Matterfall Review

  • First Released Aug 15, 2017
  • PS4

Identity crisis.

Matterfall is another game in developer Housemarque's particle-effect-heavy catalog. Drenched in neon and engulfed in a thumping techno soundtrack, it posits itself as a game for those interested in tackling challenging side-scrolling action and chasing high scores. And while the intense action and pulsating score make Matterfall a thrill to watch, a sloppy combination of mechanics and a few crucial oversights leave this game both disappointing and frustrating to play. Save for a few moments of greatness, Matterfall fails to make the most of its promising foundation.

As is the norm for Housemarque, Matterfall's obligatory opening cinematic quickly introduces your motivations before setting you free to chase high scores. You play as Avalon Darrow, a freelancer hired to clean up widespread and dangerous alien technology. As a massive evacuation is in effect, freelancers come in to eradicate the out-of-control technology and extract whatever citizens remain. And thus, you embark on a journey through three worlds with four stages each (the last being a boss battle).

It doesn't take long for Matterfall to seem all too similar to Housemarque's previous games. It operates in a 2D environment in the same vein as most side-scrolling action-platformers, but it has eight-directional inputs similar to Nex Machina. There are character upgrades, cyberpunk motifs, obligatory point multipliers, and the studio's signature, highly detailed special effects. Housemarque knows how to craft a captivating game, and Matterfall continues the studio's impressive, trademark design. It's tinged with vibrant blues, greens, and pinks reminiscent of the prettiest sci-fi worlds, and the synth soundtrack creates a rhythm that fosters intensity, fueling the frenetic chaos on-screen.

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While Matterfall as a whole doesn't display a lot of innovation, Housemarque tries to be inventive with the new Strike ability, a dash that emits a shockwave to stun enemies (to increase the amount of points gathered from them) and destroy nearby projectiles.

You can combine Strike with Avalon's double jump, granting you access to higher terrain and potentially imprisoned civilians bearing augmentations, upgrades that can be equipped to one of three slots. Augments vary from active tools like grenades and shotguns to passive benefits like greater Strike radius and increased weapon damage, and while they can add new tools to experiment with, they never feel like crucial additions to your repertoire.

A well-timed Strike feels satisfying, yet a peculiar design choice prevents the ability from feeling like a reliable tool: there's nothing to indicate when its cooldown timer resets. Unsurprisingly, because of this lack of notification, you wind up in situations where your best intentions mean nothing in the face of swarms of enemies you can't avoid and projectiles you can't destroy. This isn't a problem elsewhere--an audible cue informs you of changes to your score multiplier, and secondary weapons are given a graphical cooldown timer in the bottom-left corner of the screen--so the omission of an alert for a crucial mechanic feels like an oversight.

Unfortunately, Avalon also feels too stiff to control. Her double jump has no forward momentum; you can only propel yourself forward by using Strike, and since it's unclear how often or when Strike can be used, chaining together Avalon's mobility options can be cumbersome and tedious. Matterfall understands eight directional inputs--your gun, mapped to the right stick, fires in all directions--but Avalon can only dash in four directions: up, down, left, and right. This limitation feels contradictory in the face of Matterfall's insistence on agility and multiplier combos, especially when inputs fail to register as intended.

The rigid controls are further illuminated during boss battles, intense bouts with gargantuan enemies who fire barrages of projectiles, frequently accompanied by a few weaker enemies you encountered earlier in that world. These boss battles provide a true test of the augments and skills presented to you, forcing you to adapt during these multi-tiered fights. Boss battles deliver a bullet-hell experience, with all the incessant deaths and walls of projectiles you'd expect. Because the controls are stiff and Strike has an unclear cooldown, these showdowns are more exercises in trial and error than they are a test of adaptability and skill, meaning you're going to die repeatedly. Death inevitably leads to long load times while you wait to jump back into the action, and since boss battles are always difficult, waiting around while the game loads just so you can die again grows tiresome.

At first it's great to engage with Housemarque's tried-and-tested designs again, but Matterfall never manages to build off of its promising foundation, and it even mishandles one of the studio's longest-standing mechanics: dashing. There is still some fun to be had, and it's easy to appreciate the technical artistry on display, but factor in inconsistent controls and long load times, and it's easy to grow frustrated throughout the Matterfall's short campaign.

