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The Matrix: Path of Neo (PlayStation 2) artwork

The Matrix: Path of Neo (PlayStation 2) review


"The Matrix: Path of Neo "



The Matrix: Path of Neo

When Enter the Matrix was first released in May '03, it hit a wall of critisism from the media, but was welcomed with open arms from the public. Whether that be die hard fans or mums and dads with kids who have heard their friends talking about it. As slated as it was by the media, the sheer numbers that sold are a testament to how successful the franchise - and not necessarily the game - is.

Once again we are faced with the dripping green kanji code and once again are we given the opportunity to save mankind by shooting, kicking and punching the blue hell out of anyone foolish enough to stand in our way in the aptly named The Matrix: Path of Neo.

TM:PON is for all intents and purposes the ultimate in the Matrix franchise. Forget playing as third-party members and doing a 'Rayden' from Metal Gear Solid 2. We're not admiring the hero from a distance. We become the hero. This time Atari have stepped away from Niobe and Ghost's stories and have now taken the Matrix to the origins, seeing you play as Neo right from the beginning of the story up to the final battle.

From the start, it is evident Atari have spent a long time making this game and not rushed it a la Enter the Matrix. A lot of thought has gone into it, from the deceptively deep fighting system to the extra storyline and new characters that are introduced. The packaging is so well rounded that it smells like an EA game - in that lots of money has been thrown at it. So if you're not too sure about buying this game because you might think it's a cheap spinoff of something that has been done to death - don't think it is. There's been enough changes and the game as a whole has been fleshed out so much that it attains the 'Crash Bandicoot' effect - You'll want to play, you'll want to clock it and you'll know you'll enjoy it while you do.

Everything's in place. The level structure still retains the get from A to B without taking too much damage, then face off against stronger opponents or a boldly-dressed boss with strange powers. Don't let the linearity bother you. It is made irrelevant as you're much too busy dispatching enemies in the coolest ways possible.

That's not to say that every level is filled with bad guys with guns. Hell, there's sneaky bits taken right out of Metal Gear Solid and even scary sections where you're trying to find your way out of a haunted Japanese hut. Resident Metal Tekken Matrix anyone?

Special mention goes to the training. Unlike other games where a training level is basically a room with set pieces and events put in place that are meant for you to experience what the protagonist can do, in TM:PON, the training levels are a complete homage to the films that inspired the Matrix in the first place. Noteworthy mentions go to the Enter the Dragon dungeon scene and the hilarious outfit that Mouse gives to Neo as well as the sword fight in a bamboo forest with a nod towards the Ninja Scroll anime. Gun training sections are flavoured by John Woo, as a scene lifted directly from A Better Tomorrow sees you leaping around with dual pistols in a Chinese cafe, complete with birds in cages littered everywhere.

The training levels set the tone for the rest of the game , proving that the rest of the game will be novel, the ideas well implemented and the whole thing working well.

GRAPHICS

Own a PS2? Then bow your head in shame as this inferior version shows how old the PS2 really is. It suffers pretty badly in terms of the sharpness and textures, but the gameplay is literally the same. This is unusual in both cases as Xbox games on average are not only better-looking but also are just that little bit more fluid in terms of gameplay. Not here. Atari have gone the whole way and accepted the PS2 for what it can do and decided instead of competing with the Xbox in terms of graphical prowess and just got on with it, providing an experience that is a 'take it, cos once you scratch past the inferior graphics, there's so much more'. Neo, Trinity and Morpheus are all well realised and everything sits well together in a world that looks very remeniscent to how a PC would render. This gets to the point where they've even included a 'light refraction' level in the options on the PS2 version. The more you notch it up, the better and more intense the light looks - with no performance hit. It's inclusion is questionable but it's nice to see Atari giving us more options that just sound and music volumes. Punches and kicks are graphically represented by a yellow flash if blocked and a white flash if a successful hit. Simple, unobtrusive and a welcome idea as with Enter the Matrix, it was difficult to tell if the hits were landing or not. Bullet time is a little disappointing. It does the job, but that's it. It doesn't go further and it's not been enhanced with say, trails from the main character. For such a heavy reliance on bullet time, they could have put a little more effort into the way it looks.

