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Red Matter on Quest review: a new quality bar for mobile VR games

Vertical Robot’s acclaimed indie game Red Matter has just been ported to Oculus Quest and the title has already got a lot of interest. This is because from the teaser video it seems that the developers have made a great job in having amazing graphics on the Quest. I have been so lucky to have the possibility of trying the game in preview, so here you are my review of Red Matter on Oculus Quest!
Story

The story of the game is set in a futuristic cold war, that has expanded from the Earth to space. I think that the official description of the game depicts it very well:
Red Matter is a story-driven VR puzzle adventure game set during a dystopian Sci-Fi Cold War. Take on the role of Agent Epsilon, an astronaut of the Atlantic Union dispatched to an abandoned Volgravian base on Rhea, one of Saturn’s moons. Your mission: to investigate a shady top secret research project.But beware of what you may find… Once you discover the truth, will you be able to stomach it?Keep the secret. Hide it from yourself.
You will be sent on a planet to do the investigation about some research project of the enemy. The name “Red Matter” is (very little spoiler!) because you will soon encounter a weird red material that has gone out of control in the enemy base, and that is related to the secrets that you have to uncover.

If you want an advice from me: play the game until the end… you won’t understand what is happening until the last sequence of the game starts… so don’t give up before!

Gameplay
Red Matter spaceAn awesome view of the outer space (Image by Vertical Robot)

The game is all about solving puzzles.After a short tutorial that teaches you how to use your controllers to move, to analyze objects and so on, you will enter the enemy base and there you will find the first puzzle, that will be about opening another door. And you will continue solving puzzles until the end of the game. There are not enemies to shoot, there are not NPCs to talk with or things like that. Just puzzles to solve in a desert base.

PSVR headset was developed from Sony engineers tinkering in a Lab building quietly without any executive direction.

The puzzles are never too difficult. Some of them made me scratch my head for some minutes, trying to understand what I should do, but in the end, I always solved them. Usually, they require analyzing the environment where you are in, reading all the notes left by the lab workers, experimenting with the objects you have in front of you, and then use a bit of logic. I guess that if you’re not much into solving conundrums, you may be stuck sometimes, but ifyou like solving them once in a while, this game will be fun for you.

Usually solving the enigmas let you activate some machines or open some doors

It is also good thatyou have always clear what you have to do. You are always connected with your base, with your boss on Earth guiding you through his voice about what are the next steps you have to perform. And in case you forget it, you can always use the tool that you have in your left hand to see what are the current goals.

The fact that the game happens inside closed rooms helps a lot in making it easier to play. It is not Monkey Island, where you have to find an object in an isle, and then use it one hour later in the game (and usually, in Monkey Island, the use was always absurd, like using a monkey to activate a fountain)… here you just have to investigate the environment you are in, solve the puzzles and then at the end you will find a key to go to the next room. This makes playing fun and not frustrating at all.

While you play, you also uncover the story of the game, discovering what is this red matter, what was happening inside the base you are in, and what is the sense of the weird things that you experience. The game is full of objects, images, letters, scattered out in the environment, and you can take all of them in your hand, and analyze them through the tool that you have in your left hand. Not all of them are necessary to solve the puzzles of the game, most of them are there just to increase the realism of the game (the sense of presence), to let you discover details on the life of the workers. So, for instance, you discover that (another little spoiler) one of the workers is being investigated for not being loyal anymore to the regime. This information is not useful at all in the game, but let you feel more immersed in the life of the workers of the base.

A very nice touch of the game is that the more you uncover details of the story,the more the hub of the main menu (the pause menu, actually) fills itself with all the material that you have found.

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The pause menu, showing amazing lighting. All the elements get populated while you progress in the game
Controls
The game is all controlled through the Touch controllers of the Oculus Quest. The fact that you are tetherless on the Quest is a great advantage for this game, because it means that you can move freely while exploring the rooms you are in so that to solve the enigmas. I loved it. The right hand becomes a robotic hand that you can use to grab objects. You take stuff using the main trigger of the Touch. You can also use the thumbstick to teleport, or the secondary trigger to activate free locomotion. There are various customizations of the locomotion scheme, but I found very interesting how Vertical Robot has implemented teleporting. You use the thumbstick to activate the classical arc showing the teleportation destination, but then, after you have selected it, you don’t move there immediately, but you slowly jump towards the destination (with the possibility of changing the jump speed using again the thumbstick). While this is a bit less comfortable than the standard teleporting (it involves anyway moving in VR), it is not nauseous either, and it fits good in a story that is set in space, where you are wearing a space suit and there is not full gravity.

