Lightmatter is the first “big” puzzle-adventure of the new year, shining a spotlight on a genre that is often imitated yet rarely executed with this much panache. What started off as a 15-minute university project where students explored lights and shadows as the primary mechanic in a game, has now been turned into a full-featured adventure with a fantastic presentation combining an interesting backstory, excellent writing, and some quality narration with just the right amount of dark humor delivered by David Bateson (Agent 47 in Hitman).
The first thing you will notice when Lightmatter begins is the simple yet striking art style that borrows heavily on the thick-line graphic novel designs we’re seeing in games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Batman adventures and of course, Borderlands. The simplified nature of the low-poly environments and flat, shaded textures means this game can easily achieve 4K resolutions on even modest systems with smooth framerates. Of course the star of the show is “light”, usually found in the form of shop/stage/work lights that are mounted to poles on tripods and can easily be picked up and moved around as needed. Thankfully, they don’t need to be plugged in. This constitutes most of the gameplay since, due to narrative reasons, darkness is deadly and out to eat you. Seriously, one step into the shadows and you are instantly consumed by darkness, melting into the floor just like the lava analogy the game presents early on.
Speaking of narrative, the game opens with a disaster deep inside this underground lab that is experimenting with a new energy source. Somehow you got left behind during the evacuation and now you must try to find your own way out of the deadly lab with the verbal assistance of Virgil, the CEO who offers useful tips and witty banter. Props to the jab at Black Mesa. There is a surprisingly deep and meaningful story being told here if you take the time to listen to it; one that balances out the puzzle-solving nicely.
As mentioned, Lightmatter make the most of environmental and mobile light sources that realistically cast cones of light to illuminated dark sections of the level. We’re talking inky, black, liquid darkness that looks like pure evil has come to life – quite unsettling really. Your lights with cut through the darkness allowing safe travel and exploration of each section of each level, which usually include a few platforms, doors, switches, or other obstacles between you and the green exit door. You’ll often be required to rearrange previously placed lights or possible place them on a moving platform to creating a moving section of safe travel or even bounce the light of reflective surfaces to reach unlit areas. Arguably, there are a lot of “light games” out there and this can seem derivative at times, but somehow Lightmatter manages to elevate the concept to something a bit more unique and special.
It can be quite easily to die in Lightmatter, so I was grateful for the generous checkpoint system that seems to be auto-saving every 30-60 seconds, so if you miss a jump or take one too many steps backward into darkness and melt into oblivion you’ll instantly appear right back to try again. The platforming, jumping gaps or over moving sections of darkness, and the light puzzles get progressively more challenging the further you go in the story, but nothing ever got impossibly hard; nothing that careful observation and logic couldn’t overcome.
Lightmatter is a great way to kick off a new year of puzzles and adventure gaming. You can play the first hour of the game for free on Steam before you even decide to kick in the $20 to purchase and finish it – which you will, because it is really a lot of fun with a great story and brainteasing puzzles that will keep you engaged from start to finish. This is a fantastic game for the entire family; one that will reignite those childhood fears of what dangers are lurking in the shadows.