Matterfall Review – Never Stop Moving (PS4)
Few developers have been as consistent as Finnish studio Housemarque. They’ve been releasing well received titles since 1996’s Super Stardust, and most recently released several must-own PS4 titles in Resogun and Nex Machina. The latter of which released just a few months ago, and now they’re back with their second 2017 release, a platform shooter called Matterfall. Can they keep churning out high quality games at such a rapid pace?
The answer is a resounding yes, as Matterfall‘s core gameplay is a fantastic combat loop mixed in with some light platforming. Players use both analog sticks to control the character and shoot their primary gun, and then use the triggers and bumpers of the DualShock 4 for other actions. Everything from running to the game’s unique dash maneuver (which is an evasive stun that can weaken enemies) is done with the top of the controller, and it results in a pretty decent learning curve. I regularly mixed up the controls when I got flustered against the shooter’s many enemies, but it eventually clicked after finishing the first world.
Platforming is a big focus here, and there’s even some light puzzle solving that comes from the gun’s secondary action. Players are able to phase in matter, which will make platforms appear. This leads to some tricky segments where I had to shoot an enemy in mid-air, switch to my alternate fire, use that beam to create a platform, and then land on it to avoid falling down the path I had worked my way up from. Things can get incredibly busy in Matterfall, and it ends up being a real test of the player’s ability to multitask.
While most of Matterfall‘s gameplay feels new, there are some throwback sequences that’ll remind players of Housemarque’s signature top-down shooters. Some levels feature an anti-gravity area that’ll make players stop worrying about platforming, and instead have to deal with some rough bullet hell sequences. These end up being a nice change of pace, even if it’s just another way to enjoy the nonstop shooting and explosions the game has to offer.
Save the Humans
Every chapter ends in a boss encounter, and these really ratchet up the difficulty even further than the regular levels. A large reason for this is the elimination of checkpoints, meaning that players have to beat the gargantuan bosses without dying. It’s a harsh challenge, but I found most of the boss fights to be enjoyable. The first boss took me several tries to conquer (you can view my victorious run in the footage above), but I never considered stepping away from the battle. It was frustrating whenever I died, mainly because I lost several minutes of progress, but I felt that I was learning more about the encounter each time I tried it.
One thing that makes boss encounters easier upon replaying levels is that players can unlock additional perks and weapons. This is done by exploring levels closely and finding humans trapped in pods. These sub-weapons range from grenades to scattershot guns, but players have to use the directional pad to switch between them. As a result, switching weapons mid-battle is incredibly awkward, and I ended up taking more than a few undeserved hits since I was struggling with the control scheme rather than switching weapons like I wanted to.
Those hits can be the difference between a successful run and one that ends as a failure, as Matterfall is an extremely punishing game. On the game’s regular difficulty, the player can only take four hits before dying. That’s not many when you consider how many bullets and enemies are regularly filling up the screen. There’s also an easy mode, but it only offers up an additional hit and lowers the health of foes. Anyway you slice it, players are going to be looking at the loading screen while the stage restarts quite often.
Housemarque has done an exceptional job of balancing difficulty and fairness in the past (their prior game, Nex Machina, is a masterful example of it), but the final two levels of Matterfall became more frustrating than fun for myself. The last boss fight in particular is an excruciatingly long battle (at least for someone like me that was lacking a top-notch strategy), and having to replay the same 10-minute chunk of the fight before dying on a new section really agitated me. I even swallowed my pride and dropped down to the easy difficulty, and ended up dying several times. It requires near perfection from the player for such a long period of time, and it all results in a flat finish to what is otherwise a stellar experience.
Matterfall isn’t a particularly long game to run through, but like Nex Machina, it’s meant to be replayed. From the leaderboards to the unlockable skills, this is clearly built to be a high score grind. It’s one that’ll take quite some time to gain high scores in the gorgeous levels, as keeping a combo going requires not getting hit. I know this is a game I’ll keep coming back to, and maybe I’ll even finally find a decent way to deal with the total pain that is the final boss.
Despite closing weaker than it starts, there’s a lot to like about Matterfall‘s unique blend of platforming and shooting. It’s great to see Housemarque trying something new, and besides some tricky controls, they nail most of their ideas flawlessly. PlayStation 4 owners can safely rack this up as yet another Housemarque gem.
Matterfall review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.