Red Matter is a visually stunning Sci-Fi puzzler for the Oculus Rift
It's not an incredibly common occurrence, but once in awhile a game will sort of come out of nowhere to really blow your hair back. For me, Red Matter is one of those games. I guess I just wasn't tracking the development of Red Matter very closely, and had zero knowledge about upstart developer Vertical Robot. It turns out, that Vertical Robot isn't just a couple of college students that are playing around in Unity or Unreal. They might be an indie studio, but this indie studio was formed from some very talented individuals that have credits on a number of outstanding titles. These folks have worked on Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow, Spec Ops: The Line, and many other high-quality releases.
Upon exploring the early areas of the game, you'll know pretty darn quickly that this isn't some amateur affair. The graphics are drop dead gorgeous. Even up close, everything holds it's detail very well. In fact, I might point to the graphical spender on display when pressed for the most outstanding individual aspect of Red Matter. If you've ever tried "First Contact" upon setting up your Oculus Rift, you know just how good visuals can be when rendered with the right sort of lighting. Whatever Vertical Robot is doing with this game engine, it's a great marriage for the Oculus Rift headset, because it just looks fantastic.
Detailed graphics are normally a luxury, but in this game they actually serve an important function. You'll often have to examine levers and settings up close, and if everything was a blurry mess, it would cause extreme frustration. In this game, you'll often scan items in your environment, and you need the readout of your scanner to be crystal clear. Vertical Robot really delivered on this aspect because everything is very crisp and sharp. I'm reminded of Lone Echo and Heart of the Emberstone in some respects. Certainly no slouches in the visual department!
Luckily, this game is much more than a pretty face. The exploratory and puzzle based gameplay-loops are tight and refined. If you're looking for another title to compare Red Matter with, think Obduction, or Call of the Starseed. It even shares elements from Metroid Prime, back on the old Nintendo GameCube. Throughout much of Red Matter, you'll need to scan the environment to get clues and hints on how to proceed. I found this scanning process particularly captivating. Much like in Metroid Prime, you'll find yourself scanning just about anything and everything you come across. Vertical Robot also uses this scanning mechanism to deliver bits and pieces of backstory to help bring into focus the mystery you're in the process of unraveling.
If you're looking for fast action, and tense gun-battles with alien hordes, you'll probably end up disappointed with Red Matter. This is a slower, investigational type of game. You're basically going from room to room, set piece to set piece, searching for clues and tips on how to advance to the next unexplored area of the space station. Gamers that like to stop and smell the roses, will certainly appreciate what Vertical Robot is doing here, but more action-focused gamers could find this game a bit plodding and uneventful. Still, there's a mystery to uncover, and something very catastrophic took place here. While you might not have the fast action and gun battles of other games, you still feel a sense of unease and paranoia as you meticulously examine every nook and cranny.
I haven't quite put the finishing touches on this game yet, so I don't really have a review score to give or a final recommendation. I can say however, that Vertical Robot have done themselves proud with this release. The production values are extremely high, and if nothing else, this is another super solid Oculus Rift exclusive, in a long line of such releases. Red Matter can be mentioned in the same breath with The Mage's Tale, Killing Floor: Incursion, Brass Tactics, Lone Echo and Wilson's Heart. That's a very impressive lineup of exclusives, and the fact that Red Matter can hold it's own in the presence of such company, says an awful lot for what Vertical Robot has delivered to VR gamers.