We’ve seen countless Cold War-inspired games but Red Matter 2 just might be my most memorable. Sure, there’s no Tim Curry with his barely restrained laughter at cheesy dialogue (a la Command & Conquer: Red Alert) and I’ll give you no awards for guessing who the fictional nations of Volgravia and the Atlantic Union are based on, yet Vertical Robot’s sequel to its 2018 VR puzzle adventure game offers something special. Red Matter 2’s thrilling interplanetary exploration hides an intriguing story that questions how far one nation would go for victory, and combines it with an emphasis on puzzle solving, object interaction, and environmental storytelling that could only work in VR.
Like most sequels to story-driven games, I’d recommend playing the original Red Matter before starting this one, but that isn’t essential – all of the required knowledge is explained in the introduction, which welcomes newcomers gracefully. Playing as Volgravian agent Sasha Riss once more, our journey begins straight after the last one ended, with an escape from an Atlantic Union prison base. The only other major character is a fellow Volgravian agent, Beta, who mostly provides exposition over voice comms. Individually, these two aren’t that memorable beyond some minor character development; it’s what the pair uncover that developers into an enjoyable mystery.
Discovering a distress signal from a friend previously presumed dead, Sasha’s investigation becomes intertwined with Volgravia’s research into red matter, a mysterious substance with destructive potential. It’s also caused endless supernatural incidents which Volgravia’s keen to keep hidden as we slowly uncover a wider conspiracy. While several reveals felt a touch predictable (including, unfortunately, the ending), I was never disappointed with where the story went.
It progresses naturally, without any unexpected surprises. Sasha’s mind being transferred to another body sets the tone immediately, making it less of a twist when supernatural elements come into play. This isn’t the longest adventure, taking six hours to beat, though Red Matter 2 benefits from that in that its gameplay never outstays its welcome.
If you’ve played the original you’ll find familiar design: like before, Sasha’s space suit comes with a pair of handheld devices that can swap between grips, flashlights, scanners and, eventually, a gun. The controls are intuitive, and the fact that the in-game devices perfectly reflect the Meta Quest 2 controller’s buttons does great things for a sense of immersion. Picking up items feels precise and realistic, meaning you can’t just lift a heavy box like it’s made of air – Sasha isn’t some cosmonaut Superman, after all – but you could drag them out of the way or place them onto a trolley.
I particularly enjoyed Red Matter 2’s more subtle applications for these devices, too; one moment had me cracking a vault’s four-digit code without any visible hints. Instead of putting the answer in front of my face, it increased controller vibrations upon selecting the correct number, which worked effectively. These devices factor into puzzle solving well, improving immersion and simultaneously complementing the environmental storytelling.
Travelling between several locations, Sasha only meets the odd robot and some holographic projections, with actual human NPCs mostly absent. Occasional chatter with Beta aside, this means Sasha’s reliant on your observation skills to piece together what happened. Most areas are littered with translatable notes, diagrams indicating how certain devices work, and well-hidden objects. Some of these puzzles would benefit from greater signposting though, because spending 20 minutes trying to find a power source isn’t ideal, and I got stuck a few times on tasks like this. I also believe Red Matter 2’s puzzles would benefit from a wider variety, because flipping circuits to restore power for the fifth time gets slightly dull. But most often it’s done smartly, and so whether it’s figuring out obscure clues for a safe combination or finding the correct frequency for a mining device, taking your time is key and rushing through accomplishes nothing.
Sasha’s also equipped with a jetpack which leads into some occasional platforming – I was fine with it but I could see how that may sound nauseating for some. Fear not, though: Vertical Robot’s been accommodating with comfort settings. Smooth movement remains the most immersive choice for me, but the jetpack can be set to teleportation instead, letting you point and click to blink over to where you’d like to be in an instant. Seated mode is another option, so you don’t need to stand for six hours, and it comes with such options as adjustable walking and turning speeds and optional blinders that’ll place a vignette around your screen. Finally, you can select your dominant hand for greater accessibility.
Truthfully, my only major gripe is with combat, which doesn’t rear its head until halfway through the story. Volgravia’s base contains two types of enemy drones: humanoids which can only be hurt by shooting specific, irritatingly small weak spots like the shoulders, and floating mechanical eyes that make up for a lack of armor with an annoying level of mobility that makes them difficult to hit. You’ll also find a few pesky turrets that’ll shoot Sasha on sight.
Using motion controls to handle a gun requires a steady aim to use them well. That’s fine with less intense segments like puzzle solving, but during Red Matter 2’s gunplay? Not so much. I’ve long believed VR is a great format for shooters, particularly with arcade shooters like Robo Recall and Zombieland: Headshot Fever, but in the best games out there enemies aren’t usually this frustrating to hit. Precise shooting and guesswork was often required for where they’d go next and unsurprisingly, getting in at close range risks death, leaving these segments feeling rather drawn out. Thankfully, combat isn’t frequent enough for this to majorly detract from Red Matter 2 as a whole – and mercifully, you can turn down the difficulty on the fly if it gives you too much trouble.
Exploration is where Red Matter 2 truly shines and that’s lifted considerably by its retro-futuristic art style, quietly nailing the tense atmosphere of these abandoned bases. Between crawling through dark vents and hallways breached by red matter, it can feel like you’re walking through a horror game – but rest assured, you won’t get jump-scared here. After testing both the PC and the Quest 2 versions, I was wowed by how realistic the graphics are on Quest 2. This is by far one of the best-looking games you can play without a PC tethered to the headset.
It’s not just these quiet moments in the base which left me impressed. While visiting one of Saturn’s moons you can head down an outdoor walkway, and seeing the stars above and the mighty gas giant below was wonderful. Seeing how small you are in the grand scheme of things really gave Sasha’s journey a sense of immersion only VR can capture, a feeling which remained just as impressive when visiting Neptune’s moon, Triton.
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Author: Dan Stapleton