We love Talos/Portal style puzzle games. They take no ninja skills where precisely timed jumping or dodging is necessary to avoid dying and respawning some number of steps back so you can enjoy the everlasting pleasures of jumping and dying, jumping and dying, jumping and dying and respawning again and again and again, for all eternity.
We hear some people like these. We don’t.
Talos and Portal both had a wee bit of jumping, but nothing really challenging. That aspect was more part of the puzzles you had to solve with your brain than it was a physical challenge. Same here for the first 37 levels of Lightmatter. The goal is to figure out how to position lights that shine in ways that open up safe passages, when you only have two or three of them. You sometimes have to jump over a gap, but it is always easy and the point is that the gap limits where you can put the lights.
In a clever variation on the light mechanic, you will also get to use a kind of receptor that creates pathways by connecting a beam from a fixed source. Again, it’s very clever. If you like the put-this-here-then-put-that-there-then-move-this-over-and-step-on-that kind of puzzle that we like, you are going to love the first 37 levels of Lightmatter. They all follow that structure and, on top of that, there is a funny story presented with excellent voice acting and a great sound-track. Whole thing pays tribute to its primary inspiration rather explicitly too, which is kind of cool. Great game.
Until everything goes to hell on Level 38. There are no lamps. There are no receptors. Instead, there is jumping and dying, jumping and dying, jumping and dying and respawning again and again and again, for all eternity. That’s because, for the first and only time in the entire game, you can’t just take your time and think. You have to jump NOW and then jump NOW AGAIN and sometimes you have to RUN OR DIE RIGHT NOW! What had been a purely intellectual game, played at a sedate pace where, if you want to, you can noodle it out with a partner (that’s how we do it, with the one of us who can’t ever seem to understand how to use the controls making suggestions on how to solve puzzles to the other one who can, somewhat, manage the navigation issues), became a pure parkour game more like Mirror’s Edge than the sliding cars and trucks of the classic puzzle, “Rush Hour.”
Now, here’s the thing: we know lots of people love parkour games. Heck, Mirror’s Edge has 17,000 reviews on Steam, where it is rated “Very Positive.” We even tried that one but, like all parkour games, we can’t play it. One of us has just never been able to master the gamepad and the other is over 60, has imperfect eyesight, and lacks the reflexes you need. Mirror’s Edge looks great, but parkour games are just non-starters for us.
So, we were particularly delighted not only to find Lightmatter, but to discover you get to play the first hour for free. We think all adventure games should offer that, so you know for sure if it runs on your machine, matches your skills, and is what you really want to buy. Lightmatter’s first hour scored 100% on all such measures. And it kept on delivering all the way through its penultimate level. Pure intellectual puzzling at its best.
Then you get to the final level, and find out you’ve been had. We simply couldn’t get through it. And it’s long, which is what the final level ought to be. Oh, did we mention there is no inter-level save option? If you “save” your game, you are starting the current level over from the beginning the next time you play. So even if you manage to jump, die, jump, die, jump, live (my God!) and make it to the next and maybe even the next obstacle after that, you have to keep going (or leave the game running) until you get to the very end, or lose all progress on the final level.
Well, we just couldn’t do it. We even watched a good walkthrough where, as with all parkour walkthroughs, the player seemed to have no trouble precisely timing jumps that, for us, were nearly impossible. Some of the obstacles don’t just take you back one jump when you respawn after dying, either. This means, when you die again, you can even die sooner in that series of jumps than when you died the time before. What fun, eh?
Okay, lots of people like parkour games. If you are one of them and you also like puzzlers, Lightmatter is your dream come true. If you are like us, and simply can’t get through parkour games (or just don’t like them), be warned: that free hour misleads you into thinking you can finish Lightmatter without any ninja skills. You’ll need them. And, given that the story is a big mystery, which makes you really want to find out how it ends, being able to play all the way through the last level will be something you badly want to do. We tried. And died. And tried. And died. Over and over, until we had to “finish” the game by watching a video of someone else doing it.
Picking a score for this game was hard. For 37 levels, it deserves a solid top rating of five-out-of-five. Then you get the rug pulled out from under you with a level that you may not be able to play at all because it becomes a wholly different game than the one you thought you paid for. That’s a zero, in our book. So we split the difference and gave it a 2.5, with the title you see above.
Lightmatter pays tribute to its inspiration almost brilliantly. But in that inspiration, the cake was the lie. In Lightmatter, the lie is the game itself.
Read the review »
Time Played: 5-10 hours
Difficulty: Just Right