Thursday, June 15, 2023

Red Matter 2 (PSVR2)

Red Matter 2 may be the best game on PSVR2

My favorite? Probably not, although it is very high on the list. But from a sheer quality and artistry perspective? Absolutely. 

Quick introduction. Red Matter 2 is a first-person VR space adventure puzzle game in space with some light action and platforming elements. It’s the sequel to a game that isn’t on PSVR or PSVR2, but it’s largely a self-contained story, at least at the roughly 79% completion point I’m at now.

And it’s gorgeous. It uses all the PSVR2 power of high frame rate and foviated rendering to deliver a crisp, high-res experience that screenshots don’t do justice. The screen above, for example, doesn’t really convey the 3D scope of looking around this giant structure from the inside, seeing places you’ve passed through off in the distance through the tunnel at the back. It’s a stunner.

On top of that is the art design, which feels like the opposite of most AAA open world games you spend sixty bucks on. The difference is the sparseness, honestly. One of the things that makes modern games seem very samey is procedurally-generated clutter. You look at a bar in Cyberpunk or an office in Spider-Man or a shack in pretty much every game and there’s an arrangement of stuff on surfaces and floors that you know an algorithm put there because it’d be impractical to have a human set-design the thousands and   thousands of desks, tables, and shelves in the game.

The art direction in Red Matter 2 seems hand-placed. Yeah, there’s loose hammers and toolboxes and bens and shit on various tables and desks, and they’re mostly the same objects used over and over, but it doesn’t have that procedural feel to it, which is refreshing. And the environments themselves are definitely hand-crafted with attention to detail.

The puzzles are straightforward and logical 90% of the time. Everything is physics based or tactile in some way, and it’s mostly “does it have power? How can you get it power?” and “it needs an object? How can you get the object?” kind of things. It’s not too challenging but it is very satisfying because there’s frequently a groundedness to it that is lacking in a lot of more arbitrary puzzle mechanics.

The jumping is a joy - it’s slow, low-gravity, jetpack-assisted jumps that have a great feel to them and usually reward a bit of paying attention.The environments are clear about what might be a pathway and what isn’t, with the again uncluttered, clean environments allowing you to see those cues without neon arrows or splashes of yellow paint required to distinguish them from mere background elements. You get a good feel very quickly for how high you can go and how far you can go, and the penalty for being wrong is just trying again, so you don’t get mad.

The combat is… fine? VR shooting is pretty standard stuff at this point, and while you don’t even get a gun until like 40% of the way through the game, using it is what you’d expect. It can overheat, you can vent the overheating, you can take cover behind stuff, and if you’re dumb, you’ll die and have to restart. It can be challenging because I’m bad at VR aiming without some kind of sight or assistance, but enemy movements are predictable and cover is plentifyul so it really just requires patience.

While I’m talking about the combat, just want to take a moment to mention this thing that happened. I’d accidentally turned on the flashlight with my left hand, and was waving my gun around with the right, and noticed the real-time shadows that resulted. Real=time lighting and shadows have been a part of games foto one degree or another for a long time, but when the source and the thing casting the shadow are both under your control, in a e3D VR environment, it really stands out as something cool.

So, when did the game and/or my brain fail me, causing me to seek out help? Mostly when the game introduced a rule or broke an existing established rule. For example, at the start of the game, I needed three things. One of the things was in plain sight. One of the things was in a partially opened box, the ajar lid indicating there could be something inside. And one of them was hidden behind a toolbox in a locker with no (to me) visual indicator that it was there. And by seeing that on YouTube, that’s how I learned the game might do that to me.

There was one spot where it should have been possible to prop a door open, but the game physics arbitrarily disallowed it. Well, OK, not entirely arbitrarily. Allowing me to do a thing that you can normally do in the game to get through one step of a multi-step puzzle might have broken the multi-step puzzle. But it was still annoying.

Overall, though, I’m enjoying it a lot, to the point where I’m running the VR2 controllers dry because I wasn’t putting them away on the charging station because I figured I’d be picking the game up again soon. Now all I need to do is finish it before Synapse drops on 7/3. I’m trying not to think about the surprise Hubris drop next week.

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