With all the hype that has been brought to the Matrix series recently, expectations have run high–maybe a little too high–for any and all things even remotely related to its universe. This, of course, was to be expected, since the now famed Wachowski brothers have planned an entirely new type of experience for all moviegoers, gamers and Matrix fans alike.
Using a culmination of a number of different mediums including: movies, animated shorts, comic books, short stories and video games, they’re attempting to provide a new form of multifaceted entertainment that’s never been experienced before. But with a spread of mixed reviews, ranging from mediocre to fantastic, the success of the Wachowski’s in the video game department has become difficult to judge for any gamer yet to grasp a controller or keyboard with Enter the Matrix.
The bottom-line truly comes down to the expectations one has upon playing the game. If you consider Enter the Matrix an action game that’s intended to capture the style and fun of the movie series while providing further insight into–but still thoroughly dependant upon–the Matrix storyline, then this game will be a blast for you to play.
Enter the Matrix is a flat-out action game that shares a newly developed symbiotic relationship with its movie counterpart, Matrix Reloaded. Players take a journey through all the behind the scenes action of the Matrix Reloaded, and believe me, there sure is a hell of a lot of it. From the start, players are allowed to choose from either Niobe (Captain of the Zion ship Logos), or Ghost, her trusty partner in arms, throughout the game. Dependant upon which character you choose, you’ll get to play through different missions and see a few different FMV sequences, all the more reason to play through the game more then once.
The purpose of Enter that Matrix is to provide a more holistic view of the Matrix realm, to explain things that happen in the movie series, provide a kick-ass action experience and to help illustrate that the leading roles in the Matrix film series aren’t the only important or influential characters to the outcome of the Matrix storyline. While Enter the Matrix is not without its faults, it does provide an amazingly fun, exhilarating, thoughtful and intriguing experience for anyone who is interested enough. If you like lots of action and a great storyline, similar to the Matrix movies in this fashion, then this is your game.
Enter the Matrix provides the player with loads of missions, including search, destroy, rescue, and escape. If played correctly, it’ll end up both looking and feeling exactly like some of the most intense–not to mention most loved–scenes from the original Matrix film. The best feature within the action-oriented gameplay, is the implementation of the famous bullet-time effects, dubbed ‘focus’ here, making the whole experience much more of a blast to play through. With the use of focus during gameplay, it’s almost as if the extra hour of filmed movie footage is simply icing on the digital cake. While this isn’t the first time we gamers have seen the use of bullet-time in video games (Max Payne, Dead to Rights, Perfect Dark anyone?), developers, Shiny have certainly taken it to another level.
Instead of simply making it easier to dodge bullets by implementing slow motion to see streaming bullets, giving the player real-time–and more accurate–control of their own shot directions; focus allows players, without any formal training, to begin mimicking the most grandiose moves that originally had Matrix fans falling in love. Everything from tripping a bad guy, kicking him toward a wall in mid-air and shooting him with an M16 on the way there, to fighting four baddies at once, kicking two simultaneously, wall-kicking another and watching the last one’s own shotgun bullets spray through his chest from the back while holding him for cover. (Breathe: Ed) All of these kinds of combos are a cinch to pull off given the correct use of focus, button sequences and the right circumstances.
Of course, the use of slow-mo focus isn’t the only allure of Enter the Matrix, and using it often isn’t always that necessary. But since it’s there, looks cool as hell, and adds a whole lot more fun and depth to the gameplay, why not use it as much as possible?
Enter the Matrix puts a certain amount of the burden of ‘having fun’ upon the gamer during play. Sure, it’s filled with its fair share of highly cool action packed sequences, narrow getaways and amazingly styled shots, but the player actually has to play the game like it is the movie. If you don’t, though I feel its hard not to, then I think the brilliantly fun and entirely invigorating experience of the gameplay will be missed or lost entirely. Using focus as much as possible adds a whole new aspect to the gameplay than simply barreling through each level objective as quickly as possible, thus loosing the amusement of the title. To counteract any unwillingness to enjoy this game, Shiny, in collaboration with the Wachowski brothers, have set up and developed a number of highly intense battle scenes that cater themselves to intended focus-overdose, excessively cool outcomes and energy levels that rival some of the most dazzling scenes from either of the two movies. Players will get to battle dozens of Matrix minions in numerous scenes that feel remarkably similar to the intensity levels of the lobby scene from the first movie. Using focus not only makes it more real, but a hell of a lot more fun too.
Your characters do not have unlimited use of focus–not initially, anyway. Both health and focus levels are handled by two vertical onscreen meters. Once drained, they quickly replenish after a short period of time. Often the intensity and pressure of impending doom or death can be lost because of these features. If you run out of focus and your health is almost exhausted, all one must do is stop all forward progress–preferably finding a good temporary hiding spot–and wait for the energy bars to refill. While this may create an easier time for us gamers, it can drastically slow the action down and occasionally eliminate all difficulty and need for tact. That being the case, however, Enter the Matrix is still all about aggression. You’re not supposed to hide or run from any enemies; most of the time, you’re supposed to eliminate all opposition that stands in your way. So once your health and focus meters get back up to 100%, your goal is to dive right back into the action, and Shiny developed this gameplay system to fit that formula perfectly.
