Content Type: Gaming Reviews
Date: August 21, 2017
Matterfall is a side-scrolling arcade twin-stick platform shooter available for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS4. Matterfall is developed by Housemarque who actually started under the name Bloodhouse as an Amiga developer with the self-published Stardust releasing in 1993 for Amiga and Atari ST followed by Super Stardust for Amiga and Amiga CD32 which was published by Team 17 in 1994 before being ported to DOS in 1996, while Terramarque developed a 2D fighter titled Elfmania which was published by Renegade Software in 1994 for Amiga. Bloodhouse and Terramarque were two of the most well known developers based in Finland who decided to combine together to form the rather cleverly named Housemarque.
Housemarque has an unbelievable pedigree having become synonymous with PlayStation since releasing Super Stardust HD for PS3 in 2007, Super Stardust Portable on PSP in 2008, Dead Nation for PS3 in 2010, Outland on PS3 in 2011, Super Stardust Delta for Vita in 2012, Resogun as a PS4 launch title in late 2013, Dead Nation for Vita in 2014, Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition on PS4 in 2014, Alienation for PS4 in 2016, Super Stardust VR as a PlayStation VR launch title in late 2016 and Nex Machina for PS4 in 2017. Can Matterfall achieve the same quality gameplay in comparison to Housemarque’s previous games?
The story revolves around a type of alien matter that is essentially used as the galaxy’s currency, despite not being fully understood it is experimentally utilised to power dangerous war machines; only for them to break out and oppose everyone including their creators, therefore a hero named Avalon Darrow arrives to save the largest city outside of Earth.
Matterfall’s story is told over the course of three chapters with each chapter encompassing three challenging levels and an enemy boss. Every level contains some really clever puzzles such as platforms that are outlined without any material to stand upon which require matter to be injected into the platform followed by making a leap onto it, then immediately jumping to the next platform before the matter disappears from the previous one, while matter also moves some small lift platforms up or down.
There are a variety of methods to earn points beyond destroying enemies that players may not initially be aware of when starting their first playthrough such as destroying certain enemies or a quantity of enemies within a short period of time produces a blue circle in which matter can be injected into to earn points, while injecting matter into purple crystals also earns a major amount of points as does collecting items including health. Points can be drastically increased by earning a steadily rising multiplier from successfully surviving and destroying enemies without them touching your character.
Character design is just as extraordinary as Housemarque’s previous games as a heroic female named Avalon Darrow is the playable character who bravely fights a vast array of enemies including mechanoid spiders, armoured ground troops, turrets shooting bullets in numerous directions, lasers that move, various small enemies that approach your character within a collective group to make it difficult to evade and angular bullets that hone in on your character’s position. Each of the three enemy bosses are gigantic in size, producing smaller enemies to create many distractions and firing evolving patterns of bullets and objects.
Augmented weaponry loadouts is a genuine standout feature as rewards are unlocked when saving more civilians such as an increase in the period of time your character can remain overcharged for. There are a total of 12 augmentations including 4 secondary weapons and 8 abilities which can be mixed and matched as and when they are unlocked in order to find your perfect combination of 3 augmentations. Certain weapons and abilities are better suited to engaging in combat with specific enemies and enemy bosses; therefore the grenade launcher, seeker, shockwave radius and more besides have to be thoughtfully processed in regards to which enemies they will provide an advantage against.
Environment design comprises of futuristic and involving environments; as outdoor skylines have ships swooping out of the screen into the distance and tall bright skyscrapers with rain introduced during the first level of the second chapter, while the highlight of the interior environments has to be the zero gravity areas which are purposefully hard to navigate as your movement is a lot slower yet enemies rapidly attack and red matter paces back and forth very quickly between surfaces.
Matterfall’s remote play performance is very good as it retains the quality of graphics, audio and general performance from the PS4 version. However, it is let down by rather odd control optimisations as generating matter is re-mapped to the top left of the touch screen, while firing your secondary weapon is mapped to the top right of the touch screen which does not feel comfortable, especially when considering that players are aiming via the right analogue stick and having to evade enemy attacks in the heat of the action by moving with the left analogue stick. Therefore, as players have to use an unorthodox position for their first finger almost permanently on the top left and right of the touch screen; it is one of the most uncomfortable control optimisations in the history of remote play which is very disappointing when considering that up on the d-pad and O are both available to comfortably re-map each of the important controls.
The controls may take some getting used to as they do not reflect anticipated control layouts such as jumping not being mapped to X and there is not a multitude of pre-set or customisable control schemes to choose from. The control scheme consists of changing the direction of the right analogue stick to aim and fire your primary weapon; changing the direction of the left analogue stick to move; pressing R2 to fire your secondary weapon; pressing R1 to jump or double tapping R1 to double jump; pressing L2 to generate matter; pressing L1 to strike; pressing square to enter overcharge; pressing triangle to equip augmentations; pressing X to interact with objects; pressing left, down or right on the d-pad to equip your left, middle or right secondary weapon; pressing the share button takes you to the share feature menu; and pressing the options button to display the pause menu. Vibration occurs when an enemy has attacked and defeated your character, although the touch pad is unused, while there is also no light bar implementation which could have produced purple when saving a civilian from their purple imprisoned cocoon, a shade of light blue when teleporting through a Stargate style portal, a colour representing an overcharge, perhaps a mixture of psychedelic colours when entering zero gravity environments and flashing dark red for being defeated by an enemy.
