‘Red Matter 2’ Review – An Immersive Answer to Quest’s Arcade Offerings
Red Matter 2 has arrived on Quest 2 and stands out as an immersive single-player adventure against a backdrop of Quest’s arcade-focused library. But does the gameplay of this sci-fi puzzler match its stand-out graphics? Read our full review of Red Matter 2 to find out.
Red Matter 2 Details:
Red Matter 2 is linear sci-fi puzzle game with a story backdrop to keep the action moving along. While there’s a taste of projectile combat in the game, the real showcase is the game’s rich immersive interactions and consistently strong technical and artistic presentation that is best-in-class on Quest 2, while still remaining impressive on PC VR for the likes of a VR game from a small team.
Red Matter 2 is a direct continuation of the first game and has substantially similar gameplay. If you didn’t play the first you’ll be a bit out of the loop on the story, despite the game making efforts to remind players of what happened.
In short, you travel through a largely lifeless space station, following the path of a comrade who is determined to thwart the bad guys who are using the mysterious and dangerous ‘red matter’ as a weapon.
Along the way you’ll find some really unique and imposing brutalist architecture, beautiful visual details on both small & grand scales, and tons of interactivity with objects in the world.
The game’s puzzles come in a reasonably wide variety. While you’ll certainly do a lot of lever pulling, button pressing, and power redirecting, there’s also some more creative and interesting puzzles like figuring out how to operate certain machinery, using items from the environment to prop open doors, and even using a remote-controlled maintenance blimp to accomplish important tasks. While some tasks are fairly common (open the door with the broken button), I didn’t feel like any single mechanic overstayed its welcome.
Aside from the puzzles that you’ll accomplish mostly with your hands, as a player you also have a jetpack which is used for the occasional platforming section (unlike the first game, players have complete manual control over their jetpack movement). While I like the idea in theory, I found the jetpack movement too slow to be engaging, and in some cases frustrating when you come up literally two inches short of the planform you wanted to reach (while having no ability to use your hands to pull yourself up).
Beyond the standard straightforward puzzles in Red Matter 2 are a few creative ones, offering up that ever satisfying ‘ah-ha!’ moment, but these were equally balanced out by a handful of puzzles that felt obtuse or had other issues like important objects not being apparent enough. Just a few of the puzzles relied on the game’s Alyx-like force-pull mechanic, but it was utilized so minimally that on several occasions I forgot I even had that power which left me temporarily stuck.
For most of those obtuse puzzles, a single piece of dialogue or text clue could have saved frustration. Even a simple ‘current objective’ readout would have been helpful to remind players what they’re trying to accomplish (especially useful if you have to take the headset off in the middle of a puzzle and then return and forgot exactly where you are in the puzzle process).
Perhaps the single most helpful tool in the game is the scanner, which analyzes objects to provide clues and translate the game’s exclusively Russian writing. For better or for worse, you’ll make extensive use of the device, and you can scan almost any object in the environment—be it a useless prop or a computer display with info that’s important to solving the puzzle at hand.
Another necessary tool that you’ll acquire part way through the game is an energy pistol, which is the only weapon you’ll find in the game. It’s used for a handful of combat encounters against security drones. While I appreciate the desire to split up all the puzzling with some combat for a different pace, I ultimately found the combat to be more of a chore than fun, largely due to the fact that the enemies felt annoyingly difficult to hit.
Especially the humanoid bots you fight—which must be hit in specific weak spots to be destroyed—which constantly moved to dodge your shots. And it doesn’t help that the pistol’s projectile speed and accuracy didn’t feel up to the task. With only a single offensive option, combat devolved into peaking the same corner for the entire fight until landing enough shots in the right place to kill the bots.
I ended up turning the combat difficulty down from Normal to Easy (the only two options) which made it more tolerable. I like challenging games, and especially shooters, but even so, I’d recommend going to Easy right off the bat to make Red Matter 2’s combat sections more tolerable.
