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Red Matter 2

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Adventure
Developer: Vertical Robot
Release Date: Aug. 18, 2022

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PC VR Review - 'Red Matter 2'

by Andreas Salmen on Aug. 24, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Red Matter 2 is an adventure that takes place during a dystopian Cold War whose events unfold after Red Matter.

Since its release about four years ago, Red Matter has become one of the indie staples of VR gaming. The explorative puzzle adventure, which followed the protagonist infiltrating a dystopian Cold War-era space station, had a knack for convincing world-building and was rife with puzzles and mysteries. The result was a short but captivating experience that left me wanting more. Ask, and ye shall receive! Developer Vertical Robot recently released the official sequel Red Matter 2, which continues the story and introduces a few more locations and gameplay mechanics. We've checked out the Quest 2 version to see whether this second trip into space is equally worthwhile.

The story is at the heart of this cosmic adventure, and in true sequel fashion, Red Matter 2 doesn't waste any time jumping back into its established storyline. While you can still enjoy the game without having played Red Matter, it's highly recommended that you do. RM2 explains very little of what happened previously, beyond references that are clearly aimed at those familiar with the plot and characters, so you will probably feel somewhat lost without the first entry.

We follow the trail of a familiar face from the first game as we continue our search of the "red matter" and the connected science experiments conducted on far-away cosmic bases. Retracing their footsteps slowly unveils their fate and the intent of the connected science experiments. Of course, nothing is quite as it seems, and as we descend deeper into the thick metal walls of communist space stations, we will find plenty of new hurdles to overcome.

It's the descent into the unknown that strengthens the experience. RM2 has taken several pages out of Half Life Alyx's book on VR game design, mostly for the better, but with some faults of its own. For one thing, you can interact with a lot of things in the environment: books, drones, monitors and scientific equipment. If it lies around, you can probably pick it up or move it. Objects are used in some puzzles, but nowhere near the level of Alyx. It does a lot for the immersion, but you often won't need to interact with the environment. There are no hidden collectibles or ammunition, so there is often little incentive for you to rummage around in a room unless a puzzle merits it.

Puzzles range from simple to reasonably involved, but they lack some variety. If you've played Alyx, one of the many memorable moments is retrieving a handle on some bent steam pipes. Be prepared to see that exact "puzzle" or interaction several times throughout RM2. It also incorporates a similar flick mechanic to retrieve items that are out of physical reach into your hand. There are standout puzzles, like using a remote-controlled drone or a firearm to activate buttons that are out of reach, or using a printer for organic material to print out body parts. In a few ways, RM2 feels a bit like Alyx lite, and I mean that in a positive way. It takes a lot of the things that made Alyx work so well in VR and applies them.

It takes until the second half of the game to acquire a gun, which introduces shooting sections to RM2 that were not present in the first entry. There are two enemy types, not counting the occasional security turret, that may appear in certain areas at scripted times, and the player must eliminate them to advance. Those encounters work relatively well, but I found them to be rarely fun. They boil down to cowering behind some crates for cover and firing a few shots at rapidly moving security drones. Some require precise hits, so you must squat behind cover for ages while trying to hit that spot. That is tricky enough, but your gun can only shoot so much before needing to cool down, which can prolong those encounters.

Later sections include smaller drones that are much easier to hit and lend themselves to more dynamic firefights. These sections felt like an unwanted interruption rather than a meaningful addition. RM2 still feels like a proper game built for VR from the ground up. Even its smaller mishaps cannot detract from the wondrous adventure I had in peeling away the layers of a mysterious and abandoned space station. If gameplay alone doesn't do it for you, you'd probably be delighted to hear that RM2 looks gorgeous, too.

The original Red Matter is one of the best-looking games running natively on the Quest 2. Sure, it suffers from lower-quality assets, details, and resolution than the PC version, but the results were impressive nonetheless. RM2 proves once again that the team at Vertical Robot consists of magicians. Reflections and lighting are phenomenal; some even use a rudimentary form of ray-tracing. Apart from some minor improvements, such as the overall resolution and frame rate, it would be difficult to find any drastic differences between the Quest 2 and the PC versions.

That is quite phenomenal to think about when a game does look this good.

The sheer number of lights, refracting glass, particle effects, and reflections add to the feeling of presence, especially when exploring the eerie Cold War fantasy structures on far-away moons. Even if you're not wandering about in the enclosed safety of a space station, the few times you're wandering under a planet's atmosphere are equally impressive. Planetary rings pass by, with little pieces of debris and sunlight reflecting all around you. RM2 also does not resort to an aggressive algorithm to boost frame rate like, for example, Green Hell VR on the Quest 2. That means the image is usually clear of any reconstruction artifacts when in motion, further promoting image quality.

There are still some technical issues in RM2, though. I've run into a few bugs during my playtime, with objects clipping oddly through geometry and one particular object following me by repeatedly spawning next to my head. Another time, I tried an alternate solution to a puzzle that seemed logical based on previous puzzle resolutions. Sadly, it ended up breaking the collision physics of the game and left me with a floating cart of crates hovering in the middle of a room. None of these were game-breaking or majorly disrupting, but they pull you out of the experience quite a bit. On the other hand, the controls of RM2 are much improved and closer to what we'd expect from a modern VR experience. The predecessor didn't control nearly as well in comparison.

Overall, Red Matter 2 is a great sequel that builds on the strengths of the first entry and further improves upon the visuals and gameplay. It simply looks and runs phenomenal on the Quest 2, with mostly captivating puzzles and an interesting mystery to solve at its core. It's not perfect and still exhibits some bugs, and I probably could've done without the shooting sections, but that's a small price to pay when the rest come together as well as this. If you own a quest, this is a six-hour adventure you don't want to miss.

Score: 8.2/10

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