Red Matter Review: Using Puzzles to Sell a Great Story

If you caught last week’s preview of Red Matter, you already know that I was fairly impressed with the game. However, I was only able to bring you my initial thoughts. I was limited to the first few puzzles and my experience while solving them. Well, now that Red Matter has officially launched, I can finally share everything else!

Okay, so not everything else. After all, Red Matter is an adventure puzzle game. Giving away what secrets are in store, or telling you how to solve the puzzles you will face, would just be a sucky thing to do. At least, not without warning you first. That said, if you don’t want any puzzles spoiled, please skip the video below, as it does show off one of the earlier puzzles in the game. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at Vertical Robot’s, Red Matter, for the Oculus Rift.

Secret Space Agent Man

In Red Matter, you take on the role of an astronaut/secret agent that is sent to investigate a rival nation’s abandoned research facility. The game kicks off with you landing on one of Saturn’s moons, where the facility is located. We get a bit of backstory that explains the ongoing cold war that our nation finds itself in, and that the intel we are after is vital to our cause.

It becomes clear that this facility was housing some pretty crazy experiments, and that some dark stuff went down between its crew. Through examining clues left behind by its staff, we start our way down a strange rabbit hole. However, traveling through the base is no simple task. Each section will require you to bring its systems back online, in order to get to the next area.

The story in Red Matter is, in my opinion, the highlight of the game. I can honestly say that this story had me guessing right up to the very end, and enjoying the entire ride. Early on, we are confronted by a strange figure that seems to be guiding us, but the truth of what’s behind it is wrapped in many layers of weirdness. We also get to identify with the plight of the crew, and why things might have gone down the way they did, but just enough is kept out of reach until the end to keep us guessing. On top of all that story, we get puzzles that are integrated into the games environment so well, that they feel natural. In the end, they are like a layer of icing on a delicious layered cake.

A Matter of Choice

The gameplay in Red Matter is all about exploring your surroundings. You can analyze just about everything found in the game, and it is through that process that you start to find breadcrumb clues. The clues give you more story and, more importantly, hints as to how to overcome the obstacles put in your path. However, this game does not punish you for not searching. You can progress without worrying about triggering some specific clue. It may sound like a small thing, but nothing pulls me out of a game like being forced to pick up a piece of paper, when I have already solved a puzzle. None of that here, and I am grateful.

Speaking of puzzles, this game takes the cake when it comes to puzzle design. While not overly complex, the puzzles do challenge the player. As the game goes on, they get more and more difficult, however that is not what impressed me the most. It was how this game handles the presentation of the puzzles.

You’re in an abandoned research facility in space, so it stands to reason that the elements used in the puzzles would be actual things that exist in a facility such as this. You interact with them in ways that you might actual do so. At least to a point. This is a very physical game, it has you touching everything in one way or another and that is great in VR. The puzzles are no exception.

Keeping the Controller in the Players Hands Works

Controlling the action in Red Matter is pretty straight forward, in the best possible way. I mentioned that this was a very physical game. The developers made sure that when you walked up to an object, you had a pretty damn good idea how you would physically need to interact with it. The setting of the game also made sliding in subtle cues from safety signs, a way to naturally nudge you in the right direction.

The controllers themselves are pretty slick. We get a graphical representation of your hands, holding Touch controllers that have been retrofitted with space gadgets. A couple of claw hands, a translator, and a flashlight. The translator is probably the most important tool in your kit, so it’s nice to see it being simple to use.

You just point at an object, hit a button, and you get an item description and/or translated text on your display screen. It also serves as your mission report screen, so you can track your progress. Using the Touch controller as their templet means that we get some great finger tracking, and the key layouts are extremely intuitive. As if that wasn’t enough, we get pictures of the tool we are selecting on the controller, so you never really have any doubt about what your doing.

Zero-g Locomotion

Movement is another bright spot in this game. I hate teleport locomotion, but I understand its place. When a developer finds that it is the best option for their game, they really need to find a way to make it feel like it belongs in the game. Red Matter does this beautifully. Your in a light gravity setting, so using your space suits thrusters feels natural and the teleport function is built on that.

The developers also give you plenty of options to switch things up to your liking. They even included a free locomotion option that manages to fit naturally into the game. It is like a gentle thrust from your wrists, just point in the direction you want to go and you get a sublet movement in that direction. You will still need to use the teleport option in some areas of the game, but they are areas that you would naturally need to. So, it feels right in those areas.

Giving Life to a Dead Station

Graphically, Red Matter is very well polished. From the environment, to the player, and the objects we interact with, everything is high quality. You have a few options to tweak the settings, but even with everything on low, the game still looked great. On high, it’s beautiful.

The one area that repeatedly impressed me was the games environments. The developers did an amazing job at bringing it to life with subtle things like lights and wires, or trash and scattered papers. Everywhere had something going on, and that made me want to explore everything I possibly could. Having to translate the signs and objects made me appreciate the level of detail, just a little bit more than I would have in other styles of games. It does have some areas that are a little less impressive, like the fleshy tunnels, but overall the quality is great.

The sound design is equally impressive in Red Matter. We get great voice acting, dramatic, music, and feedback from everything we interact with. Once again, the environment shined in this area. Everything had its own sound, even things in the background. This managed to bring a creepy ass abandoned station to life, in the best possible way.

Matter of Taste

I do have a few negatives to point out, but they are more personal than design related. For one, the game does have one area that feels incredibly out of place. You are forced to take a loyalty test at one point. I still don’t really understand how it fit into the story. This could just be me missing something and if that is the case, please call me out on it.

The other complaint is the ending of the story. Don’t get me wrong, it is great, I just think it could have used a little more love. A cutscene that illustrates how the pieces all fit might have kicked it up to the level of polish the rest of the game demonstrates. You do get a conclusion and it is good, I am just not a fan of how it is delivered.

Now, it is pretty damn clear by now that I am impressed with this game. When it comes to design, this team nailed the most important aspect of a VR game. It has to feel natural. This goes into every area of game design, from world building, to narrative, all the way to how the player interacts with a button on a desk lamp. Red Matter is a shining example of what making the correct design decisions, for the story your trying to sell, looks like.

That said, this game will not be for everyone. It is a slow burn. You have very little action and you don’t kill anything. What you do get is an impressive world that has a story to tell, and puzzles along the way that can be real head scratchers. You can pick up your copy of Red Matter on the Oculus Store for $34.99. If your into this style of gameplay, in my opinion, it is worth every ruble. Happy hunting VR comrades.

Gameplay: 10
Sound: 10
Graphics: 9
Concept: 9
Control: 10

The Goods

  • Great atmosphere throughout the game thanks to solid sound and graphical design.
  • The controls are natural feeling and do everything you need them to do.
  • The story has you guessing as each new clue is discovered and really drives gameplay.
  • The puzzles are blended into the environments in a way that feels natural.

The Bads

  • The ending could have had a better delivery.
  • I never found myself needing to use the flashlight.

Average Score: 9.6

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