Graphically, Matterfall has the stylish visual flair of a Housemarque developed game with amazing particle effects, enemies and environments that are just as impressive as Nex Machina and Resogun. Housemarque games tend to focus on performance instead of resolution and Matterfall is not the exception to the rule that Nex Machina’s 3360×1890 resolution was; as both PS4 and PS4 Pro deliver a consistent 60 frames-per-second, although PS4’s resolution is only 900p, while PS4 Pro support only improves to the minimum anticipated resolution of 1080p; however HDR support somewhat brightens the contrast on certain graphical effects.
The presentation of the game is solid with a great user interface across various menus such as the title menu, main menu, single player menus, online leaderboards, options menus and gameplay menus with support for navigation via the left analogue stick, directional pad and face buttons, although it does not include support for navigation via the right analogue stick and touch pad. The background of the main menu onwards focuses on the adaptability of Avalon Darrow’s augmented weaponry loadouts, while leaving the title menu idle will produce a gameplay demo after around 30 seconds.
Sound effects include generating matter, jumping, double jumping, striking, collecting health and other items, firing weaponry at enemies, enemies shooting back and explosions when certain enemies and enemy bosses have been defeated, while civilians give their thanks to Avalon for saving them. Ari Pulkkinen who previously composed the soundtrack for Housemarque’s Nex Machina, Resogun, Dead Nation and Super Stardust HD in addition to Frozenbyte’s Shadowgrounds and Trine trilogy; returns to compose a futuristic rhythmic soundtrack that seems to be inspired in tone by the Terminator theme. The DualShock 4 speaker implementation is yet another Housemarque game that creates some of the best immersion through the feature by producing voice-overs in a tone reminiscent of Nex Machina and Resogun; mostly indicating when an increase in multiplier has been earned or a multiplier has been decreased or even lost entirely due to an enemy making contact with your character, when an overcharge is ready to be utilised, when your character’s health is running low and rather interestingly when entering a zero-g environment, although the voice-over does not proclaim when an individual civilian has been saved.
The trophy list includes 20 trophies with 23 bronze trophies, 8 silver trophies, 5 gold trophies and 1 platinum trophy. Easier trophies include the Elevator Music bronze trophy for riding the elevator on the second level which is titled Boulevard Concourse; the Civil Servant bronze trophy for rescuing a total of five civilians; and the Ten a Penny bronze trophy for earning a 10x multiplier on rookie difficulty. Harder trophies include the No Hard Feelings gold trophy for completing every level on veteran difficulty; the Iron Lady gold trophy for achieving a no death bonus on every level on veteran difficulty; the Speed Demon gold trophy for achieving the maximum speed bonus on every level on master difficulty; and the Impervious gold trophy for defeating all enemy bosses on master difficulty. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take between 15 to 25 hours to platinum the trophy list.
There are four difficulty levels including rookie, freelancer, veteran and master, although master difficulty level is only unlocked upon completion of every level and enemy boss on veteran difficulty level. Rookie difficulty provides enough of a challenge as there are plenty of enemies attacking your character, although the major differences being the easiest difficulty having extra health segments and enemies that are easier to defeat as they have less health, while freelancer strikes an appropriate balance between the easiest and hardest difficulty levels as it offers a challenge. Veteran difficulty is by far the hardest difficulty level; yet introduces a suitable risk and reward factor as the player has less health, while being surrounded by harder to defeat enemies, although a higher score multiplier is afforded for success on veteran difficulty level, while master difficulty is as anticipated; even harder than veteran difficulty by a sizable margin.
Online leaderboards are focused on global rankings and friends rankings for all 12 levels with each leaderboard containing each player’s rank; nationality; name (PSN ID); score; and the difficulty level that the personal best score was achieved on. However, there is no local or online co-operative or competitive multiplayer which is surprising given that Nex Machina had an excellent local co-operative multiplayer that would have worked well in Matterfall. It would have been amazing to have a local competitive multiplayer mode included in which one player would be the lead character attempting to destroy every enemy and save all civilians that lay ahead, while the opposing player controls and positions every enemy and enemy boss in an endeavour to destroy the hero. Even though local multiplayer is the overlooked feature that gamers are crying out to be included in most recent game releases; it would have been great to see a full compliment of co-operative and competitive multiplayer in local and online environments.
Replayability stems from 9 levels and 3 enemy bosses spread across 3 chapters, 12 unlockable weaponry augmentations to place into your customisable 3 augmented weapon loadout, four difficulty levels and attempting to improve upon your personal best score for the purpose of progressing through the ranks of the online leaderboards for every level. Despite there being a fair quantity of replayability; further single player modes as well as local and online co-operative and competitive multiplayer would have certainly established significant replay value.
• Title: Matterfall
• Developer: Housemarque
• Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe (SIEE)
• System: PS4
• Format: PSN Download
• Cross-Buy: No
• Cross-Play: No
• Players: 1 (Online Leaderboards)
• Hard Drive Space Required: 4.03GB