"Granted, Iím not saying itís the greatest game of the year, or the month, or even the week. Itís got problemsÖbut itís got strengths, too, and some damn good ones. Youíve got to look at it from a Blue Pill/Red Pill perspective. "
Admit it: You thought Path of Neo was going to suck.
Canít say I blame you, this game didnít exactly have much to live up to. Enter the Matrix was a colossal monument of suck; bad controls, stupid main characters, boring gameplay. Matrix Reloaded and Revolution were two psychological beer-runs, so obsessed with attaining cinematic nirvana that they forgot to be enjoyable. There were some highlightsÖthe Burly Brawl kicked ass, Laurence Fishburne always kicks ass, and I was rooting for Smith to kick Keanu Reeves no-talent assÖbut besides the few standouts, the second coming of the brothers Wachowski was a cash-grubbing shim-sham of epic proportions.
If youíre like me, the Matrix left a bad taste in your mouth. You might find it tough to say the word ĎMatrixí without including the words Ďsell outí in the same sentence. You might make jokes about Trinityís hideous face at the slightest provocation. Horrid images of Neoís butt might haunt your nightmares. You might be tempted to take one look at Path of Neoís cover art, stare into Keanu Reeveís sunglass-wearing eyes, shake your head and move on down the aisle.
Donít. Path of Neo doesnít suck.
Granted, Iím not saying itís the greatest game of the year, or the month, or even the week. Itís got problemsÖbut itís got strengths, too, and some damn good ones. Youíve got to look at it from a Blue Pill/Red Pill perspective.
You want the Blue Pill?
Take the Burly Brawl, Smith^100. The battle starts off just like the movie; a bunch of Smith clones gang up on Neo, try to weigh him down with strength in numbers. The fight starts off smoothly, going fine, youíre having some funÖuntil more Smiths join the fight. They come out of the buildings, running around you, circling you, taunting you, closing you in and pumping you up for one fierce melee. Youíre ready and youíre willing and youíre about to prove that strength in numbers donít mean shit against the Chosen One.
And then you realize that youíre still only fighting about six Smiths at a time, and the rest are just poorly rendered copies that walk around and do random stuff. They clip in and out of buildings, float off the ground, and just destroy the illusion. Kicking Smithís ass is still funÖjust not as much fun as it should be. It may be just one level, but itís a key level; one of the best moments in the movie should be one of the best moments in the game.
As for the other levelsÖeh, they vary.
For the most part, the levels are bland, colorless, boring and staleÖjust like in the movies. While that may be its excuse, it doesnít erase the fact that things get tedious after a while; once youíve gone down one dank, smelly alley, youíve gone down them all.
You donít spend all your time in the streets, but after going through some of the other levels you might wish you did. Remember the Merovingian? French guy, crazy program, liked to wipe his ass with silk and cheat on his hot wife? If you thought the movie gave you enough reason to hate him, wait until you play his level.
Think of those weird illusion painting, with the stairways going upside down and sideways and diagonal and looking like something only a man under the influence of drugs could think up. Now, imagine it has dozens of these Looney Tune doors that lead to weird places. Some take you to places you places you havenít been, some take you to places you have been, some donít take you places at all. Youíre in a loop, going around the same levels, getting dťjŗ vu and trying to find the one door that takes you out and clear the stage. Now, toss in a bunch of six foot tall, walking ants that can only be killed by fire.
And goth chicks. Lots of weird screaming goth chicks.
You have just imagined the Merovingianís Chateau, the weirdest, most random, most annoying level ever made. Itís off-the-wall even as the Matrix goes, and youíll be locked in for a solid hour. For a game that only takes about eight hours to beat, thatís a pain.
Donít expect it to be a blazing eight hours, either; the game has its slow points, especially when it comes to the cutscenesÖif you can even really call them cutscenes. Theyíre more like clips from the movie, haphazardly thrown together in a way that will leave you completely clueless if you havenít seen the movies. If you have, theyíre still an annoyance; itís like they purposefully picked the suckiest moments and ignored the rocking ones.
