Platforms: Playstation VR, PC
Reviewed On: PS4 Pro
Developer: Vertical Robot
Publisher: Vertical Robot
Oh boy, oh boy, it’s time to attempt my first official PSVR review, and we’re kicking things off with a good ‘un! As the mute and nameless protagonist of Red Matter you’ve been dispatched to one of Saturn’s moons in order to retrieve secret documents from the enemy known as The People’s Republic of Volgravia. But things aren’t what they seem as something strange and a tad sinister has occurred at the base. Don’t get your knickers in a twist, though, because this a puzzle-driven experience from start to finish.
Despite the technology required to create a base on one of Jupiter’s moons there’s a distinctly 1950’s vibe to Red Matter that stems from Volgravia’s obvious cold-war Russia influences. The Volgravian crest, for instance, instantly evokes feelings of the Soviet Union as does the style of architecture and unforms, and developer Vertical Robot have done a superb job of crafting a detailed environment for you to explore that drips with atmosphere. There’s arguably a little too much time spent in grey, dull corridors and rooms, but they frequently offset that with fantastic visual moments.
However, the environmental storytelling isn’t always as strong as I’d like. Since you’re exploring the base on your own the story is handled primarily through some voice-over on your comms and piles of notes, letters and documents scattered around the place. It’s a common trope and not necessarily a bad one, but virtual reality is the perfect medium for strong environmental storytelling and I don’t think Red Matter ever uses that to its full advantage.
Still, the plot is intriguing enough to keep you wandering along through the corridors and rooms before it ramps up toward the fun finish which comes somewhere around the 2-3 hour mark. Yup, this is a short experience and due to its nature there’s very little reason to replay it. Luckily those 2-3 hours are quite strong.
Getting around the environment is a bit of a mixed bag using the two Playstation Move controllers that Red Matter requires. The buttons for turning and for moving forward are all on the right-hand Move controller, which makes smoothly (click turn and smooth turn are options) walking around pretty much impossible. Instead, you walk forward, stop, turn, walk again and so on, though turning the controller left, right or backwards lets you strafe. But on the other hand you do also get to choose between instant teleportation for moving long distances or a nice jetpack leap over to wherever you pointed at. Teleporting can often be a jarring way of getting around for a lot of people, so the jetpack alternative feels like a nice design decision and was my preferred method of moving long distances.
Your left Move controller can switch between three handy-dandy tools; a simple claw that mirrors your right hand that can be used to grab objects, a flash light in case you’re struggling to see and finally a scanner that can be used to translate text, get more information on objects and unlock a variety of things. This scanner quickly becomes your best friend and you’ll likely find yourself scanning everything you can find, both because it helps flesh out the world and because it just feels cool as hell.
There’s a really pleasing level of interactivity in the sense that you can pick up random cups, chairs and other stuff lying around before happily throwing them around the place. Due to the lower gravity objects will even stay aloft longer than you’d normally expect, and in a nice touch heavier objects can’t be swung as quickly as light ones, a detail that didn’t need to be included but that helps immerse you a little bit more.
The puzzles are all fairly basic affairs that tend to involve flipping switches or pressing things in the right order as the developers clearly wanted to focus on tactility, something which the vibration feedback really helps with. Turning valves, for example, results in a strong vibration through the Move controllers. Clues will typically come in the form of the various notes and documents you find lying around the place and the difficulty feels quite nicely judged, offering a little bit of a challenge without being overly tricky to figure out. Usually the solution is staring you right in the face, so you’ll only get stuck if you fail to look around properly. My only complaint is that as solid and well done as the puzzles are none of them are particularly memorable. It would have been nice to see some more variety and outside-of-the-box thinking.
It’s important to note that outside of the puzzles and the exploration of the Vulgravian base there’s nothing else. This isn’t an action game, and while there are a few light horror elements here and there, this is mostly a relaxing adventure that can be played standing or sitting down if you fancy kicking back.
I touched on the graphics earlier but let’s come back to that as we look to wrap this review up. On the PS4 Pro the game gets a 20% increase in resolution, though I couldn’t find any solid information on what the resolution is regardless. Either way, the game looks sharp and I found I was able to make out details without squinting like you sometimes have to in other titles. The audio work is solid, too, though there isn’t much of it. The voice acting is surprisingly excellent throughout, the little atmospheric sounds are nicely balanced. The only thing I felt was missing was the sound of my character’s footsteps, but considering my character’s arms were also missing I suppose that was the least of his or her worries.
Red Matter isn’t the kind of PSVR game I’d throw a friend into to demonstrate the brilliance of the platform, despite how atmospheric and absorbing it can be. But that’s a compliment because Red Matter is ultimately a great demonstration of what VR can do outside of its initial wow factor, and that is offer a compelling story with solid mechanics and a strong sense of place. What holds it back from true greatness is the generic puzzles and the short play time.