PROS:
- Neo looks like Keanu Reeves!
- No cheapness here - If the stage is set in feudal Japan, expect Neo to dress accordingly
- When bullets smash into walls and pierce metal, dust is thrown, debris falls and sparks fly
- The Pause screen looks ultimately cool - every texture and every surface is replaced with Matrix code!
- Rag doll physics! Throw a guy across the room, watch in glee as he bounces off a table, lands halfway on the end of it and the slide off like an unwanted beanie baby
- Shoot absolutely anything - Everything can be interacted with or crumpled in some way. Books fall from shelves, mugs fall from tables and chandaliers shatter when riddled with bullets
- Re-shot footage and never before seen FMV's push the story along

CONS:
- PS2 version looks dated
- Character animations are a little stiff at times
- Slight chop and frame skipping when things get hectic (this is rare though)
- The training levels are blossoming with colour and vibrance, but the rest of the game is set in dreary Mega City with that slight hue of green on everything
- Using in game engine to provide cut-scenes, the extras are complete replicas of themselves. For example, there's a large number of police officers about to kick down a door. They all look literally the same and it's painfully obvious

AUDIO

The Matrix films' music composed by Don Davis has been hailed as the most effectively used music since John William's and Star Wars. The brass cresendos, the choirs, heavy metal and underground dance are all there in their entirety. Fight scenes are motivated by cool remixes of tunes we're already familiar with (special mention goes to Feudal Japan, the music behind the fight scenes is alternate Drum & Bass along with Taiko drums. Cool enough to listen to on your iPod) and it fits well. It's not just 'play this track when this happens', either. Music changes accordingly, if a fight breaks out, you'll hear music. If you do well and you kick ass swiftly, it'll end and fade back to stage music. If you do crap, the the music will change, intensifying the action on screen.

Most the original crew (and frankly, just the people that really mattered) have returned en masse to voice over their characters. Keanu, Lawrence and everyone else provides the talent and it really does give the believable universe of the Matrix the familiar feel we're all so acquainted with from the movies. Funny thing is, we know they're the real person but at times, they don't sound anything like them. Thankfully, these moments are rare, but the appreciation behind knowing it really is them is forgiveable. Maybe they had a cold that day...?

Something you should understand is that the sound producer for the Matrix films spent three months gathering samples from anything he could get his hands on to provide the sound for all the elements for the movie. As you can imagine, the library is unbelievably extensive and as a result, hearing the same sound effect twice in the Matrix is rare. It sounds like the movies. The familiar crunches, knocks, parries , reloading, firing, everything is lifted right from the movies. But, because of this, an element to how brutal everything sounds is missing. It's so fluid and free-flowing that the power of the punches are kicks aren't translated that well. It's very uniform and it does it's job. It doesn't however, strive to stand out. That said, the main parts and cut scenes are all voiced well and aren't cheesy, unless intentionally. "Jeez Neo, how can you run in that dress?"

PROS:
- Cool remixes of songs well known within the Matrix universe
- That cool 'jetplane' type sound as bullets whizz past you in Bullet Time mode
- The video-game-esque slow-mo gun fire sound from the beginning of Reloaded when you enter Bullet Time
- The chaingun sound effect (in the helicopter) almost blew my speakers because it was so loud and bassy. How cool is that?
- Real actors providing the voice overs
- The option to turn down sound effects, music or voices allows you to listen to the cool tunes without hearing, "Mr Anderson!" over the top of it
- The accents are completely genuine. For Chinatown, they had chinese people come into their recording studios and speak English lines but with their natural accent. Same for Japan. Little details like this may not matter, but it is a good indication to the amount of work that's gone into it

CONS:
- The sound effects tend to cut out in the middle of a combo (can you believe it?) and it feels like bad coding on the developer's part
- Important messages are given to you in the middle of a firefight and it's possible to miss it

GAMEPLAY

The control scheme consists of one button to attack, one to evade, one to utilise Focus, one to fire and abother to jump, giving rise to a basic yet deceptively deep amount of control over Neo. The fighting is dominated by usage of the triangle button for normal attacks and circle button for special attacks. The special attacks are basically openers and allow you to branch out, choosing which skill or move to use next. A lot of the time, the action is so hectic that it's easy to lose yourself and this is where the main problem (if you allow it to be a problem) arises.

