Dark Matter Hands-On Preview

By Nelson on July 8, 2013, 3:22PM EDT

Dark Matter is a game being created by Interwave Studios, and is currently still in development for PC, however, we've had a chance to get some hands on time with the game so we can tell you how it's shaping up.

First up, let's talk about the story. It all revolves around a character who's awakened from some form of deep sleep stasis with the only presence around her being a form of AI that runs the ship. It's got an almost Space Odyssey's Hal feel to it, the presence reassuring in the environment but deeply disconcerting as well. This is of course when you discount everything else that's going on.

Presented in a metroidvania style 2D side scrolling exploration style, the game focuses on survival as an aspect and clearly aims to be scary at the same time. It does this quite well by making the areas very darkly lit, sometimes illuminated by more hostile means. It's safe to say that entering any new doorway gives a sense of unease and some of this is due to the early combat.

Combat occurs through a mouse aim and it's completely multi directional around the 2D axis. Your character is armed with very little to begin with, and what you're armed with isn't the most offensive weapon in the world - a pistol with unlimited ammo. You also get a flashlight, which is rather nice. Sounds promising right? Factor in that most enemies you'll encounter right at the start require 4-5 accurately placed shots to die and the reload takes around 2-3 seconds and it's a bit of a rude awakening. Combat has to be tactical and clever and sometimes areas are to avoided in respect to missing out on supplies until you have something with a bit more punch or just more resources for ammo.

To try and help you in this respect, the game offers up a pseudo crafting system. When you kill enemies, you will gain resources. These can be converted into medikits and ammo. There are rare resources to find too and these are used for more specific things, such as weapon mods, and there are also normal resources which can be converted into the standard resource. The more of these you have, the better ratio you get on your conversion.

For the most part the game is pretty generous in how much it gives players, there wasn't a point where being able to hold onto a dozen medpacs and a variety of ammo wasn't plausible. That said, things can change.

It must be noted that crafting items requires a workbench, which is usually accompanied by a checkpoint spot. These are mostly frequent enough and it's not too difficult to backtrack after a particularly hard encounter. It does feel like it's possible to game this a bit, by purposefully dying and re-initializing checkpoints when they perceive they've taken out a bigger foe perfectly.

As mentioned previously the metroidvania style to the game does mean that backtracking through areas is somewhat compulsory, and the maps are so large that there can be more than one route. Mostly areas offer something new to the environment, but some of the corridors connecting areas can feel very similar. The map alleviates getting lost for the most part, though objectives only really show up when you're in the correct area.

At one point one of the zones to a new map actually connected to an incorrect spawn, but it wasn't really problematic and it's to be expected with the game still in development.

The platforming element to the game is quite sparse. It's possible to climb, it feels a bit underused. Maybe this gets more use later on or its for accessing hidden areas, but they were clearly very hidden as none were found.

Some elements featured are almost puzzle like in nature, which is great. For example, some enemies react to light either positively or negatively. The game doesn't always inform players about these aspects straight away, but that's not so bad. However, it does at certain points, presumably because some routes allow experiencing certain things earlier than intended.

That said these aspects feel innovative in their format and coupled with the rest of the gameplay experienced, it's promising. Sure, some of the actions feel a bit disjointed in the animation and there are some of the balance issues around the amount of resources a player has available, but the gameplay shows strong potential.

In its current state, the game is enjoyable and it feels somewhat scary with both the environment and the enemies. Attempting to exit combat when trying not to use too many resources, and at the same time having the ability to backtrack to checkpoints and save the deaths of defeated foes works well.

We'll be watching to see how the game progresses, in the meantime Lightwave Studios has both a page on Greenlight and Kickstarter, so feel free to give them some support if this sounds at all interesting to you!

blog comments powered by Disqus