"You want to be Neo. Letís face it, thatís why millions of people bought this game and tens of millions more flocked to see The Matrix Reloaded the first week it came out. The grace, the power, and the seeming invincibility of Neo and his comrades are attractive; who wouldnít want to be able to run along walls and leap across yawning chasms? Moreover, who could resist doing that while dressed in an outrageous black leather trenchcoat with combat boots? Itís pleasing to imagine that we coul..."
You want to be Neo. Letís face it, thatís why millions of people bought this game and tens of millions more flocked to see The Matrix Reloaded the first week it came out. The grace, the power, and the seeming invincibility of Neo and his comrades are attractive; who wouldnít want to be able to run along walls and leap across yawning chasms? Moreover, who could resist doing that while dressed in an outrageous black leather trenchcoat with combat boots? Itís pleasing to imagine that we could have these abilities. Enter the Matrix delivers on this front, for you can pull off some stunning moves with delightful ease and kick plenty of ass. But it disappoints in so many other ways that you will feel betrayed.
The best thing about Enter the Matrix is the concept. Rarely is this true for a licensed game -- usually the concept is the first of many things that fail, but this title sets a nice foundation which makes you think it might be the exception to the legacy of bad movie games. The story cleverly wraps itself around the chronology of Reloaded to give us not a repeat of the movieís events but an interesting different perspective on events that are left vague in the film. We follow Niobe and Ghost, side characters in the movie, on a journey running parallel to that of Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity. The best choice Shiny made in developing this title was to disallow you from playing as Neo. Considering that Neoís fights in the movie represent the current limit of graphic technology, surely the video game would pale in comparison. However, the lesser powers of these lesser characters are captured quite well, and instead of following Neoís familiar path, players will get an enjoyable look at a whole new side of the plot. The somewhat dangerous choice of Niobe over Neo was an excellent creative decision.
Plus, how could the sheer beauty of Keanu Reeves ever be captured in a video game? Just kidding on that one.
The extra perspective on Reloadedís story will surely appeal to Matrix fans. Just to entice them a bit more, there are a ton of exclusive cutscenes which are beautifully produced using everything the Wachowski brothers (the Matrix creators) had on hand for the film -- all the actors play their roles, the same sets and backgrounds make an appearance. The relationship of game and movie runs very deep. All that stuff youíve read about the Wachowskis being intimately involved with the development of the game must be true -- Enter the Matrix and Reloaded were obviously created side by side. If youíre gushing with love over the movies, you will probably love the game as well.
The rest of you should be less excited.
Of course a major feature of the game is the ability to perform impossible stunts of physics-defying athleticism. This is accomplished through a system called ĎFocus.í By activating Focus, your player can slow down time, affording the opportunity to dust off enemies who canít keep up, and also do some cool kung-fu inspired moves, like jumping backwards off walls and other absurdly delightful tricks. Focus will be an important part of gameplay, but opportunities to try out these cool moves in real combat are limited. You can fool around in empty rooms to your heartís delight -- and I warn you, if you buy the game you will spend a lot of time just checking out this stuff. But in the actual fights, Focus will be used mostly to outshoot opponents or dodge their fire.
Iíd argue that there is way too much shooting in this game. Think back to the two main fights of the first movie: Neo and Trinity in the infamous ďlobby scene,Ē so violent and destructive that people compared it to the Columbine shooting, and then Neo versus Agent Smith in the subway station. Sure, the lobby had a lot of firepower, and they really kicked some ass, but the subway scene was the crowning achievement of the movie. The man-on-man fighting, the power of Smithís lighting-fast punches to the gut, and the defiance of Neoís taunting wave had a huge visceral impact. That fight was exciting. But Enter the Matrix is most like the lobby. Youíll spend far more time shooting people from across a room than you will kicking and punching them, and shooting is really something that should have been left to another title -- itís already been done better a hundred times. Damn it, I wanted that subway fight!
Graphically, the locales of Enter the Matrix are not beautiful and are often very annoying, because the dreary, dank settings of the film arenít great places for exploration or combat. Just as there is a disturbing sameness to the Matrix -- remember, Neo talked about it, something just didnít feel right -- thereís also a universal ugliness to this game. The only exception is the white-walled Chateau owned by the entertainingly French character called the Merovingian. This guy seems to be exercising his Clovis the Great fetish with a practical medieval armory on the walls of his house, but unfortunately this is really the only level thatís visually engaging. Other areas are pretty Spartan, and even worse, are so dark as to frequently impinge on your gameplay. The two main characters look alright, with Niobe appearing especially sharp in an ankle length alligator-skin coat that moves nicely around her as she spins and kicks. The enemies are pretty faceless, but after all this is the Matrix, so perhaps thatís intentional and excusable.
The sound is a brighter point in this dark game. The music is really intense, rock mixed with techno and a taste of industrial, and it follows well with the combat and the film. It also injects a little life into otherwise dreary surroundings. The sound effects in a game with this much shooting are always dominated by gunfire, but everything comes through crisp.
Enter the Matrix is buggy also. These arenít the crazy, stupid bugs players of some games will complain about -- itís not, ďI tried to fit fifteen cars in my garage and my game crashed!!Ē Enter the Matrix was inexplicably shipped with simple bugs that the play testers surely caught. Weíre talking about getting stuck in walls and other objects; these are fundamental failure in game programming. Actually, I can explain why Enter the Matrix was shipped with these errors unrepaired -- the movie was about to come out and millions of copies had been pre-ordered, so the playtesterís complaints were surely and silently swept under the rug. Itís too bad such errors werenít corrected, but even taking them away, Enter the Matrix remains a fairly average game.
We began with a really promising base, supported by an excellent side story developing some minor characters and previously unknown events. There was also an intriguing Focus system, and a cool ďhackingĒ format for discovering and utilizing cheats and special features. But poor execution and apparent rushed development marred these capable designs.
Let me say that by the standards of movie tie-in games, Enter the Matrix is pretty damn good, which means it will probably sell an ass-load of copies. But it dishonors the awesome ideas behind the Matrix, which revolutionized the way the media depicts fighting -- even gunfights with blazing automatic weapons can now be things of grace and beauty. Itís sad to see that the guys who made the Matrix, who after all invented this stuff and made it a phenomenon, canít pull it off effectively in a video game. Even in their failure, someone else has already beaten them to the punch, and done it better than they did -- Max Payne.
We all want to be Neo. But Neo doesnít get stuck in walls.
Community review by denouement (April 24, 2004)
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