The left hand features multiple tools, and you can choose which one to equip in any moment using the thumbstick. There are:

  • A robotic hand to grab objects;
  • A torch;
  • A multi-tool device that:
    • shows you the goals of your mission;
    • translates everything from the pseudo-Russian language everything is written into to English;
    • analyzes every object you see;
    • uploads data to your database;
    • interacts with electronic devices (e.g. opens security locks).

Using the right hand to grab a piece of paper and translating it with the left hand multi-tool

Most of the time, you will use your left hand to analyze all the objects of your environment and then use the right hand to operate the elements to solve the enigmas.

I found the input mechanism very intuitive, the only problem is that the left hand in each moment can operate either the multi-tool device to analyze stuff or the robotic hand to grab objects, not both together. This is a nuisance, because more often than I hoped, I found myself switching the tool on the left hand… or sometimes I confused the right thumbstick used for locomotion with the left one and so I switched the left tool even if I didn’t want to.

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Graphics
What you’ve read about this game on the web is true: Vertical Robot has made a huge work to take Quest graphics to the next level.

Not only the multimedia assets of this game are very well shaped, but also the rendering engine is incredible.The company has worked hard to ultra-optimize everything for the Quest, even creating a custom version of Unreal Engine to offer better lighting!

The results are awesome: especiallythe reflections of lights on smooth surfaces are of another league if compared with the other games on Quest or Go.Sometimes I was left with my mouth fully open… I really don’t know how they managed to make these light effects to run on the Quest.

Anyway, I must be honest: it still looks like mobile graphics. Vertical Robot made its best to try to provide the same graphical level of the PC version of the game, but this goal is just impossible. Looking at the various elements, you immediately realize that a lot has been simplified: PC VR looks of course much better than the graphics of Red Matter on Quest.

The graphics is cool, but you can clearly spot that the lighting on those yellow barrels is not realistic. This is part of the compromises of using the Oculus Quest

The high-quality graphics also take some problems with them. First of all, the device overheats while playing the game and the battery drains fast.To finish it, I had to charge the Quest 2 times… it is impossible to finish the game with only one full charge of the device.

Then, there is a very strong use of foveated rendering, and because of this, you can see that the region of the frame that is in the periphery of your vision is different from the one in the center. If you rotate your head in a scene with many reflections, you can clearly spot some artifacts, you can see that there is like a line that divides the regions of your vision, and what you see is different in them. For instance, in the center, the reflections on the floor behave in a way, and in the periphery in another way. This can be disturbing.

This was to say that Red Matter’s graphics are not perfect. But they are anyway amazing, I was astonished by the quality, by what it has been achieved on a mobile headset. I want to compliment with Vertical Robot for the fantastic work they did.

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Look at the reflections… aren’t they gorgeous?
Immersion

The immersion of the game is just fantastic. The graphics are well made, and this makes you feel into the VR environment. But what increases the presence much are the environment and the story.

The environment is the one of a soviet outpost and everything is very coherent in it: you see propaganda posters, writings with pseudo-Russian language everywhere, you get called “comrade” by the AI assistants, etc… You can touch and grab many objects, even if most of them are useless, and this improves the realism, the sense of presence in the VR environment. You really feel inside a military place controlled by a soviet regime.

Then the story that slowly unfolds while you play is intriguing. And it is even more intriguing because the more you go on, the more the game slowly becomes more absurd, with the red matter filling places and you not getting why there are so many references to chess figures.

One of the weird moment of the game, when everything is covered in red matter

Apart from the main story, there are also the side stories of the various comrades that were in the base, that are full of love, treason, friendship and such, that you uncover reading all the documents that you find in the various rooms. As I’ve said, reading them makes you feel the base alive, makes you feel more inside the stories that have happened there.

The atmosphere is dark, mysterious, and also dangerous, even if actually there is no risk for your life in the game. It is the music, the soviet tone, the mystery of the dangerous red matter, and all of these details that make you feel uncomfortable.

Red Matter Quest reviewWelcome to our outpost, comrade (Image by Vertical Robot)

In the end, I was so absorbed by the game that I forgot that time was passing by and that I was sweating because I had turned off the air conditioning. I was really into the game. It was amazing. And even after I have played the game, I can still feel the sensations that the game has left in me…

Conclusion

There’s not much to say. If you like games where you explore stuff and solve enigmas, Red Matter is a great game for you. It can give you around 4 hours of play, with full immersion into the VR environment.

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It will teleport you inside a soviet outpost and will make you feel like a 007 agent that is there to grab some documents. The graphics will surprise you, the story will conquer you and the enigmas will entertain you. The Oculus Quest, with its full freedom, will do the rest.

The game will release on August, 15th and you can find it on the Oculus Store. I think you won’t regret the purchase.

(Header image by Vertical Robot)

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