Red Matter is an interesting game. A sci-fi puzzle game set on an abandoned base on one of Saturn’s moons, this dystopian thriller is certainly eye-catching. Two worlds are at war here, in what is best described as the Cold War mixed with Event Horizon, as some weird horror thing goes on in the background.
In Red Matter, you are Epsilon, a secret agent for the Atlantic Union (Team America), sent to look into an abandoned Volgravian (Team Russia) base. It’s supposedly home to some amazing secret that the Volgravian spies have uncovered and your job is to find out what these secret documents contain.
Abandoned moon bases are creepy at the best of times, but abandoned moon bases in VR with some of the best texturing and lighting I’ve seen are even creepier. As you play through the game (which can be done in an afternoon if you have a reasonable level of puzzle-solving skills), you learn about what happened to the crew, why nobody is around, and why there seem to be weird portals full of red mould that can tunnel you from one part of the base to the next.
Because of how short Red Matter is, I can’t really dive into the plot without any spoilers coming up. It is certainly an intriguing plot for a puzzle game though, and as long as you have a strong stomach for this kind of game, it is a genuine treat.
A strong stomach is important, however. Red Matter is the first VR game I’ve played in a while that has given me a strong case of motion sickness. As a game set on a moon base, you expect a certain amount of weightlessness in Red Matter, but other space-based games seem to handle this much better.
There’s no support for DualShock 4 or Aim controllers here, so you move your character through your right Move controller. You can either move forward at a snail’s pace with motion controls, or perform long jumps to reach somewhere that you point toward. Doing this with VR is bad enough, as the acceleration and deceleration feels weird and unnatural, but if you hold the button the jump is fast enough to make you regret eating breakfast. You feel your stomach lurch as your eyes see you launched into the air, but your body sits there motionless. I do not recommend it.
The left Move controller’s purpose is the more interesting of the two. The base is, unsurprisingly, full of text written in Volgravian (like Russian, but not). From the signs above the doors to the correspondence you see lying around, you are very much in a foreign world. Apparently the Atlantic Union don’t bother to teach their operatives a second language, so you have to explore using your trusty handheld translation device if you want to understand anything that’s going on. It’s actually quite intriguing to methodically work your way around and try to figure out what on Saturn is going on. When you’re done scanning things, you can turn your your Move controllers into claws and use them to carry things, which is pretty handy to say the least. From here, it’s all puzzles and manual manipulation — flicking switches, turning dials, and so on.
The puzzles put before you are fairly challenging at times. For all the fun I had strolling around the game looking at things, repairing circuit boards and reactors (and trying not to throw up), solving the puzzles was easily the best bit. The most challenging of these actually had me talking through it with my mum who happened to be in the room with me, who was telling me to look to my left, then try a different combination, then move somewhere else as she took notes and tried to help figure things out. This was probably never something the developers intended to happen, but it was a great thing to happen in a single player game.
Sadly, Red Matter isn’t perfect. I’ve already spoke about how the thrusters makes you feel like the vomit comet, but putting the PlayStation on rest mode and coming back is the worst thing, as when you resume the game you will have invariably teleported to somewhere else in the room and your controls will be backwards. This means turning your head to the right will make you look to your left. Think about how annoying it is when your flight controls are inverted from how your natural preference, and now imagine how confusing this is when it’s your eyesight, not your thumbs controlling a plane. It is horrifying and my brain did not like it. Pausing the game for a few seconds rectifies this issue, but the nausea was still there afterwards.
The other main issue is that, because the game operates at different heights, with things at head height if you’re sitting down, the PlayStation Camera can get a little confused at times. On two occasions I had to reboot the game just so I could adjust my height in the game. Until I did this, I couldn’t grab the door handle or switch I needed to proceed. I found the best height was sitting on the arm of the chair (so the camera was just below head height). Standing up and using the thrusters is simply not advised.
Red Matter is the most immersive puzzle game I’ve played in a long time, thanks in no small part to how well it makes use of VR is utilised. The lighting and textures are staggering, the plot is intriguing and the game is well worth looking into. The caveats to this are that you can’t be the kind of person who gets motion sickness in VR and you have to be reasonably good at puzzles or you will not finish the game. It’s a bit short considering the £25 price point, but still worth a look for VR aficionados and Cold War sci-fi fans.
Version Tested: PlayStation VR
Also available for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift & Windows Mixed Reality