If there is one genre that we need more of in the industry it is the “Metroidvania”style adventure game. I truly love these games, from the original Matroid and Castlevania classics that gave birth to the category to recent hits like Shadow Complex, Dark Void Zero, and Outland. They’re addicting and fun, and any developer who crafts one has at least a spec of my attention; when they manage to put a good one together, like Dark Matter, then they get my full attention.
You have very likely heard the name Dark Matter by now. The developer, InterWave Studios, is running some serious promotion on the project through both a Kickstarter and a Steam Greenlight campaign. The game is almost done, with just the finishing touches necessary to move it to a full, retail release. The main purpose of the current Kickstarter campaign is to raise the funds to “polish off” the game.
The game begins with your character, Ensign, awakening from a very long cryogenic nap. You’re aboard the Endeavor, a ship built for deep space exploration; the ship went missing shortly into its last mission which just happened to be 70 years ago. Now your back and the ship has fallen into darkness, both literally and figuratively. Thankfully, the ship’s AI has never failed and it is still working and guides you through unraveling exactly what happened to the Endeavor.
While you have likely heard similar sci-fi stories in the past, Dark Matter does a great job of delivering it in an engulfing experience. The game is like an onion, giving you numerous layers of experience depending on what you are looking to get out of the adventure. Action fans can run through the adventure, guns blazing, and get a nice, quick fix of space-adventure. As enjoyable as that may be, they would be missing out on a much bigger experience that is laid out for you to discover and experience on your own.
The world of Dark Matter is filled with hints and details chronicling the ships 70 years of human silence; I say it in that way because while the humans aboard the vessel have been either sleeping or dead, a new form of life has gone on and taken over. The story isn’t forced on you, at least not in its full form; you can uncover the details as you venture through the bowels of the ship via data logs and diaries left by the passengers. Exploration is your friend in this sense, and it plays out in more than just the story mechanics.
Dark Matter also has you crafting a wide variety of objects including specialized ammunition and supplies. These aren’t exactly things that you will find in abundance on their own, so you need to find the necessary pieces to craft them on your own. There is plenty to be found in the dark corners of the ship, in both tangible and intangible objects.
Perhaps the most redeeming quality of the game is its embracement of the concept of light and dark. You’re in deep space, on an abandoned ship, so you can bet that it isn’t the most well-lit of environments. You have a trusty flashlight and some ship lights like any other game, but they work at great lengths to benefit the experience. Enemies respond differently to direct light and sometimes you won’t be able to find your way without a little self-provided illumination, even if it puts your life at risk. It feels a lot like a combination of the Aliens franchise (sans the Ridley Scott creatures) and Dead Space; darkness can be as much of a detriment to you as it can be an ally at times. It is a fun dichotomy that drives a huge portion of the overall experience.
Playing through the early build that I have, I can see what they mean by wanting to “polish” things off before release. The game plays well, but there is room for a lot of tweaking to get the game running at its full potential. The controls are a little awkward as they really feel like something more in tune with a first-person shooter; it feels fine on a mouse and keyboard, but it doesn’t translate well by default to a controller. Some of the animations and transitions look a little rough, but they are all so close to being “there”. It just needs a little more time in the proverbial over. Considering the solid base that they have crafted from what I have seen, this polish could make the difference between a good game and a great one.
Even though I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Dark Matter, I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent. There is a deep and engaging world here to enjoy, and it is one that I look forward to exploring once the game makes its final push to a full release. Don’t hesitate to throw a few bucks toward the Kickstarter campaign or add your votes to the Greenlight push, the end result is definitely worth your time. I can’t wait to see what happens if InterWave can get everything they need to finish this game the way they envision it.