Too often will you be forced into button bashing. The sheer number of enemies on screen that attack, the constant threat of guns aimed at you by sharpshooters in the distance and the burning need to kill everything as quickly as possible will encourage you to hammer away at the triangle in order for you to move onto the next unfortunate victim. With this method, occassionaly you'll pull of a cool finishing blow or end with the camera spinning around as you break a policeman's neck with your foot but you'll never really see what Neo can do to his full extent.

If you take a moment to slow down, to calm yourself and to actually make an effort to understand the fighting system, then you'll get so much more out of it than a simple button masher. The combos branch out into so many different techniques and a lot of them have their uses. For instance, if you're surrounded you can attempt the 360 Tornado Throw which sees Neo holding his victim by the ankles, swinging them around as if they weighed nothing. This effectively clears the immediate area around Neo and gives you a chance to breathe. Point to remember though - You can only get to the 360 Tornado Throw by catching an opponent in the air. To do that, you have to earn an an upgraded 7 hit combo which launches on the last hit. Button mashing will get you there by chance, but if you actually press the button and wait for the next move to begin before pressing it again you'll feel yourself that you have a higher degree of control and much more confident about pulling the move off. Once you become used to it, it becomes instinctive and you'll notice a higher rate of success in pulling it off.

TM:PON includes the ever important Focus button, essentially triggering Bullet Time once pressed. You can simply hold it down and watch in glee as you'll pull off a different combo with different finishers, but once again if you learn to use it accordingly, then there's so much more that can be done with it. Instead of holding down the focus button from the beginning of the combo, you can hit it halfway through and this opens up different moves and finishers. With 7 hits in the opening combo, that means there are 7 opportunities to hit the focus button and even then, you can link on from a finisher to another finisher and if you have enough focus left, even continue and go for complete overkill! Those overkills are best used on lowly security guards. The fat ones. Why? Because the rag doll physics just mean that there's so much satisfaction in giving a hundred-foot-kick (in mid air) that you don't find in other games. Other uses for the Focus button include the ability to jump higher and further, to go from lowly evade rolls and spins to flipping somersault dodges, wall running and victim-vaulting.

PROS:
- Easy pick up and play
- Hefty, fleshed out storyline with never before seen footage
- Sub-missions and bonus objectives provide longevity
- Multiple choices, you can replay the stage if you die, but you can also accept defeat and progress to the next stage, affecting the outcome of the story
- Rewarding fighting system; The more you put in, the more you get out
- An absolute treat for Matrix fans

CONS:
- Can be short if you rush through it
- Encourages button bashing
- Awkward jumping sections (thankfully not many of these at all)
- Guns are no longer on par with martial arts and don't have nearly as much depth when used
- It's all been done before and by some games, to a better degree
- Unbalanced fighting system - If you know what you're doing and you do it well, then virtually you're unstoppable. It's possible to take on literally 3 agents backed by a team of SWAT and not get touched

SUMMARY

If you're a fan, you'll love it in big doses. It manages to hook you right back in there and it gives new depths to a story we're already familiar with. If you're a passing action game fan, then you'll enjoy it for the imaginative moves, sleek gunplay and enjoyable cutscenes.
Worth buying? If you bought Enter the Matrix on a whim and was disappoined, then this is the game for you. If decide to wait to see what people say about this game, then you'll receive mixed reviews. Worth renting? I'd say no. The game's too large to finish on a rental (if you want to get the most out of it that is).

The Path of Neo has been set. It's up to you whether you decide to walk it. But know that if you do, there are many routes you can take. If you believe in the game, you'll get the best out of it.

Final Score 8/10

Rating: 8/10

jinn's avatar
Community review by jinn (November 11, 2005)

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