Review – Lightmatter

What happens when you mix Portal with “The Floor Is Lava”? You get Lightmatter; a deceptively simple but massively entertaining puzzle game where the shadows are lava and light is your only way to survive.

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Cave Johnson here!

The basic gameplay concept boils down to avoiding the shadows. Touching a shadow is an instant kill. Sound simple? Well not quite, you can’t just turn on the lights and call it a day. You need to use the titular Lightmatter to survive.

You wake up in a mysterious facility with no memory of your past and who you are. Guided by a disembodied voice, you try and find your way out of the facility, but get thrust into a deeper conspiracy. Sound familiar? Well, the basic premise is basically ripped from Portal 2, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s not entirely the copying of Portal with a different story that was enjoyable, even if its major revelations were predictable.

Fans of Portal will have a lot to see here with little secrets, Easter Eggs, and references in almost every chapter. It doesn’t just wear its inspirations on its sleeves, it shouts them out. If you haven’t played Portal before (what are you doing? Go play it.), a lot of references and dialogue will go way over your head. There’s a good amount of humour here that made me chuckle, especially when Virgil reacts to the player’s actions and occasionally breaking the fourth wall.

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Don’t touch the shadows.

The level design for the most part is excellent, teaching you the mechanics like all good puzzle games should and eventually letting you figure out everything on your own. There’s a specific strategy you need to use for each level and there was very little wiggle room to “cheat” the puzzles. There were a few good head-scratchers that kept me busy for longer than I would like to admit. Unfortunately, the gameplay and the story don’t tie together nicely. A lot of the rooms in the facility feel like they were specifically designed to be puzzles even though it doesn’t make much sense. Though that is getting into very nit picky territory.

Things start of simply enough; just avoid the shadows and make it to the exit. Before too long obstacles are put in your path and you need to creatively use the tools given to you to pass them. Starting off simply, we have a lamp that does exactly what you would expect. Light up an area.

It gets a lot more complicated when you have to carefully manage where you need to get your lamps or photon beams from one side to the room to another using moving platforms in a specific way. The photon beams are the most interesting of the game’s tools, requiring a line of sight with the photon crystal or another beam to create a line of light. Breaking line of sight means the light fades and the shadows will take you away. Often times you will need to manage multiple reflectors in some of the game’s more interesting puzzles.

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The Shadows Are Lava!

Unfortunately, Lightmatter comes up just a bit too short. My time came out as around four hours including restarts, though your time will vary depending on how good you are at puzzles. I wish there was just a little more here, with a few more mechanics to make the last few levels more of a challenge. There is a disappointingly simple finale that boils down to simple but fun chase sequence that fails to utilise the tools we spent the last few hours getting used to. As for replayability, there’s a bunch of optional achievements to go for and secrets to find, however the meat of the replay value comes from the speedrunning mode.  This mode tracks not only how long you have been playing, but also how many times you interacted with the environment.

Lightmatter goes for a cell-shaded art style that reminds me a lot of Void Bastards. Environments have a lot of detail, though there’s not a lot of environmental storytelling. There is one visual effect that would have effected the gameplay in a neat way, but the player character doesn’t impact the light. Standing in front of a lamp won’t cast a shadow or block the light source. Perhaps this is intentional, but I think it would have made for a neat gameplay challenge to have the player be aware of their positioning on top of everything else.

As for the sound design, dialogue is from off-screen characters whilst environmental noises are just in the background. Most of the dialogue is from the Lightmatter CEO Virgil whilst audio logs from an employee delve into the games story with a lot of revelations coming from them. Generally the voice acting is really good and Virgil does a great job of delivering a dry sarcastic wit that mocks you and guides you throughout the game.

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Science isn’t about why! It’s about why not!

Over the course of my time with it, I have had a handful of desktop crashes. Then we’ve got a couple of bugs that impacted the experience. When I royally messed up a puzzle my only solution was to restart, but the restart button took me to a black screen. In another instance, a critical puzzle item wouldn’t spawn leading to the same problem. Simply dying  doesn’t restart the room, but instead puts you back to safety. This leads to death not really having a penalty and the only solution is to kill the task completely and reboot the game. Not only is this annoying, but it will also reset your progress on the particular chapter.

Lightmatter kicks off the year with a strong Portal inspired puzzle adventure with some really unique mechanics. Even though it lacks that much needed layer of polish, I would recommend this to puzzle game fans and casuals.

 

Graphics: 8.5

The cell-shaded style won’t be for everyone, but it gives the game a really distinctive look I really liked.

Gameplay: 8.5

Lightmatter has a creative and clever concept that needs a bit more fleshing out.

Sound: 8.0

Good amount of humour injected into the well acted dialogue.

Fun Factor: 8.0

Lightfall is a great little puzzle game, but I wish there was just a little bit more to it.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Lightmatter is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of Lightmatter was provided by the publisher.