simulations upon simulations (especially the odd ones that could not possibly occur) all begin to combine, giving me the clues to begin to make sense of this dire situation. Of course, not having completed it yet, I could be wrong, wrong about everything, but it is fun to poke this game’s plot mysteries with a long stick and see what stumbles out.
The game-play elements are quite fresh, unless you’ve already seen the game SuperHot, which is eerily similar, despite being quite different. (The same … but different, haha.) You start out being fired out of a gun (with deep 3D Depth) and enter a Goraud-shaded totally non-textured world whose style is quite original.
In every new scene, you begin by tapping to start your bullet’s trajectory through the chaos. You fly forward almost too fast, turning your head to instantly change course. As impossible turns and situations present themselves, you can slow time down at any point by using your Track-Pad, to buy more time to solve the problem. But the amount of this time-slowing ability you have is limited to how much green juice you have left. Use it all now and you won’t have any later when you need it most. You must learn to go sparingly, and take bigger risks, if you want to make it to the end of the level where, usually, the last challenge requires that you have at least some left to pull off some final stunt.
The visuals are stunning, with high contrast serving as the core artistic mechanism. You can feel the sunlight from the hot spots and dark shadows, even though you are indoors. The clash of outdoor lighting indoors can burn a hole in your retina while serving to create an other-wordly situation that serves the actual story line well. Plus, why take the time to put textures on everything when, in most cases, you’ll be flying through it so fast you won’t have a chance to even appreciate those fine details? I think it would have been a waste of time for the Devs to put textures on everything and make it look totally photo realistic. Another reason for the lack of realistic-looking graphics, I believe, is that might be happening inside a CPU (from the story-wise perspective) and is all only a simulation. But from a visual point of view, this title is set apart from so many others for these reasons, and is quite a mind bending experience.
The music in DRIFT was created by Romain Dorey. And rather than try to explain it myself, I’ll just quote the VR JAM description of what they were trying to accomplish here:
“For the music we wanted something that was embracing a gangster/museum atmosphere and tried many musics and styles. Finally, we came up with these tracks mixing Hip Hop and Classical music that create a weird, speedy, epic and aerial mood at the same time.
“In addition to all the musics we put sounds on each object in the scene depending on its material. When the player hits an obstacle he instantly gets audio feedback. We also implemented textual feed back which gives you information about the object you hit, makes fun of you, or gives you some tips.”
I found the music to be superb on all accounts and believe he was successful in his attempt to fuse styles. It does sound quite new and different; well done Romain Dorey.
The only bad thing about the game DRIFT was that it was, at its inception, fundamentally too hard to even play. The first few levels were hard but not overly so, yet by level 5, the game had already become impossible. I tried to beat level 5 almost 50 times at least in a 3-weeks period. Because as a reviewer, I didn’t want to review a game only having seen 1/4th of its contents. But that was back in November, before the awesome December patch that changed everything.
The story is fascinating, but I never would have gotten to level 8 where the story begins to be revealed bit by bit, without a game update which occurred back in December of 2015. Maybe the Devs had already gotten too many complaints about the difficulty of this game, but for whatever reasons, they released (in December’s patch) the ability to use slow-motion all day long every Saturday. On Saturdays, you can play this game with bullet-time set to infinite.
But while that helps, definitely, it doesn’t guarantee you a win every time, either. Because even with free bullet-time, the game is still too hard. I’m pretty much stuck on a level called “Lucid” which puts you through portraits in a never-ending maze where no end is possible to find. This can’t be the “infinite level” because I haven’t won the game yet or seen how the story ends. I haven’t learned what it’s all about. But even with infinite bullet time, I can’t solve this one.
Sometimes I would fly around “Lucid” for up to 10 minutes without dying once, but still never find the way out. I can’t find the end of this one. I pretty much only play this game on Saturday’s now, which slows down how fast I can beat it. Yesterday, I played it for three hours, trying to beat Lucid, but failing to do so. I finally gave up and decided to write this review anyway, or it seems I would probably never do it.
If this is the infinite level, I think the game designers should have told me up front, so I would have to waste my time realizing the game has no ending. And if it’s not the game’s ending, and not the infinite level, then perhaps a few more clues would be nice? Why can’t they see that you’ve tried to play the same level 50 times or played it for 15 hours (accumulated total, not all at once) and start doling out some clues for you? A game this hard really should analyze your play progression and analyze things. And if you can’t beat the level after a certain time, it would drop you some clues. Help a brother out here. Jeesh.
The game’s fresh style, its use of high contrast and Goraud shading, its slow-motion bullet-time effects, and its mysterious plot lines, all serve to draw me back every Saturday, hoping to finally solve what is going on here. What is behind Watson’s strange and erratic behavior, and where am I really? Am I in a hospital bed? In a coma? Will all of these simulated-reality interactions let Watson revive my mind, and help me wake up? Do I have one more mission to complete … in the real world? Am I lying in a pool of blood in my target’s house, his body guards lying in heaps all around me while my final target is escaping in the aftermath? I need to wake up, right!? Will Watson bring me back, and help me fulfill my final contract? Or is this all … just a dream?
A thousand questions plague me. And that’s why DRIFT is fascinating, well beyond its game-play, its 3D-Depth, and its immersion. There is a lot of meat here, with all of these levels, and by the time you’ve reached as far as I have, you begin to feel the high price of this game … might just have been justified after all.
It’s a pity I can’t find the end to the “Lucid” level, it vexes me harshly. And until I do, I guess the outcome to DRIFT will always remain yet another mystery that can’t be solved.
If you just want to try this game out first, before purchasing, you can just download this old version of the VR JAM demo which has 4 levels for you. And don’t worry, the actual game has all NEW levels, so you aren’t spoiling anything by playing the demo here:
Categories: Retro Reviews