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Matterfall Review: Save the Last Humans, Again

Housemarque. That’s all I need to say for you to know just what type of game Matterfall is, and that it’s rather good. Unfortunately not as good as Nex Machina, Resogun or Alienation. But still, rather good.

Placing you in another battle against a race of aliens hellbent on capturing humans, Matterfall is a Housemarque title through and through. The music, the graphics and the gameplay are all consistent with the studio’s most recent output and ergo all are very impressive; the problem is that there’s just not a great deal of it.

A platformer-cum-twin-stick shooter, Matterfall has a total of three stages for you to maraud through, each featuring three levels and a boss fight. Granted, levels are fairly sprawling affairs, but unless you get desperately stuck you’re likely to blast through them in less than three hours. It’ll be a very enjoyable three hours though — once you’ve got used to the cluttered controls, that is.

With the left stick used to move your female armour-clad warrior and the right stick used to fire in any direction, Housemarque has made use of the shoulder buttons and triggers for all other commands that you may need to use in the heat of battle. The only face button you’re likely to ever use is the square button, activating a powerful Overcharge ability which slows down enemies and increases your firepower. While it makes complete sense, at times it’s very easy to lose all co-ordination, hit the wrong button and either take critical damage or lose your valuable score multiplier.

L1 performs a Strike manoeuvre, which is, to all intents and purposes a dash that allows you to pass through bullets as well as certain enemies and barriers before releasing a burst of energy that momentarily freezes any foes around you. To succeed in Matterfall, efficient use of Strike is imperative in both offensive and defensive situations. You’ll get used to dashing towards an enemy and negating their bullets before chilling them to their very core, making them even more susceptible to a few well-placed bullets.

Next up is your Matter Gun. Bound to the left trigger, the matter gun can be used to turn translucent walls and platforms into solid ones, as well as free any humans you find from their crystalline confines. In terms of offence, its only practical use is to detonate floating energy bombs that are sometimes left behind by defeated enemies, causing a sphere of destruction.

Being a platformer, jumping is necessary to negotiate levels, and that function is tied to the R1 button. You can double jump, and when combined with the dashing Strike, it affords you a great deal of manoeuvrability. And finally, the R2 button fires your sub-weapon, assuming you have one and that it’s equipped.

As you run and gun your way through Matterfall, rescuing humans will result in you unlocking many augmentations which can be equipped from the start menu or between levels. You can equip three augmentations at any one time from a pool of twelve, with four of those being sub-weapons such as a Rail Gun and a Grenade Launcher, and the other eight being passive bonuses such as increased primary weapon damage. It allows for some customisation of your loadout to suit your playstyle, which is always welcome, but it doesn’t particularly feel expansive.

While the moment-to-moment gameplay is enjoyably frantic, it’s just a shame that it never feels like it particularly develops. Only a handful of new enemies are ever introduced and you’re never tested to use game mechanics in new or interesting ways. It means that each level rarely offers anything significantly different from the last other than lick of paint.

There are other problems too. The Strike is strictly limited to four directions, which doesn’t feel too restrictive when you’re platforming, but during the game’s zero-gravity sequences where it becomes a true twin-stick shooter, it just feels jarring. If I can move diagonally, why can’t I dash diagonally?

The lack of content is Matterfall‘s major faux pas, however. There’s only one game mode, so unless you’re going to replay it time and time again in an effort to place high on the online leaderboards or conquer a more challenging difficulty level, you’re not likely to get your monies worth. There aren’t even any local or multiplayer co-op options.

If you are the type of player who chases high scores though, there’s still a great deal to like about Matterfall. Visually it’s impressive, the soundtrack is a delight, and the gameplay is surprisingly deep and skilful. In the right hands, the range of abilities available can enable you to dart around the environments like a blur, utilising barriers as makeshift shields and sliding through enemies before blasting them into pieces. And the bosses, well, they’re all epic. Extremely challenging, but epic.

Matterfall is perhaps the least essential Housemarque title in the PlayStation 4’s catalogue, but it’s still a cut above the majority of the competition. Had there been more variety to its levels, some additional features and a tweak or two to the gameplay it could have stood toe-to-to with the like of Nex Machina, but as it is, it just doesn’t feel like the well-rounded package that we’ve become used to. If you’re a fan of Housemarque’s work then by all means pick it up, you’re bound to enjoy it. But those who are yet to sample the delights of their back catalogue would be wise to pick up one of their previous titles.

Matterfall is available on PS4.
Editor in Chief // An avid gamer since discovering the wonders of the Acorn Electron in the '80s, Rich has nearly played more games than he's had hot dinners. Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, Rich is happy to play games of all genres, but he particularly enjoys racing games and anything that's full of non-stop action, especially if it includes a good dose of humour, horror or crudeness!