Have you ever found yourself staring in slack-jawed amazement at a pane of glass? I'm not talking about that fancy stained glass you might find in churches and cathedrals here, I'm talking normal, everyday glass that's seen a bit of wear and tear. The sort you might see in the windows of a bus perhaps, or a train. You know the type, it's grimy, it's covered in scratches and smudges and subliminally it shouts, "People have been here before!".
In real life I wouldn't give that kind of thing much more than a passing glance, but if glass is done right in VR? Well then it adds this undeniable sense of realism to your surroundings. Simple things like slight smears on the smooth surface of a window can subtly reinforce the illusion of depth. A reflection of light viewed at just the right angle might illuminate dozens of tiny scratches, which suddenly makes the world feel lived in. These may sound like small things, but they all contribute to something every VR adopter wants; heightened immersion in a virtual space.
Why am I telling you this? Well, there's a couple of moments where I get positively giddy about simple panes of glass in this week's Ian's VR Corner and you can witness them for yourself in the video below, where I play through the first hour of Red Matter on Playstation VR.
At its core, Red Matter is an escape room game, although it's not as blatant in its premise as some of the other, lesser escape games that litter the Playstation Store. Yes, each area is a small collection of puzzles that must be solved to move forwards, but it's all wrapped up in a spooky narrative that makes you feel like you're doing detective work rather than busywork.
On PSVR, Red Matter is controlled exclusively with dual Move controllers. There are some basic comfort settings, smooth turn and no vignettes, etc and whilst you can choose free-move as your primary method of locomotion, there are certain sections which necessitate teleportation in order to progress. The speed of the action is sedate at best though, so beginners and veterans alike should be able to play this without any discomfort whatsoever.
The crowning glory of Red Matter, and you'll hear me banging on about it in the video above, is just how immersive it is. The story is engaging, but it's the production values that really set it apart from other escape room games. The locations are simply gorgeous, from a jaw-dropping vista in the opening section to interiors that were so detailed I came away with memories of inhabiting those spaces as if they were real, physical locations I'd visited in the past.
Part of this is down to how beautiful it all looks. The interior of the Russian base you're exploring is full of imposing brutalist architecture. Some of the locations are decorated with huge mosaics that span the circumference of the rooms, each little tile capable of catching the light depending on what angle you're viewing them from. Other times it's down to the tiny details, like the scratches on the glass I mentioned above, or the fact that at some points you can literally use your hand to waft dust particles out of the way of your face.
Red Matter's impressive immersion isn't solely down to how good it looks. Interacting with the environment is a joy thanks to a combination of clever programming and force-feedback in the Move controllers that gives in-game objects mass and presence. Certain items will need a sharp tug before they pop loose from their housing, levers and valve wheels will feel stiff as you pull or turn them, vibrations in your hands giving the impression of metal scraping against metal. To give weight to things that technically don't exist is a real achievement and I appreciated it immensely.
One of the only negative points I can think of is that the run time of 2 to 3 hours may be a little short for some, even more so if you factor in the current price point of Ł25. In my opinion however, the strength of the presentation more than makes up for the brevity of the experience, but it's worth baring in mind if you're after something with a lot of replayability.
Red Matter oozes realism and simply put it is a master-class in virtual reality world building. From the incredibly well produced and believable visuals through to the tiny, subtle touches that give weight and heft to the digital objects in your hands, everything about Red Matter works towards absorbing you into its world. It may well be an indie game but its short run time encompasses Triple-A production values and if other developers can follow its lead the future will look bright for VR.
If you enjoyed this episode of Ian's VR Corner, you can catch up with my previous adventures over on YouTube in our VR playlist, where I've covered Asgard's Wrath, Ghost Giant and Five Nights at Freddy's VR. You can also read our list of best PSVR games.