In space, comrade, no one can hear your praise the Motherland. Vertical Robot makes its debut on the PlayStation VR with Red Matter, an awesome first-person adventure game about wandering through a moon base left abandoned by its crew. With its evocative environmental storytelling and chilling atmosphere, Red Matter comes off as the beautiful love child between BioShock and Singularity.
I was hooked from the start. Taking place in some alternate reality set in the indeterminable future, you play as a clandestine agent working for the government of the Atlantic Union which is engaged in a cold war with the Volgravia Republic, an on-the-nose fictional analog to the United States and Soviet Union. Volgravia established a research facility on Rhea, one of Saturn’s moons, and your mission is to infiltrate it and transmit secret documents to determine what it is they’re up to. All this exposition is delivered through a delicious slideshow presentation just before you’re put under hibernation for the long journey to Saturn. Even though the game is set in the future where an interstellar travel is possible, I absolutely loved the 1960’s aesthetic. The visual design extends to the Volgravia facility, with its Soviet constructivist concrete architecture, clunky computer terminals and refrigerator-sized databanks. Stylized propaganda posters cover the walls to ensure its crew maintains the Party line and a quirky AI delivers messages in printed out sheets of paper made readable using a universal translator. I love, love, love everything about the look and feel of Red Matter. It’s also a really fun adventure to boot.
If you’ve read my reviews of The Station and Downward Spiral: Horus Station, then you’ll know I love exploring space stations and performing mundane tasks in VR. General maintenance assignments designed to open locked doors, mission critical computer terminals, and recharge batteries are fun for me because I’m obsessed with these kind of science fiction environments. I also like pushing buttons. Red Matter filled me with glee because it, too, has you repairing a bunch of broken equipment and playing around with computer terminals to reach inaccessible areas of the research facility. It isn’t as interactive as Downward Spiral, where you could literally push every button and twist every knob, but even though switches and keypads are limited to those related to certain puzzles and triggers, I still found happiness using my dual claw tools to grip switches and circular valves.
Guided by a handler, you’ll explore the main sections of the Volgravian facility that’s free of enemies, so you don’t have to worry about monster creeping in for the kill. It’s unsettling enough without them, as hushed whispers speak indistinctly in your ear from time to time and the presence of a strange, humanoid figure that pops in to open up creepy red portals. Only by descending further into the facility does the cause of its condition reveal itself, as a type of invasive red mold threatens to overtake the entire project. On top of everything else about this place, you’ll uncover the aftermath of the relationship between the project’s science crew and its pro-Party intelligence officer after the red mold was discovered.
Games like The Station and Downward Spiral left me wanting similar games and Red Matter does enough to satiate my appetite for VR adventure games, if temporarily. It’s a short game, taking about an hour or so to reach the end credits but the time is well spent and nothing feels wasted or padded for length. The game’s puzzles are just right, neither too easy or too hard, and in some cases make a great use of the facility’s retro-futurist technology. Some might balk over the absence of enemies or outright peril but hungry aliens, killer robots, or demon possessed soldiers would only serve as annoying distractions and just get in the way. All in all, Red Matter is an awesome science fiction yarn built with an eye for dreamy, retro futurism aesthetic.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.