Matterfall

Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Action
Developer: XDEV (EU), Housemarque (US)
Release Date: Aug. 15, 2017

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PS4 Preview - 'Matterfall'

by Thomas Wilde on June 19, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Matterfall is a fast-paced, high-tech, retro-inspired, side-scrolling shooter game where you use extreme agility and high-powered weapons to blast enemies and make or break the world.

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I am officially two-for-two on misidentifying Housemarque's games at first glance. The first time I played Dead Nation, I thought it was Smash TV with zombies; it is instead a dungeon crawler with zombies and guns.

This time, I sat down at E3 2017 to play Matterfall and thought it was an exploration/action game like Super Metroid or Shadow Complex, right up until I cleared the first level, and in my defense, it does sort of look like one. It isn't, however; Matterfall is actually a fast-moving, surprisingly difficult action-platformer that's deliberately built to screw with your muscle memory, and it has more in common with Mega Man X and its descendants than anything else.


The short version of the plot is that you're the improbably named Avalon Darrow (with a name like that, a life of heroism was kind of a foregone conclusion), who's dispatched to deal with a wave of red alien matter that's taking over a colony. You come equipped with a laser gun, a suit of power armor, and a short forward dash that destroys incoming bullets, pushes you through blue barriers, and temporarily stuns any enemy you touch, turning them from red to blue; destroying them while they're blue is worth double points, but you have a very short window in which to do so.

The trick is that you can always shoot in any direction, regardless of whatever else you're doing at the time. You can also double-jump, use a "matter beam" to activate lifts or turn certain platforms solid, or dash vertically, shooting in every direction all the while by using the right thumbstick to aim. You can get by with typical, methodical shooting where you stay safe and dispatch enemies from a stationary position, like I did on the show floor, but the game is designed for you to be constantly dashing, sliding, and shooting, playing through it as unsafely as possible in order to collect a high score and rank on the leaderboards. There are a couple of areas in the game, even early on, that turn into something that's straight out of a bullet-hell shooter, where you're supposed to use the jump, slide, and short-lived bullet immunity to glide through constant waves of incoming firepower.

This sounds complicated, and it is. It gets more so once you start running into multiple floors of questionably solid platforms, zero-gravity rooms, bosses, mini-bosses, and situations that require you to use one of the four secondary sub-weapons, one of which is a grenade launcher. Most of the game was available for play at E3, and it got intense quickly when I hit the second level, although it's also pretty fair; each hit you take only inflicts one point of damage, and healing's easy to come by from destroyed enemies. The real setback from getting hit is that it resets your score multiplier.


The big problem I had playing Matterfall is that it's deliberately made so you have to learn how to play it, rather than transferring any skills or muscle memory from any other game. Dashing is done with the L1 button, and you jump with R1. You fire by holding down R2, and point in any direction with the right thumbstick. For the first few minutes, I was holding myself back by constantly reaching for X when I wanted to jump, which led to several of those embarrassing moments in life when a developer is watching you play their personal project and doing so extremely poorly. It does work out with a little practice, though, and I can see this game picking up a lot of fans among the speed-runner community. When it wants to, it moves fast.

At the time of this preview, Matterfall is just about done. It's planned as a digital-only release on the PlayStation Network for US$19.99, and if you're interested in 2D platformers, you might want to make a note about this one. There's a lot to like, and while the learning curve on the controls might be a sticking point, it's challenging in a way that doesn't feel unfair.


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