Though it picks up where the prior game left off, the story in Red Matter 2 feels like little more than set-dressing. It’s presented in a fashion that’s by now almost a certainty in VR games—a ‘radio play’ that comes in the form of voices through your headphones. With almost no direct character interaction—and no character development—I found it easy to forget the names of the key characters and places relevant to the story. Granted, the story did its job as a backdrop for fun puzzles, beautiful vistas, and some trippy supernatural moments, but it unfortunately didn’t feel like it stood up on its own.
And while the puzzles were generally entertaining, the game lacked a ‘mechanical climax’ where everything the player has learned comes together in a synergistic way—which is characteristic of the best puzzle games out there.
Red Matter 2 took me almost exactly seven hours to complete on my first playthrough. And while there’s not much replayability to be had, it was a generally fun experience and a solid value at the $30 price point—not to mention it was technically sound with great performance, sharp visuals, and no crashing or major bugs.
Though Red Matter 2’s puzzle gameplay doesn’t quite come together in that joyfully synergistic way, the experience is significantly bolstered by an excellent sense of immersion. Red Matter 2 is easily one of the most immersive games available on Quest 2, and to that end feels similar to great immersive games enjoyed by PC VR players like Lone Echo and Half-Life: Alyx.
Developer Vertical Robot has continued to lean on its ingenious ‘grabber’ tools—which it pioneered in the original Red Matter—as the basis of interaction in the game. Simply put, in the game you hold a multi-tool that looks a lot like the controller that’s in your hands in real life. The tool can toggle between grabbing, scanning, hacking, and a flashlight. It’s surprising to say, but having ‘grabbers’ that look like your controllers feels way more immersive than using virtual ‘hands’ to interact with things in the game.
The reason for the added immersion is twofold: for one, because there’s a tool between you and the object, you don’t expect to feel the kind of haptics that you would if you were grabbing the object with your actual fingers (and thus realism is preserved). And second, since you can’t dexterously manipulate and precisely target virtual objects with your actual fingers, the grabbers much more accurately represent the coarse input limitations of your VR motion controllers. Frankly, it’s amazing many more VR games don’t use this approach.
With your multi-tool in hand, almost everything that looks like you could interact with it can indeed be picked up and played with. And that’s a big plus because, simply put, the core gameplay of Red Matter 2 is indeed interacting. And as an aside, Red Matter 2 might have the best paper physics I’ve yet seen in a VR game—little details like that really add up!
Beyond the game’s rich interactions, Red Matter 2 is a consistently good looking game with strong art, lighting, and environmental direction. There’s enough interesting visual details sprinkled throughout the game that just looking at stuff is often an engaging experience. Even the Quest 2 version of the game is graphically on par with the average PC VR game; next to native Quest 2 games, it’s best-in-class.
With a game world that feels more interactive than not, and environments and details that are worth looking at, the world of Red Matter 2 feels ‘solid’ in ways that not many VR games achieve.
One moment while playing really reinforced to me just how immersive the game can be.
At one point I needed to press a button to open a door while looking in the other direction (ie: I was reaching for the button while not looking at it). As I was reaching blindly toward the button I was confused when my arm felt like it went ‘through’ the wall—surely if I had missed the button then the wall would have stopped my hand. But of course there isn’t a real wall there, despite my brain expecting that there was one.
That level of virtual embodiment is rarer than you might think in VR—especially in the Quest library—and Red Matter 2 is one of a handful of games that delivers it.
Red Matter 2 uses typical joystick walking with some slow jetpacking sprinkled about. For the most part I found the game comfortable, but for long sessions I could feel a creeping sense of motion discomfort. Luckily the game supports a teleport option which felt plenty comfortable and is reasonably ‘explained’ as the player using their jetpack to move (though it does trivialize some of the platforming sections). There are a select few parts of the game where you must use stick movement, even if you’ve opted for teleport, but they are relatively brief.
While the non-teleport jetpack movement could be an issue for those who are highly sensitive, I found it largely comfortable thanks to its slow and steady speed. Optionally you can choose to lose altitude quickly by holding down on the stick, but if you’re very sensitive you might be better of with the default slow descent.
The game’s comfort options cover nearly everything on our comfort checklist, so a special shout-out to the developer on that font.
Red Matter 2′ Comfort Settings – August 18th, 2022
Swappable movement hand
Two hands required
Real crouch required
Adjustable player height