Dark Matter

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Perhaps Dark Matter was destined to fail. It generated a lot of hype pre-release, because why shouldn’t it have? Cross Metroid with Castlevania with Dead Space, and you’ve got Dark Matter. A survival horror castleroid with fresh enough game mechanics to differentiate it from your standard 2.5D platformer.

At the time, there were other games like The Bridge and The Swapper and Teslagrad being shown off or already out, and interestingly enough all of them – including Dark Matter – seemed to stand on their own merits. Dark Matter implements some more modern mechanics from third person shooters and other games – chiefly, ammunition types. Most enemies don’t take damage worth a damn from standard ammo, so the game allows you to craft cryo, fire, and acid rounds which burn, freeze, or dissolve them – pretty much like Resident Evil. Other than that, and the ability to craft medkits, you can also craft weapon upgrades from blueprints you pick up. Who knows where these blueprints are, considering how thoroughly I searched the ship and never found one except for fire rounds. Other than that, the game is a standard Castleroid platformer, but it seemed very promising. The atmosphere is spot on. In fact I actually yelled “Holy shit!” exactly one time, the first time a scavenger rushed me out of nowhere in the dark and almost killed me. The story is as good as your typical System Shock/Dead Space/Aliens amalgam can be, considering it’s all been done before. The gameplay seemed unique enough.

So, when Dark Matter released in 2013 and customers crucified what was an unfinished game, it seemed best to just stay away for a while. As of October 2013, the “new” ending had been introduced into the game and it was considered complete.

After ignoring those issues – easy if you bought the game but never even played it until after it was “finished” – there are plenty more problems with the game itself, the portion that was probably there at the time. I frequently found placeholders that were obviously not supposed to show up – like text labels for camera change triggers or enemy spawns. The biggest problem, game wise, is that it does not natively support the 360 or any controller. It says that it does in the options and has already pre-mapped the buttons, but the thing is, the game’s menu system is all but inoperable with a controller, literally and figuratively. Once you use a crafting station, you must use the mouse or you won’t be crafting anything – nor escaping the menu. The same applies to all interactions, so save points, crafting stations, and elevator buttons. Sometimes the A button works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, you must right click and sometimes even then that doesn’t work so you have to fuck with it for a while. All the points this game deserves for being different go right out the window because of the control problems. A castleroid that plays better with mouse and keyboard? Excuse me, but no, that’s not acceptable.

Dark Matter is a broken mess at worst, and a mildly frustrating backtrack fest at best. You’d think a spaceship with the technology to cryogenically freeze people for 70 years would also have multiple god damned elevators or jeffries tubes to get around. More frequently than I would like to acknowledge, there are switches, doors, save points, and even ladders that simply don’t work. When a ladder is literally the only way to progress in an area and it doesn’t work, it’s a pretty game-breaking bug. I even tried reloading the save repeatedly and one time that fixed it, one time it did not. I tried disabling the 360 controller entirely and operating by keyboard, but that accomplished nothing. One time the ladder works, the other 15 it does not.

That's as far as you go, ensign.

That’s as far as you go, ensign.

I’d love to finish the game and include that in the review, so maybe one day I’ll try again and be willing to put up with interminable ladders again. Obviously people have beaten the game, and therein lies the problem. Dark Matter, while it has merits and is enjoyable when it functions as intended, presents itself in an entirely inconsistent manner. Aside from Fallout 3, Dark Matter is one of the most manic depressive bug-fests I’ve personally ever seen. Here’s hoping maybe one day the dev studio re-opens and fixes it.

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