The Metroidvania genre is something that gets mimicked or homaged all too often these days and it takes a lot of work to deliver something that actually competes with those two high caliber franchises (Metroid and Castlevania; geddit?) Being a huge fan of Metroid, I felt right at home when some preview code for upcoming title Dark Matter arrived in my email.
After the initial download, I was pretty excited to see what was in store; while the e-mail accommodating the download stated that it was far from a final build, with a list of what needed improvement and what to expect, the excitement didn’t dwindle. So it was off to the tutorial section to learn a bit about a title I had otherwise heard nothing about.
For the most part, Dark Matter controls exactly how you would expect, with the exception that the mouse can be used to control where “Ensign”, the nameless protagonist of the game, aims her weapons / flashlight. There’s your typical left / right controls, a jump, and a run button; it really is your standard fare when it comes to a side-scrolling platformer.
After the painless tutorial, it was time to jump in to see how the game itself played. As mentioned in the document supplied with the game, there’s a lot of polish that is still to be added, but visually I couldn’t overly tell. Lighting and texturing looked great, but the one section that hopefully gets some love and attention before release is the animation system. There’s a lot of popping between animations that stand out and I couldn’t help but want the game, as a whole, to go just a little faster. I could see that the team behind this -- interwave -- wanted to give a tense, almost survival horror, feel to the game, but it started to drag.
This wasn’t helped by the fact that nothing ever really happened in the few hours I played. Ensign did bump into a fair few insect-like death creatures, and some juicy tentacle traps, but I never really felt tense or scared by what could happen ahead of my character.
Ensign, for now, is essentially a blank slate. There’s no reaction when she first stumbles upon the bizarre creatures on the spaceship she awakens on, and despite having a solider, in a layer behind her, being molested by tentacles in a way that would make hentai creators proud, she just walks by without a comment or quickened pace. It would be nice to see more happening, or have more reason to fear the space I was investigating, and it’s possible the final will have more as the document did state many set pieces were missing.
The small variety of creatures would leap at you causing damage, and the bigger they were the harder they were to kill. The highlight of what I experienced was easily the variation of enemy that has its own shields attached to its forelegs. Despite being killed by it rather quickly, it has given me some hope for what to expect from the final product.
Dark Matter does shine when it hits its stride, though. After a couple of hours, the map opens up and it suddenly becomes apparent that you have the option to go many different directions across many different layers of the spaceship, and it may take minutes before you realise you need to backtrack and return when you’ve completed a separate section of the mission. Also, the ability to create medpacks and ammunition at certain junctions in the game was a welcome surprise, and something I can foresee being something gamers are eager to come across when things get tough.
At the moment, however, difficulty is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s not difficult in the traditional sense, it’s difficult because walking backwards while firing is too slow, and if you turn and run the view isn’t wide enough to show what you want to shoot at. Again, when it works it’s great, but I found myself dying purely because I had to get close to creatures that weren’t easy to kill.