Dark Matter is an amalgam of some of my favorite things. Part Metroid mixed with the sense of dread from Alien, Dark Matter is a unique take on a tried-and-true genre that succeeds with its ambiance and subtlety.
Players will take over the role of the Ensign, who wakes up on the derelict spacecraft Endeavor with no memory of how she got there. From there, it’s up to the player to guide Ensign through the ship with the help of an AI which offers expository and training dialogue.
The creativity of Dark Matter doesn’t lie necessarily in its premise. However, what Dark Matter does exceedingly well is to use its mechanics to create a sense of dread that fills every corner of the ship.
Its use of lighting is one part of this. None of the lights in Dark Matter are pre-rendered, which means that the light reacts realistically to situations. Additionally, the alien enemies encountered are hyper-sensitive to light, and this agitation causes them to react more aggressively than they otherwise might. Dark Matter works against the player’s experience as a gamer, as there are many situations that are better to tackle in complete darkness, regardless of how it works against our better instincts as survivalists.
Light is also used to communicate information in a subtle way. For example, there’s a light on your pistol that glows red when reloading instead of having an actual reload animation. Additionally, the flashlight that is attached to each weapon has a beam that is as wide as the firing capability of that weapon. When using the pistol, for example, the light is far more narrow than when using the shotgun. This spread in light mimics the spread of the weapon’s ammunition.
There’s an internal logic at play in Dark Matter that is satisfying. The reaction of the alien scavengers to light, for example, is wholly understandable in the context of the world. Ensign has awoken many years after disaster struck the Endeavor, and the power systems have long died. The alien menace waiting for you has lived in pitch-blackness for quite a while, and the evolution of this lifeform has made it react to light in two ways: it’s angered by it and drawn to it at the same time. According to the lead designer, Igor Raffaele, in our conversation on Behind the Bits, the alien lifeforms are drawn to light because its often attached to humans, which they fed on prior to eventually wiping them out. The same goes for the pistol reloading, as it doesn’t actually use bullets, and the light represents the collection of atoms in the environment to create bullets.
Dark Matter is deliberate in its pacing, and it’s often best to slowly make your way through the world, listening intently to the clicking or squishing around you, as the game uses unique sounds for enemies along with positional audio to let your ears do what may not be in your best interest for your eyes to do.
Dark Matter is inspired in part by games such as Super Metroid, and it uses an equipment-gating system to block progress. However, after the initial tutorial areas, the game is very much open, allowing you to explore and get lost in the massive Endeavor.
Donating to the game’s Kickstarter gets you access to the beta that I’ve been playing, and I highly recommend doing so. Dark Matter is a game to keep your eye on.