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Enter the Matrix (Xbox) artwork

Enter the Matrix (Xbox) review

"To be fair, the Focus idea is cool. It's a great way to put the player in control of what feels almost like a superhuman character. In this one regard, the game succeeds. The problem is that there's not much to do with it. You're just doing the same thing you were before, but now everything isn't as fast and visibility is low. There aren't suddenly more opponents and the environments don't suddenly morph to the point where they're interesting."

Keanu Reeves does not make an appearance in Enter the Matrix. Neither does Lawrence Fishbourne. In fact, you can forget about most direct ties to The Matrix at all. Though the story is penned by the brothers who directed the movie trilogy, about the only thing tying the game and the movies together is a string of periodic references to events you saw at your local theatre. And why do I mention this right away? Why do I start a review for a video game with such inane trivia that many of you likely already knew? Because it's not trivia.

Like most games based on movies, Enter the Matrix has a solid movie providing its inspiration. And like any movie-based franchise, it has a lot to prove. The movie was so good that it's hard to imagine a game ever matching up to it. Apparently, the people behind this project agreed. That much isn't so surprising. What is surprising is that the way they dealt with this is by making Enter the Matrix 'all-new.' Instead of starring Neo, it stars two throwaway characters named Jade and Ghost. About all they have going for them are cool shades. Unfortunately, similar things can be said about the game; its coolest feature is the glossy cover art. Dig inside and what you'll find is a game devoid of personality, thrills, and fun. In short, Enter the Matrix is everything it shouldn't have been, and nothing more.

When you first pop the disc in the system, you might not be sure what to expect. I know I wasn't. I just figured it would be cool. And at first it is. The game treated me to a mini-movie that felt like a theatre-quality production. It was all fluff, just two people talking about jacking in for one reason or another, but it felt like The Matrix and I had reason to be hopeful. Then the game began, in a building that looked similar to the security complex from the end of The Matrix. There were even the stone pillars nearby, and people walking around armed with pistols. I was ecstatic.

Then the problems began. The first issue is the way the characters run. They move like silk, but in slow-motion. Every frame of animation is meticulously detailed, but you'll keep asking yourself why the characters can't just manage a good sprint. The environments through which they run are quite large, and it would have been nice to be able to make quicker work of them. So there you are, running about as if the whole level is a treadmill, never moving as fast as you might like. It's a small gripe, though, right? Sure it is.

The next gripe begins at exactly the same moment, though: the environments quickly grow boring. About two rooms through that first complex, it occurred to me that I couldn't tell my new surroundings from the old. The only thing keeping me going in the (vaguely) correct direction was an arrow. It directed me through one room after another, and they almost all looked the same. I amused myself by noticing small differences. One room had more lockers lining the wall than the others. One room even had floor tiles of a different color, and there were books I could knock off the shelves. Quite suddenly, I realized I just wanted to get out of this level and onto the next.

Only it was not to be. Partly because all the rooms look so similar and the arrow doesn't do as good a job pointing to the goal as one might hope, and partly because the level was too large with not much variety, my stay in that first stage felt like an eternity. Guards provided brief diversions only occasionally, and for the most part I felt like a rat trapped in a maze. Over time, through trial and error, I managed to find my way into another segment of the level. I knew this because the screen told me I was progressing, not because there were major visual cues.

On and on it went. When I finally thought I was getting somewhere, I found that I wasn't. Not really. I was still in the same damn building. To reward me, the developers threw some hazy green smoke into the mix, and there were more guards. By this point, I was bored out of my mind and progressing only on auto-pilot. I began goofing around with my different moves and found to my delight that I had some pretty decent options.

Ahead, a guard was fumbling for his gun. Fortunately, he moved even slower than me. Like a horse galloping through a field of margarine, I dashed over to a nearby wall, took a few steps up it, flipped over my opponent's head, and kicked him right in the kisser. It felt extremely satisfying, and again I was happy with Enter the Matrix. A few more guards perished in a similar fashion. One I took out with a gun I retrieved from the floor. Around this time, I learned the value of 'Focus.'

If you've ever seen screenshots of this game, you may have noticed the gauge. When it's full, you're powerful. You can hold a button and off you go into 'Focus' mode. This is a special trick that enables you and everyone around you to move even slower while a fancy haze covers the screen. The benefit is that bullets now move so insanely slow that you can hold the control stick to the left or right for a few seconds and avoid each and every one of them, as your meter slowly drains. Then you snap out of that Focus mode, and what felt really slow before is now blazingly fast, if only for a few seconds until you fall back into your groove. To be fair, the Focus idea is cool. It's a great way to put the player in control of what feels almost like a superhuman character. In this one regard, the game succeeds. The problem is that there's not much to do with it. You're just doing the same thing you were before, but now everything isn't as fast and visibility is low. There aren't suddenly more opponents and the environments don't suddenly morph to the point where they're interesting. It's a shame that the developers came up with such a great idea, then figured it was enough to sustain the whole game.

Shiny should know better. They created Earthworm Jim. There was a time when they knew their stuff and any game with 'Shiny' related to it was sure to promise a great personality that really set it aside from the crowd. That time, alas, appears to have passed. As I've indicated, the developers made a huge game with boring environments and a Focus system that can't make up for them. But it gets even worse when you finally get out of the building and get to drive the car.

If you're playing as Jade, your job is to steer the car. If you're playing as Ghost (the game lets you choose which character you'll play through as, to provide replay value in a game that most sane individuals won't even want to play through once) you get to man the guns. Either way, you're racing through the same streets, chased by misguided police. Overall, the experience as Angel is more satisfying. You aim and you shoot. Hard for any developer to mess that up (though Electronic Arts does things much better with the James Bond games). If you happened to choose Jade, though, prepare for some grief as you discover that your car moves with the grace of an elephant on roller skates. Careen through grayish-green streets that all look the same, up to the end. Then you discover that you have to kill time for a minute or two while avoiding pursuit. Why? So a gate can open. At this point, I kept returning to the gate, hoping it had opened, but of course it hadn't. There's no real on-screen timer, so you just have to sort of guess about when you can proceed. The whole time, police cars are ramming you and shooting at you. Fun? Hardly.

And on, and on, and on. I'll refrain from giving you a description of each level. They're not so different, one from the next. The scenery changes, the objectives grow more pathetic, and you find yourself wondering more and more why you're wasting your time. There are better games you could be playing, after all, and maybe you can even go watch paint dry. That won't sound so bad. Seriously, it won't.

Speaking of sound, perhaps I shouldn't. Aside from the infrequent cinema scenes, there's not really any reason to have the audio playing. Everything has the same generic sound to it that you might expect from other products licensed from movies, but certainly not from a project based on The Matrix.

And there we are, down to the simple truth about the game: The Matrix was cool and Enter the Matrix will have you wishing you were in a theatre so you could head for the exit. If you absolutely must play it because you figure I can't be right (after all, I'm only one person and the game sold like crazy in the weeks following its release), go ahead and give this one a rental. Better to waste three dollars than fifty.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (October 03, 2003)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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