Red Matter Review

red matter for oculus quest title
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Fast Facts

Title: Red Matter
Developer: Vertical Robot
Publisher: Vertical Robot
Website: http://redmattergame.com/
Genre: Adventure, Exploration, Puzzle
Platform: Oculus Quest
Audience: PEGI 15
Release Date: 15/08/19
Price: £18.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.

Red Matter for Oculus Quest exterior
The view outside of the facility is breathtaking

Revolution

A lot has been written about Red Matter for Oculus Quest, specifically about the quality of the graphics. In the few weeks since release, that’s still pretty much the main talking point regarding the game, and that has left me, and I’m sure many others, curious about the quality of the gameplay wrapped therein. Are the visuals that impressive? If so, is Red Matter just a tech showcase or is there more substance to it?

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Red Matter is a story-driven environmental puzzle game with a sci-fi theme. In it, you play as a government agent sent to an abandoned enemy moon base to investigate its sudden evacuation and recover any research left behind. Set in a fictitious version of our own world, the competing factions are a proxy for the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War of the 1960s. You’re on the “American” side and have to make your way through the “Soviet” facility with only the limited tools of your spacesuit; a small flashlight, an on-screen translator, and of course, your hands.

Red Matter for Oculus Quest interior

Happiness is a warm gun

You have no weapon and no idea if you’re going to need one. There’s a supernatural bend to the happenings within the complex and not having something to protect yourself with increases the tension with every dark hallway and blind corner taken. Add in the isolation that builds as you transverse such a massive setting devoid of human interaction, and Red Matter manages to deliver a combat-free experience that still has you looking over your shoulder. There were moments in the game that I was genuinely startled.

Magical mystery tour

Moving through the base is a fun and interesting experience, though. Furthering the Cold War concept, the game employs a retro-futurism inspired style reminiscent of sci-fi films of the 1960s like 2001: A Space Odyssey. CRT monitors glow in the darkness, and the areas are littered with buttons to push, levers to pull, dials to turn, and so on. This “analogue future that never came to be” aesthetic is carried throughout the entirety of the game and coupled with its inherent tangible nature is a joy to experience in VR, even if the physics can be a bit wonky at times.

Red Matter retro console

Mobility is handled in three ways: the jetpack in your spacesuit allows you to point to an area via the analogue stick and float to it, much like the teleport mechanic in other VR games. Holding down the grip trigger on the Touch controller acts like a rudder of sorts that “slides” you along in whatever direction. Finally, Room-Scale allows you to walk around freely using your own legs but is obviously constrained by the limits of your real-life environment. All of these used in conjunction make for easy navigation through the game world.

We can work it out

Structured much like its Oculus Quest brethren Shadow Point and Apex Construct, you explore vast areas and solve puzzles to open new ones. While some games in the genre stretch the limits of logic with puzzles that seem out of place Red Matter does an excellent job of keeping their puzzles organic to the situation. Often the puzzles are presented as tasks like using a mechanical lift to move from one side of a room to another or assembling a computer board with the only “puzzling” part being able to follow a schematic. As such, most of the puzzles are on the easy to medium side of difficulty, and you won’t be spending too much time solving them.

Red Matter for Oculus Quest schematic puzzle

Narrative elements are strewn about the world that pieces together a story of intrigue and betrayal that culminates to a “gotcha” conclusion. Telling a story in this non-linear fashion can sometimes lead to a confusing mess, but it works rather well in Red Matter though that’s mainly due in part to a straightforward storyline with only a few actors. As a result, it’s quite a short game at about three hours long, and I was surprised when it started to conclude. I found the ending to be abrupt and a bit hokey but mostly satisfying.

Get back

There are gamers out there that will look you straight in the eye and tell you that graphics are the least important part of any game – that gameplay is king and visuals are merely adornments that can be disregarded. Those people are wrong. Don’t listen to them. What constitutes “good graphics” is certainly subjective but only to a point. Good graphics exist outside of taste and preference and can be measured by how consistently they serve the aesthetic and how well that aesthetic is applied to the world the developers are trying to convey. A two-dimensional pixel-based game from 30 years ago can be just as graphically impressive as any modern three-dimensional game today – it’s all in the application.

Red Matter lasers
Freakin’ lasers!

With that said, virtual reality has a hurdle to overcome that traditional consoles don’t – that pesky “reality” part. VR’s primary goal is to convince the user that what they’re experiencing is “real.” Our sub-conscious brains will accept the illusion regardless of graphical fidelity, but our conscience brain knows that Oculus Quest is delivering nothing more than Playstation 2 quality visuals. When shadow and light behave differently than in the real world or are absent altogether, we take notice and immersion suffers. This is why the graphics of Red Matter for Oculus Quest has so many excited. It’s a big step toward making believable worlds more believable.

All together now

The games mentioned earlier, Shadow Point and Apex Construct both take place in a version of our real world but represent it as flat-shaded and cartoon-like. In fact, most of the larger Oculus Quest games do this. Indeed, it’s due to the limited processing power of the Quest, but the result is a homogenization of aesthetic where everything looks too similar. Because of this, Red Matter’s graphics choices stand out even more and, in my opinion, take on greater importance.

Getting better

To be clear, Red Matter on Oculus Quest is not a graphical powerhouse. It has nothing on current PC and console games and isn’t even the best version of itself when compared to the ports on other VR headsets. However, it brings a bonafide lighting system to the Quest with impressive transparencies and reflections. Couple that with highly detailed textures and bump-mapping and Red Matter is the best looking game on the system to date….though, I hear that new VR fishing game looks pretty sweet too.

The games mentioned earlier, Shadow Point and Apex Construct both take place in a version of our real world but represent it as flat-shaded and cartoon-like. In fact, most of the larger Oculus Quest games do this. Indeed, it’s due to the limited processing power of the Quest, but the result is a homogenization of aesthetic where everything looks too similar. Because of this, Red Matter’s graphics choices stand out even more and, in my opinion, take on greater importance.

Red Matter reflections
Light from the flashlight is reflecting off both the interior and the glass and making visible the scratches and smudges.

It’s important to note that while the lighting system is impressive, it doesn’t generate any real-time shadows. Shining your flashlight across an object will scatter and reflect the light in a somewhat realistic looking way, but it will not cast a shadow. This seems like half of a system to me and shows that there’s still a lot of work to be done regarding the engines these games are built-in. I think Red Matter proves that creative and competent developers will see that work done and that Oculus Quest still has plenty of potential hidden within.

Red Matter light and shadow
Light and shadow play a large role in creating the atmosphere of Red Matter

The end

In conclusion, Red Matter for Oculus Quest is a short but good looking game with a decent narrative but offers no real reason to replay it once completed. However, that first play-through is well worth taking.

Red Matter

Rapid Reviews Rating

You can purchase Red Matter from the Oculus Store on the following link, https://www.oculus.com/experiences/rift/1051675701628540/?locale=en_GB

You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.

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About Matthew Hardy

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