Developer: Tunnel Vision Games
Publisher: Aspyr Media
Genre: First-person Puzzle-Adventure
Available on: PC
Version Tested: PC
Official Site: Lightmatter
Release Date: January 15th, 2020
Where to Buy: Steam Store
I don’t think it’s any secret that Portal is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, influences for puzzle games of this day and age. The Stanley Parable, Quantum Conundrum, and Antichamber are a few examples of the long list. The majority of these games sadly don’t live up to the polish and enjoyment that the Portal titles gave, but some do truly stand out and make for memorable player experiences. Lightmatter doesn’t entirely fit into either of those which works in both its favor and serves to bring down some really high potential.
What is Lightmatter?
Lightmatter is developed by Tunnel Vision Games and published by Aspyr Media. You may know Aspyr from publishing many games to Linux and Mac, along with publishing Windows games such as Observer and Borderlands 2. You play as an unnamed character, who came for a celebration of the Lightmatter Technologies launch. Something has gone terribly wrong, though, and shadows are now eating people alive. You must use the tools at your disposal along with light itself to find out what happened here. You’re guided by Virgil, voiced by the talented David Bateson (Agent 47 of the Hitman games) who helps you through the facility.
Virgil serves both as the game’s most significant and worst storytelling aspect. He serves his purpose absolutely, being your source of backstory and knowledge of what’s going on. He even cracks a few good jokes here and there that got a laugh out of me. The problem with him, though, is that he tells you too much. When I had gotten a quarter of the way into the game, I noticed myself getting annoyed and wondering what this had to do with the actual plot. For example, several scenes have him guessing who the protagonist is. This would be great, but without a reveal of the character’s identity, it feels pointless. Not to mention that all this was crammed into a pretty short game, which I’ll get into later.
Despite the negative things I have to say about the story, a fair amount of what he did say added to the experience. There’s a fair amount of backstory to the characters and Lightmatter Technologies. You learn a fair amount of who Virgil is and who his allies are, along with those who doubt his new technology. As the player, you will be left to choose who you think is right, up to having different endings. It does give a bit of player agency, even if one ending does require a secret way to do so. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s compelling enough to where you’ll be interested to see how it all ends.
This is in many parts improved by good gameplay and some beautiful visuals. The game does an excellent job of keeping the gameplay fresh despite not introducing many new mechanics. It’s a point that I’d typically criticize, but I don’t find it as much of an issue here. You even get an interesting new mechanic later, which only improves the gameplay tenfold. I would’ve liked to see the two main mechanics used a little bit more together, but it isn’t going to harm your experience much. As said, this works really well for the cartoon-based style of the game. It uses a cel-shading technique similar to Borderlands and Team Fortress 2, which will allow it to hold up pretty well years down the line. It’s a brilliant design choice by the developers, and one I have to commend.
All of this is wound together by a great score. I’ve always been a fan of synth music, and I find it fits really well in Lightmatter. There’s even a page on the Extras menu dedicated to the different songs used in the game, which is a plus in my book. The options menu serves its purpose as well, offering a lot of graphics options, control sensitivities, gamepad support, and different languages. There’s definitely a lot of accessibility here, so those who care will love that.
Length and Polish
And then there’s my final gripe being the length of the game. For my playthrough, I went a bit extreme by getting every achievement since I’m an achievement hunter. That entire experience clocked out at about four hours. I’m a person who values typically quality over quantity, but $20 for three hours without achievements seems a little extreme to me. I usually expect around six to seven hours out of a game at that price, so it’s a bit disappointing. Thankfully though, the three to four hours you play are going to be quite enjoyable thanks to the amount of polish. There were maybe one or two bugs I experienced through my entire playthrough, so it’s clear that a lot of effort was put into playtesting.
Verdict: Lightmatter is a game that takes advantage of its mechanics and visual style to create a compelling experience. I have no doubts in my mind that you’ll want to see this game to the finish, especially to hear the excellent soundtrack that accompanies it. With that being said, it’s hard to ignore the backstory being quite excessive and the story being shorter than what it should be. Despite that, this is a game that you won’t regret experiencing. If you aren’t entirely sure after reading this review, the game is available to try for an hour here.
- Great gameplay
- Beautiful visuals
- Solid score
- Good polish
- Short length
- Mediocre storytelling