Matterfall is a challenging game. It’s challenging like Resogun or Alien Nation, it’s practically a trademark of games from Housemarque at this point. For me, Matterfall is their best game yet. It is very Metroid and very Resogun. Two great games combined into one, incredibly short, experience. Matterfall will only take you a couple of hours to get through from start to finish, give or take an hour, depending on your skill. It’s unfortunate that it’s so short because just as you get used to the way the game controls and you get into your bot-slaying groove, it’s game over.
Normally I would start a review with a short story synopsis, but with Matterfall there isn’t much of one to discuss. Basically, you play a Metroid-esque soldier in the future where bots have gone and run amok, capturing humans and threatening life. You’re there to destroy those mean little robots into big, glorious voxel explosions and save the humans from their captors (very Resogun right there). There are three levels, each with their own sub-sections and then a main boss for each level. That’s about all there is to it at this point. But what little there is, it’s a lot of fun.
You control the game in normal twin-stick shooter fashion. The left stick moves you and the right stick is how you shoot your gun all around. Those mechanics are straight forward. Where I found things a bit difficult to control with Matterfall is the rest of the button layout. It took a lot to get “comfortable” and even by the end I still doubt my ability to handle it well. All of the action is controlled using the sticks and the shoulder buttons. In the default layout, R1 is your jump. Pressing R1 twice gets you a double jump. The R2 button is for your augmentations (such as grenades) you can earn for saving humans. When you press L1 you get a very important directional dash. The dash is your key to success, it’s how you gain temporary invincibility to dodge through the constant walls of bullets and enemies. The dash has a cool down though, so you can’t spam it. You have to be very precise in your combination of jumping and dodging. It’s a tough ballet of timing when you are swarmed with a blinding amount of bullets and enemies from all directions — and impassible walls that some enemies throw at you on top of all the chaos. Last on the shoulders, there is the Matter Gun when L2 is pressed. The Matter Gun is another critical tool, and really one of the more innovative components of the game. The Matter Gun is used to move certain objects like elevators, but more importantly, it’s used to trigger barriers to protect you from incoming fire, trigger matter bombs, collect matter crystals as well as break humans out of crystal prisons.
Like Resogun, you have multipliers. The more you kill without taking damage, the more points and energy you score. When you have acquired enough energy, you unlock an Overcharge. This is a brief power-up you execute that slows down time and makes you super powerful. It’s a vital tool for getting yourself out of a pinch. It’s also really awesome to watch!
The challenge that Matterfall presents is well-balanaced and doesn’t often reach the point of pure frustration. There is, however, a pretty heavy learning curve especially for those individuals that aren’t too familiar or comfortable with the twin-stick shooter genre. Outside of getting comfortable with aiming in that format, there is an eye-bleeding amount of enemies and elements on screen at every given time. It can be a real challenge to stay focused and not lose yourself in the action going on. That all said though, after you die a dozen times on a boss or you get in a snag during a level, you will likely come back because each time you’re defeated you get closer and closer to finishing level or offing the boss once and for all as you learn the patterns. Ultimately, the controls are a fancy dance for your fingers and that can prove frustrating when you are already overwhelmed by what’s happening in the game.
Matterfall runs, from what I can tell, at a buttery-smooth 60fps and hits a 900p resolution on standard PS4 and 1080p on the PS4 Pro. With Housemarque’s dedication to fluidity, it’s not a surprise really that the game renders at those resolutions to keep a rock-solid frame rate with all the crazy voxel and effects rendering all the time. Maybe the PS4 Pro will get updated down the road like Resogun did to support 4k. Right now though, it’s 1080p for you. That said though, the game is still a real treat to see. The rendering and effects are eye melting. Everything explodes into millions of voxels. Enemies and bullets flood the screen. The environments are very detailed and look great as well. There is something old-school that the presentation harkens back to, but it’s blended with cutting edge effects. The game is beautiful. Even with everything going on at a time on the screen, the action never appears to skip a beat.
The audio in Matterfall is solid. It has a great track of sound effects, and a pretty rocking electro soundtrack (I got the soundtrack as a separate download with the preorder, not sure if every purchase includes it or not). Players of Resogun will immediately recognize the voice that blasts from the DualShock 4’s speaker. On a sound system, there were some nice boomy explosions during all the action, which was especially prominent during Overcharge moments. I did find the audio in headphones kind of underwhelming as a whole – it seemed to not have a solid mix for that output.
As mentioned before, one of the greatest downfalls to Matterfall is the shortness of it all. Clocking in at about 2 hours means it’s over before it really begins. When something is so short, there usually is a list of modes to accommodate that for you to go back and enjoy. Unfortunately this isn’t the case here. You won’t find any challenge modes, time trials or even a survival mode — features found in other games by Housemarque. The most you may find to bring you into the game again is the pursuit for the 12 augmentations. They change the gameplay enough that finding them is a fun way to experience the campaign again with different strategies. So while the game, as it ships, is bare on things to bring in the replay – there may be a lining of hope. Housemarque has a history of supporting their games with post-launch content. So hopefully Matterfall will get that same treatment. Still though, for $20 there is some fun to be found and is worth the go for fans of Housemarque’s previous work, or just twin-stick shooters in general.