The disappointment stays when you come to the in-game cutscenes, as well; while they do a good enough job of linking the levels, the voices are all kinds of messed up. Smith doesnít sound like Smith. Neo doesnít sound like Neo. With the exception of Morpheus, everyone sounds like bad imitators, doing the impossible and giving the Matrix worst acting than it already had.
The voices arenít the only thing thatís sorry with the sound; Path of Neo doesnít use a single note of music from the films. Those awesome scores, the thumping tunes, the themes that nailed the entire experienceÖgone. Gone and missed.
But they did throw in a track from Queen, so I can almost forgive it. Almost.
The level design and the graphics and the cutscenes might turn you off, make you feel like taking the Blue Pill. But the Red Pill has its perks, too.
A Matrix game should have good fighting. Path of Neoís fighting is good.
In the movies, learning a fighting style was simple. Sitting in a chair, type in a few commands, get a head-rush of information and BAM-you know Kung Fu.
In Path of Neo, though, things get complex. Youíre taken through training levels, but not simple ones; theyíve got form as well as function. You walk through a cave, sneaking up behind guards, snapping necks and breaking ribs along the way. The enemies are dressed in karate wear and so are you, giving everything the look of a 70ís Kung Fu flick. You wind up in a ring, surrounding by dozens of screaming prisoners, fighting in a tournament and knocking enemies into the pit of fire below.
And then you realize: This whole stage was based off Enter the Dragon. Badass. Bruce Lee would be proud.
Another training level you has you fighting in a feudal Japanese forest, crossing swords through bamboo, looking past the illusions of your opponent and slaying him with Samurai Showdown style. Youíll find yourself in the middle of an old Japanese film, engaging in chromatic combat with a ghost, fighting in the burning corridors of a decrepit castle. A restaurant shootout? Perfect John Woo simulation; the only things missing are the doves. And you canít forget the fight Morpheus, a brawl that gets extended past its length in the movie, breaking through walls and leaving the dojo in splinters.
Only then will you know Kung Fu.
See, thatís the good thing about Path of Neo: It likes to build on the movie. True, thatís nothing special for a movie game. The special thing is that it doesnít always suck.
The scene where Neo tries to pull a Sam Fischer and sneak out of the office building turns into a series of unfortunate events, as you sneak through the roof, running down the stairs, hiding in cubicles and avoiding Agent Smith by a matter of feet.
The hopeless battle against a hundred Smiths actually gives you a chance to win, fixes it so you can emerge the victor, gives you a way to leave the battlefield with no Smiths standing.
And the finale, the showdown with Smith, the battle fantastic that leaves the city in ruinsÖitís got a little something special thrown, an addition that takes the fight to a new level. A Godzilla-sized level. Quite a sight to see.
These levels arenít just fun in theory, theyíre fun in practice, too; Neo handles the way you expect Neo to handle. Spider-Manish acrobatics are a simple feat; you can jump off walls, leap over heads, hit the slow motion and do it all with guns blazing. Taking out SWAT members is as easy as the movies made it look, and taking on agents is just as hard. You can change targets on the fly, punching the guy in front, kicking the guy behind, picking up a pole and smacking them both across the head. Youíve got special attacks, taken straight form the movie; those jaw-dropping moments, those attacks that got repeated in a hundred movies and a hundred games since, all yours to recreate.
You'll be able to dodge bullets. And then, when the time comes, you won't have to.
Just when Path of Neo starts to get stupid, just when you start to wish youíd stayed out of the rabbit hole, something happens, something seriously cool, something worth watching, and youíre right back into it. Itís a short roller coaster ride; a rental at bestÖbut a good one. Itíll only take you a day or two to walk the Path of Neo, but itíll be a fun little stroll.
Staff review by Zack Little (December 15, 2005)
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