Published on June 27th, 2013 | by James Kulas
Light Matters in Dark Matter
Before the invention of magical fezzes the world was two dimensional. A simpler time where rocket launchers neatly opened doors, and the notion of a human being transforming into an armoured beach ball barely raised an eyebrow. As children we leapt left or rolled right, blissfully unaware of the looming polygonal revolution. Dark Matter undoubtedly has its roots in this bygone landscape, but don’t be fooled by its humble origins, InterWave’s foreboding sidescroller is so much more than a hat tip to Metroid.
At its core Dark Matter is all about light – you’ll need to use your torch wisely if you want to survive. Bioluminescent blisters swell to create deadly minefields, and creepy crawlies go for the throat when illuminated. On the other hand, organic bear traps disarm in bright conditions and you’re more likely to spot the whirling mess of scythe-arms and tentacles barrelling toward you. To traverse these perilous corridors you’ll need to strike a balance between the two – drop your guard for just a moment and you’ll be little more than a fine mist on an unmarked bulkhead.
Freshly thawed from stasis our nameless, voiceless protagonist is accompanied on her journey by the ship’s AI. Decades of solitude have left him a little… quirky, and his often graphic interjections provide some jet-black comic relief. You’ll also stumble across data-pads from time to time, documenting an increasingly desperate crew and hinting at horrors still to come. It’s not story heavy by any stretch, but what’s here frames the action thoughtfully.
What sets it apart from other ‘metroidvania’ is a more deliberate approach to combat. Instead of flipping around clearing wave upon wave of nasties, Dark Matter makes every encounter meaningful through a combination of absolutely brutal damage and devious AI. Environmental hazards and elemental weapons are consistently deadly, allowing for surprisingly creative strategies – lure your pursuers over minefields or chomp them in a mag-lock door, anything goes in the bid for survival.
To counterbalance the fairly high difficulty, save points and crafting stations are dotted liberally throughout the ship, so you won’t find yourself trudging through the same corridor for the 19th time unless you’re lost. Admittedly that did happen to me, but in my defence the map and objective systems are still a work in progress. Crafting stations unlock a familiar array of weapon modifications and elemental ammunition, providing you’ve discovered the blueprints. Increase damage, reduce recoil, fire, ice and poison rounds – it’s fairly standard stuff wrapped up in an intuitive interface.
It’s important to note the build I played was still very much at the beta stage, and only contained two of the four acts planned for release. As you’d expect there’s the odd rough edge to be filed in the next few months. Jumping and reloading feels unresponsive at times and animations don’t necessarily sync up with what’s happening behind the scenes, resulting in some awkward struggle-cuddles. The fluidity of movement from those classic forerunners isn’t quite there yet, but now I’m just nitpicking.
Overall Dark Matter is a surprisingly fresh look at a familiar genre. The team’s passion and attention to detail is evident in almost every aspect, and I’m looking forward to resuming my adventure aboard The Endeavour in September.
If you can’t wait to get your hands on Dark Matter, beta access is available via Kickstarter. If this is your sort of thing, you should probably vote on Greenlight too, call it your good deed for the day.