Published on August 17th, 2017 | by Sean Warhurst
Matterfall PS4 Review
Summary: With as solid a foundation that Housemarque has created here, the potential for a truly boundary breaking game definitely exists but the short length, lack of replayability and immense difficulty spikes dampen the overall experience
A matter of matter...
Despite developing some of the most revered titles on the PS4, I’d actually never played a title from Finnish developer Housemarque before Matterfall; although the universally high review scores for their recent output certainly piqued my interest, in all honesty the shoot-em-up bullet hell genre just really isn’t my cup of tea and, from all appearances, this seemed to make up the bulk of Housemarque’s output.
What I am a sucker for, however, is 2D action-platforming, and Housemarque’s latest effort adheres more closely to this style of gameplay than their twin stick shooters and R-Type-inspired titles, whilst taking inspiration from mechanics and gameplay elements honed through their work in the aforementioned genres to inform their own hyperkinetic take on the action platformer.
With one well received release already this year in Nex Machina, can Housemarque also capture the hearts of action-platforming fans with Matterfall?
Matterfall drops players into a world that has been overran by a corruptive alien material dubbed “Smart Matter”, which manipulates robots to attack a hi-tech city built by humanity on a distant planet. With the infection raging out of control, Avalon Darrow, a female gun-for-hire in a battle suit who, for copyright purposes, has never even heard of Metroid or Samus, is tasked with swooping into the city and cleaning up the persistent alien threat once and for all.
Matterfall’s gameplay basically boils down to three key components – Combat, platforming and some slight puzzle elements. The gunplay is as relatively straightforward as you’d expect, with players using the right stick to both fire and aim; when rescuing civilians encased in smart matter found dotted around each stage, you will occasionally receive a secondary weapon which can be applied to the D-pad, such as a shotgun for added firepower or a limitless cache of grenades.
These items can help keep you in fortune’s good graces some of the time but if you hope to truly attain the upper hand and effortlessly chain together attack multipliers, then you’ll need to come to grips with Matterfall’s other mechanics.
One which you’ll become dependent upon is a dash attack that will temporarily stun enemies in your immediate vicinity, which reminded me heavily of the similar moveset in the much maligned Mighty No.9. If you destroy an enemy whilst they’re in this state you’ll get additional points and it’s always good to activate as a means of getting a second to breathe and put some distance between yourself and the phalanx of alien attackers. Dashing also gives Avalon a few frames of invincibility and becomes paramount when trying to safely navigate through a screen literally filled with glowing projectiles.
In addition to dashing, Avalon is also equipped with a matter gun that is capable of, you guessed it, creating matter. Using the matter gun makes traversing the levels easier due to allowing you to generate floating platforms in specific areas, as well as destroying crystals and powering devices such as elevators, but it truly becomes invaluable when you use it in a combat situation.
Considering the developer’s roots, it’s no surprise that some sections quickly degenerate into a bullet hell scenario where enemies fill the screen, and although your arsenal is relatively effective at thinning out their xeno-ranks, using the matter gun on glowing orbs randomly left behind by defeated enemies will unleash a massive explosion that saved my booty on more than one occasion.
However, sometimes the odds are just too overwhelming, which is why Avalon has one final trick up her shiny sleeve – Overcharge mode. When enough points have been attained in a level, Avalon will be able to drastically slow down time and increase the attack power of her weapons; perform well enough and dodge incoming attacks and you can prolong this state for quite a lengthy amount of time as well, although I could rarely maintain the level of skill necessary to achieve this.
Besides the platforming sections, which generally see you air dashing about the place and placing platforms, often under heavy fire and tight time limits, there are also some pretty creative and intense boss battle sequences (Although the final two bosses can jog on, as far as I’m concerned) and Zero-G sections that feel like a modern update on the Gradius formula, except “now with added dashes!”
The learning curve is relatively gentle and Matterfall quickly sinks its claws into you, brimming with that addictive, “one-more-try” feedback loop that some of the best games have. The pace does let up somewhat by the latter stages, where the difficulty skyrockets along with no new mechanics being introduced, but that compulsion to press forward is always there until the final credits roll.
The length is a bit of an issue for me, as you can feasibly burn through Matterfall in a single sitting. Indeed, it seems like Housemarque is trying to position Matterfall as a competitive, leaderboard driven game but, for someone like myself who barely scrapes through most games with my sanity intact, this doesn’t serve as any incentive to return to the game after completion.
Graphics and Audio
Matterfall has a 2.5D graphical style that plays really smoothly but is let down a tad by overly sterile and generic art design and direction. It’s not that the game is visually lacking in any notable way, only that it’s the same clean sci-fi architecture that we’ve seen a million times before.
The soundtrack is suitably catchy and gets the adrenaline glands working overtime. Pumping industrial and electronic beats punctuate your gunshots and is one of the most solid areas of the entire package.
For me, as great and occasionally teeth grindingly frustrating an experience that Matterfall was, it was a one and done experience and I have no desire to come back to the game in its current state.
This is more down to the lack of any real end-game content, particularly as vying for top spot by grinding out score multipliers just isn’t compelling to me. Of course, your mileage will vary and those of you who live for speed runs and boss rushes will more than likely revel in the competitive nature of the game.
Matterfall is a mechanically sound and engaging game, albeit not without its flaws, but I can’t help but feel it’s a little underdeveloped. With as solid a foundation that Housemarque has created here, the potential for a truly boundary breaking game definitely exists but the short length, lack of replayability and immense difficulty spikes dampen the overall experience and Matterfall ultimately ends up feeling more than a bit lacking in mass.
Primary Format – PlayStation 4
Game Genre – Action/ Platformer
Rating – M
Game Developer – Housemarque
Game Publisher – Sony Interactive Entertainment
Reviewer – Sean Warhurst