InterWave Studios’ sophomore effort at PC development has a lot of potential. The (semi) survival-horror game of Dark Matter blends a few neat concepts to the 2D platform in an otherwise standard Metroid-like indie game. Shamelessly “inspired” by said series and its “influence” of the Aliens franchise, Dark Matter plants us in another labyrinth influenced by the exploration of the USS Sulaco or SR388.
Awaken from cryosleep, the female protagonist (Like Samus and Ripley!) of Ensign, traverses the mysterious and empty vessel of the “Endeavor.” Silent and curious, she scours and searches the ship to figure out how to escape the unmanned vessel. Lead by the omnipresent AI, the voice leads her to various tools and equipment to unlock areas of the ship, a la every game ever classified as a “Metroidvania.” However, meticulous and rampant collecting isn’t the nature of this game.
A crafting system is in play as coming across health and ammo crates doesn’t occur here. Daunting at first, Dark Matter’s system settles in with an easy progression with creating med packs to gun modifications to the typical array of weapons. Blueprints of modifications can be found along the way, in addition to specialized ammunition. Resources can be mined by killing creatures and they exert the substance of “fullerene” or plainly the stuff enabling creation. It’s a nice nuance to walking up to a vendor and buying upgrades and items by way of craft stations.
Minor bits of exposition come from the AI and scattered data logs of lost crew members. Logs offer a paragraph or two of growing intrigue of the alien life forms and interactions with certain types. Like a tentacle blob flailing around a worker in room, cracking a couple of ribs. Nothing too scarring or mundane of a read, logs present slight pulses of humanity amidst the parasitic attackers. Graphically, Dark Matter screams out its indie development, masked by smudgy, cell-shading of the characters. However, to their credit, good implementation overrides a shoddy checkmark of games. Simply, it’s better to have leather-faced characters than clam chowder supposed to act as a face.
Where Dark Matter does exceptionally well is in the lighting. InterWave’s entire visual focus is on creating an eerie setting filled with dim, foggy fixtures. A step further, light affects how the world reacts to you. Pink Xenomorphs don’t shy away from light. They absolutely loathe it to the point destruction. Whereas a vampire would flutter to the shadows and recover, these parasites slug you in the face for it. A slight variation to a horror trope of nocturnal creatures where light reserves as the paragon of their disbursement. A novel mechanic, to twist what was once your friend in heat of horror and enrages the attackers even more than your presence.
The “Greek fire” predicament of the lighting aesthetics quells to the, still an early build, unpolished movement and shooting. Where one could bemoan, aiming shapes up to be nothing to shake at. Given a service pistol early on, each gun fire recoils heavily. You could attest the lack of experience the protagonist has with weapons or the survival-horror aspect of Dark Matter, yet, after a certain point, frustration overwhelms any sort of narrative tie. Combat devolves to picking a target, firing, backtracking yourself to reload, and repeat.
Squandered survival-horror qualities aside, the more we play the more mechanically rough the build it is. Movement feels stiff and climbable ledges take serveral attempts to reach because of its clunky nature. Then to Dark Matter’s laser-sighted aiming fools precision for glorified blind fire. Metaphorically speaking, the difference between hip fire and aiming down the sights in a first person shooter merely changes visuals, not accuracy. And with half the enemies at ankle-length, pointing below 90 degrees, imprecision add to the continual death endured. Often times cool, calm, and collected, gunshots weigh the same as berserk, panic fire.
Not to say excuse the issues, the foundation is built for something like these aforementioned flaws to have some tightening. That said the preview build sent to us compiles half of the game in beta form. So in fact bugs, tweaks, and the entire other half remains in development. Recently, InterWave hopped onto Kickstarter for further financial assistance and an additional two months of development, which honestly could use a sprucing. As of now, Steam Greenlight houses the promising Dark Matter. If you want Dark Matter to join the motley crew of indies seen pillaged by Steam sales, then vote a yes to their favor.