TITLE: Dark Matter
DEVELOPER: InterWave Studios
GENRE: 2.5D Action/Platformer, Horror
RELEASE DATE: October 17, 2013
PLATFORM: Windows (via Steam), Mac, and Linux
CURRENT PRICE: $14.99 USD on Steam
I’ll be honest and start this review off by saying that Dark Matter is a game I really wanted to like. When I was first given the opportunity to play it for review purposes, and therefore looked at the press assets and the game’s website, the graphical style really looked appealing to me. I loved the dark, low-lit, cel-shaded style the game had, and the idea of a platforming horror game sounded neat. The very idea of a science fiction platformer invoked memories of playing games like Super Metroid, and so I hoped that this game would live up to that expectation.
The game is set at some unknown time in the future aboard the spaceship Endeavor (a name used far too often, in my opinion). In a hand-drawn introductory sequence, we find out that several years ago, the ship encountered some strange anomaly out in deep-space. However, when it tried to reach out and make contact with this anomaly, the result was strange and ethereal. Bug-like creatures and other dangerous things began to appear on the ship and slowly kill off all of its crew, and in time, the ship became almost like a living organism, filled with these creatures. Over time, an A.I. program aboard the ship began to evolve itself into a far more sentient being, taking advantage of the networks and attempting to figure out a way to fix these problems. After years had passed, this A.I. discovered a human in stasis in a remote part of the ship. Not knowing who this human was – only knowing her service rank to be that of an Ensign – it awakens her, hoping that she’ll be able to work with it to get them off of this deep-space tomb.
Before we jump into the action, we are introduced to some kind of holographic tutorial program. It appears that before the Ensign is awoken, the A.I. interacts with her and gives her a training area, which is basically meant to hone our skills and introduce us to the game before we actually arrive in the playing area. The controls, however, are pretty awful, and they take a very long time to get used to. Yes, you can remap the controls as desired, but none of the remaps really seemed satisfactory to me. While you can use a gamepad with the game if you desire, I found that the aiming system employed by the game is not really conducive to fast-paced controller gaming, and so it falls flat in this area. This is grossly apparent once in the main game, because when rather fast-moving creatures are attacking you (and even weak creatures can kill you in just five or so hits), having to aim properly and hit the creature – several times! – is a pain in the rear! Not to mention that your reactions in the actual game are slow, so unlike Samus in the Metroid games, you cannot run, jump, duck, and shoot very quickly and eliminate targets with speed, but are held back by severe limitations in both reaction time and overall game mechanics.
The developers seemed to be going for that whole Metroidvania style of game, presenting a ship that you can explore freely and which has a Metroid-like map system available for each area. However, I ultimately found this map system to be rather annoying and useless. One viewer of the stream I did of my first impressions (see the video at the beginning of this article!) commented that a bad map is worse than not having one at all, and I tend to agree with him in this case. The map shows you how each area of the ship is situated in relation to the others, and there’s a more detailed map of each area available to you as you enter them, but the “local map” is simply drawn as you go, and therefore you cannot really get a strong idea of how these areas are connected. The larger map may show an area being above where you are now, but other than that, you won’t know how to get to the area. The A.I. who is guiding you (while providing anecdotal stories) is not all that helpful when it comes to actually helping you reach new areas.
The game’s sound effects are average at best, and the soundtrack is decent enough. My other major gripe with this game is that I did not find it to be particularly scary. I do realize that what each person finds to be scary is rather subjective, but this game just reminded me of Metroid, and thus while it does have some creepy areas, I felt that the horror idea was too poorly played up for my tastes and the effort that went into making it scary could have instead gone into making the engine play a bit better than it did.
Overall, I think Dark Matter has some great concepts to it, but the execution is rather sub-par at best. Perhaps this is because it is from a failed Kickstarter (the team has played its unfinished nature off by saying that it will be episodic, though no proof of this has been offered), but currently, I don’t feel comfortable recommending that anyone spend the $14.99 on the game in its current state. Perhaps if some better content is added or the controls and mechanics are cleaned up in a future release, or you get the game on sale, but otherwise, I suggest that you avoid this one for now.