You’ll be able to work out if DRIFT is for you within the first few seconds of booting it up. Passing a load screen, you’ll suddenly find yourself being catapulted down the barrel of a gun, breaking out into a hectic scene in which the camera lurches up and down before arriving at the title in big, bold letters. It’s a bombastic statement that reveals this intriguing experience won’t be holding anything back, and it’s also more than enough to test if your resistance to the dreaded simulation sickness meets the high bar it sets. If you pass then there’s some stylish fun to be had here, but it’s an experience that sets a high price in more ways than one.
DRIFT started life as an entry into this year’s official Oculus VR Mobile Jam. It was there that developer SharpSense crowned it as VR’s first ‘bullet simulator’. That tells you all you need to know; each level sees you using Gear VR’s head-tracking technology to weave through obstacle-littered environments in search of your target, a glowing blue object. On paper, this is a great example of the kind of fresh experience VR can offer not just through immersion but the mechanics of the technology too.
And, for the first few levels, this transfers well into practice. Speeding down DRIFT‘s brightly-lit corridors while ducking and diving under bodies and through tight gaps is a unique thrill. The head-tracking control is brilliantly intuitive, reacting to your slightest movement and occasionally catching you off-guard by doing so. Any lag in the control scheme would have stopped DRIFT dead in its tracks but VRFocus is happy to report that this area is as finely-tuned as can be.
It’s after those warm-up trials that the problems start to creep in. DRIFT obviously makes some compromise when it comes to speed – piloting a bullet at its normal pace simply wouldn’t be possible – but it isn’t enough. You travel at an alarming speed for VR; easily faster than any developer has ever dared let you go before. As courses become more labyrinthine, you’ll have to rely even more on quick reactions, lunging your head from side-to-side, hoping to find the safety of the target soon. While the speed isn’t ideal, it’s failing that deals the worst blow, as striking a target instantly stops the camera in its tracks.
This sensation often packs a punch, and it doesn’t help that failure will come about every few seconds in DRIFT. In fact, some courses will feature split paths that can lead you to a dead end, while others last a good while. As such, negotiating a way around some of the 15 levels can take a long time until you finally arrive at that successful run. You’re given the chance to slow down time to help navigate the tighter spaces, but it’s a precious few seconds worth in each level and doesn’t regenerate. It’s great that the title packs some serious challenge, but the conditions that meet you each time you hit a wall will make regular breaks a necessity for many.
Far less forgivable is a common bug with the reload screen in which you can faintly see still see your previous failure, only now rotating round and round and pouring on the illness as it goes. All of these issues could be rectified by allowing players to tune the experience for themselves in a settings menu, but the only option here relates to subtitles.
At $14.99 USD – easily one of the higher price points on the entire Gear VR store – this is a problem. DRIFT’s presentation is up there with Gear VR’s best, but that won’t help the many that will find the package unplayable. Developers that try and push the boundaries of what’s possible on the platform are to be commended, but they also need to offer players a chance to test the waters before going all-in, and that’s perhaps the most valuable lesson to be learned here. At best, this could be described as an experimental project, perhaps even something that belongs on the Oculus Concepts store, not a top-tier release with a price to match.
That said, SharpSense does attempt to justify that price tag in other areas. It may boast a minimalist art style that owes a debt to SUPERHOT, but DRIFT‘s production values are right up there with Gunjack and Land’s End. It’s an attractive piece drenched in a brilliant orange that gives everything a sharp, clean look, while not being afraid to step outside of that visual norm for some striking set pieces. There are plenty of music tracks that complement the title’s ‘one-more-go’ approach and each level is bookended with some interactive cutscenes that make interesting use of gaze-based VR. The only area letting this down are the load sequences, the initial of which is lengthy while the rest also come with aforementioned visual bugs.
Like Fireproof Games’ Omega Agent – a title that John Carmack himself cites as simulator sickness inducing – DRIFT pushes the boundaries of VR with a fast, twitch-based experience, but it falls victim to the same issues of sickness and accessibility. VR needs developers that aren’t afraid to push the boundaries and unlock a new wave of content that doesn’t have to be as considered when it comes to comfort, but DRIFT will likely throw too many people in at the deep end.