On paper, Dark Matter sounds great. A 2.5D shooter that attempts to blend the horror and atmosphere of titles like Dead Space with the exploration and structure of industry changers like Super Metroid is a recipe that sounds like it would yield nothing but a guaranteed success. However, despite some genuinely atmospheric elements, Dark Matter unfortunately fails on what it sets out to do at almost every turn leaving in its wake a mess of disappointment and frustration.
After being woken from Cryo-sleep by a seemingly sentient AI, your nameless female protagonist is given little to no back story. All that is shared is that you are some sort of engineer who has been kept alive by the ship in order to save it from an alien threat. Despite brimming with many genre clichés, the opening gambit is sold relatively well here. At first, you are interested in learning more about yourself and the world around you as well as the mysterious AI that seems to be your only companion amidst the isolation. Unfortunately however, you will soon realise that these questions will never be answered to a satisfactory level. It seems that this set up is more akin to a plot device than the origin of an interesting tale meaning any interest soon dissipates
After a few tutorial sections your nameless protagonist soon finds herself in a maze of corridors, puzzles, and enemies and it is here that things take a turn for the worse. Concerns begin to arise in the tutorial sections as movement feels awkward and sluggish, however once you are placed in full combat these concerns instantly evolve into all out frustration. Movement is strange and unresponsive, shooting lacks impact and enemies are both stupid and overpowered at the same time. This lack of quality AI mixed with poor balancing means you can be killed almost instantly or clear a host of enemies without altering your play style. Having said this, Dark Matter does control slightly better with the mouse and keyboard than a controller, however either control scheme seems to yield many of these issues and this unfortunately just shows a lack of balance in almost all areas of the games combat systems.
Graphically, Dark Matter is once again found wanting. Textures are poor, enemy design is messy and the character animations are stiff and lifeless. However all is not lost in this area as one of Dark Matter’s most redeeming features is its lighting which is both dynamic and well placed allowing it to create some incredibly atmospheric sections. This atmosphere is further developed by a great use of sound and sound design. The audio here is all well mastered and creates both dread and a weird feeling of isolation that goes a long way to saving the experience.
Despite these small redeeming features, Dark Matter is plagued by other, more frustrating, issues in the forms of immersion breaking bugs. Frame rate drops are frequent, even on top end machines, and debug prompts/commands can occasionally appear in the top corner of the screen making the whole experienced feel unfinished.
On this score, another concern here is the games length. The campaign is around 3-5 hours long and ends so abruptly that many believed its lack of coherent conclusion to be a bug. This has not only caused a swell of consumer frustration but has also led to certain digital retailers (such as GOG.com) actually offering refunds to the customer based solely on this element. Furthermore, some digital retailers have stopped selling Dark Matter (although boxed copies are still available) due to this until developer InterWave Studios can presumably provide a more coherent ending to the tale. None of this bodes well for Dark Matter and paints a picture of a well meaning title that needed much more work before release.
When all is said and done, Dark Matter is a well meaning but ultimately poor attempt at recapturing what made the likes of Super Metroid so great. For every step forward it takes in building atmosphere, it takes several back in areas like game play and storytelling. This coupled with some bugs and pacing issues makes Dark Matter a less than warranted purchase. If you want Metroidvania with a modern twist the likes of Shadow Complex or 2013’s brilliant Guacamelee will prove much better uses of your time and money.