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The Good
Strike is a great addition to Housemarque's suite of mechanics
Riveting soundtrack meshes perfectly with the chaos on screen
Captivating presentation replete with sci-fi flourishes and impressive particle effects
The Bad
Long load times interrupt the live-die-repeat style of play
Fails to use tried-and-tested mechanics in meaningful ways
Stiff controls don't mesh well with challenges built to test your agility
The important dash ability feels unreliable without a proper cooldown indicator
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Jeremy Winslow played through Matterfall three different times on multiple difficulties to test adaptability and challenge. And each time he hit the boss stages, he died--a lot. Death didn't stop him from trying to get the highest score possible, though. GameSpot was provided with a complimentary copy of the game by Sony.
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Avatar image for leonbotha059

I'll get this just for the visuals alone

Avatar image for Latiran

I'll get this next week I think. I'm still playing Nex Machina and I'm also occupied with Sonic Mania as well.

Avatar image for sakaixx

Tried this game demo sometimes ago and its really reminiscent of mega man but with faster agility, didnt encounter the long load times but probably due to the stage not as complex or something. A very interesting game if you want to have that megaman nostalgia

Avatar image for pcps4xb

@sakaixx: yea that's exactly what I was comparing it to and contra.

Avatar image for min64

Only on PS4? Thats fine ill snag this later on. Looks cool.

Avatar image for PSYCHOV3N0M

I forget where I read that this game is a sequel to Resogun. Is that true???

Avatar image for pcps4xb

@lonesamurai1: I guess you were never into mega man or contra. If anyone liked those game, this is up their alley.

Avatar image for karavanasam

If it came to pc there wont be long load times problem.I am pretty sure it will take a second with my ssd.Meh.

Avatar image for pcps4xb

@karavanasam: I guess it would also take a secong if they installed that same ssd into the ps4.

Avatar image for dudebropartyyo

I didnt expect it to be more than 7. I dont know, to me somehow the good outweighs the bad but still, will wait for sale, needs to be right price. I'd say i would pay 30 AUD tops.

First comment haha, just wait till Xbox folks come over and start ranting about how PS4 exclusive got a low score, dont they have games to play ;D

Avatar image for Cl0ud

@dudebropartyyo: it's almost as if more people should have been talking more about nex machina, a better housemarque game

Avatar image for xhawk27

@dudebropartyyo: You mean like the Playstation folks do ever time an Xbox game is scored?

Avatar image for dudebropartyyo

@xhawk27: Of course they do, there are hardcore fanboys with all systems :)

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

@dudebropartyyo: Yeap, I can see those people coming over. Tedious console wars, man.

Avatar image for xavier141524

@dudebropartyyo: see now why start something you like console wars huh? Just play games dude

Avatar image for craigtl

@xavier141524: Right!!!!!! do they not realize that they are basically acting like the kids on south park. Can they not see how lame and pointless it is to throw insults and gripe over video game consoles. I want them all.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

@xavier141524: I agree with DudeBroPartyYo - the dumb console-versus-console bitch-fight will happen no matter what.

That said, I have discovered that over years of comment-writing and -reading that one could discourage such behaviour if the first few comments are "I predict stupid behaviour" remarks.

The fuel for the console war is always there and will always catch fire - might as well as start a spark and then douse it immediately so that all the proverbial fuel is reduced, wet and soggy.

Avatar image for dudebropartyyo

@xavier141524: Its a joke and a fact because it will happen regardless of anyone saying anything. I cant start a console war here since it will be mostly populated by people who own PS4 and are interested in or already have this game ;)

Matterfall More Info

  • First Released Aug 15, 2017
    • PlayStation 4
    Overcome an ever-expanding threat that might have already seeped too far into the core of humanity itself.
    Average Rating2 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Matterfall
    Developed by:
    XDEV, Housemarque
    Published by:
    Sony Interactive Entertainment
    Action, Shooter, Third-Person, 3D
    Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
    Everyone 10+
    Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language