Once familiarized with the controls, which consist of the easiest button scheme in the world, all players can be running up walls, cart-wheeling, diving through windows while shooting, and kung-fu’ing bad guy asses in no time. All the moves you’ve seen in the Matrix films can pretty much be pulled off here. The control scheme animates a large variance of automated combos given different conditions (i.e. number of enemies, character positions, locality of walls, guns, button presses, etc), but still keeps a tight feeling of control for the player. So while you see your character pulling off some of the coolest moves seen in gaming history, it’ll feel like it’s all your work; not simply the result of some autonomous predetermined animation via button mashing.
Once your character attacks an enemy with a punch or kick, they automatically enter a hand-to-hand combat fighting mode that ‘locks’ on the target, allowing the player to circularly-strafe around an enemy, defend, disarm, counter and attack at will, using only 3 buttons (action, punch and kick). Hand-to-hand fighting can be executed eloquently by mashing buttons or through the use of specific sequenced button combinations. This makes the fighting system easy enough for the novice to pick up and use right away, but also in-depth enough for the experienced to enjoy and master. The simplistic control scheme allows the player to do so much, so easily, one can only marvel at Shiny’s brilliant accomplishment. The only other thing I could have wanted would have been a record feature to play back some of my most memorable gravity-defying ass-whooping moments.
Similarly to the easy-use 3 attack button kung-fu control scheme, the use of guns has been made just as simplistic. Once weapons run out of ammo they get thrown away, but no worries, there are plenty more to pick up. You can either disarm enemies or kill them to get their weapons. The characters can carry such a large arsenal of weaponry, deciding which ones to use at opportune moments will be the hardest decisions made.
The gameplay is only accented by the score of the game. One of the huge advantages of having access to the rights of a series such as the Matrix means that you have access to the music as well. Enter the Matrix has a fantastic assortment of recognizable tunes from the movies exemplified by the brilliantly orchestrated chase scenes, the matrix theme, and a thoroughly energetic assortment of techno and DNB tracks from the last couple years. The music credits are littered with names that any fan of electronica would recognize: Juno Reactor, Fluke, Celldwelller and others.
The music is one of the best incorporated elements within the entirety of the game. The score perfectly fits to every scene you play, never getting old and always kicking in with the most hype sounds at the correct moments. There’s nothing like causing massive amounts of destruction to Atom Bomb (one of my favorite tracks from way back in ’96). The transitions of the score are flawless throughout, mimicking the motions and style of the movie series perfectly. The aural pleasure doesn’t stop with the score, however. Enter the Matrix is filled with realistic sound effects, and only occasionly do they get annoying (like playing as Ghost in all the car chase scenes where the machine gun sound gets WAY old).
So while the gameplay, score and story are top notch, there are a number of areas in which this game is lacking, namely in it being a very glitch-prone Matrix. The graphics aren’t the most amazing you’ll ever see. Main character models are well done, but the bad guys only come in generic varieties of about 3: Cop, SWAT and Agent. They tend to get old after a few times through the game. The lighting in most cases is pretty poor, the AI suffers from continual stupidity (never moving past a certain point to chase you), play environments aren’t all that interactive and the overall color pallet is thoroughly bland and monotonous. Coupled with numerous darkly lit levels and long play hours, headaches are known to occur often.
The PS2 version, while it has the best/most precise button layout, suffers from frame rate problems, the worst looking textures, the most problematic wall glitches, and tends to freeze on a number of FMV sequences and has highly grainy graphics. The Gamecube version also suffers from glitch riddled walls and drops in frame rate. On the PC, the game has camera problems and the controls simply DO NOT work well with the default keyboard and mouse controls. So here’s another bragging right for all you Xbox fan boys. The Xbox version is the best overall, though it still has its share of bugs. It looks the best (1080i HD output ain’t bad at all), plays the smoothest, transitions through scenes with ease, controls great and has only hung on me a few times during play–more then I can say for the other versions.
A glitch prevalent, unpolished game such as this doesn’t deserve a good score unless it has some sort of thoroughly redeeming play value, and Enter the Matrix surely does. The game is at least worth a play through for any fans of the Matrix movies, if only for the action-oriented gameplay and the movie scenes you get in-between the action. Ever wonder what exactly happened after the meeting with all the ships from Zion in the sewer, who exactly recovered the scans from the Osiris, who set off the EMP before the sentinel battle in Zion or why we should actually care about anyone else other then the main cast of the movie? Well, Enter the Matrix gives it all to you.
For all its faults, Enter the Matrix certainly gives the player a unique and interactive experience like we’ve never seen before. The Matrix world is simply too large to be fully covered within the constraints of movie production. There are so many things going on all at once that you’ll be amazed at how every thing ties in to the overall plot of the movie. Players of this game get to see relationship developments that are sure to play a more important role in the film to come. Not to mention that the first two times through the game–one for Niobe, one for Ghost–are a blast to experience. Players even get to see a number of things that movie viewers won’t discover until the next film.
And of course, I can’t finish this review without mentioning the most unique mini-game I’ve seen in a while called ‘Hacking’ the matrix. Giving the user a dos-like prompt, a player must use their own intuition, as well as hints spread throughout the files given to you in the hacking system to get some of the cooler features in the game. Once players get everything in hacking mode, they can drop weapons in different levels, watch the FMVs they’ve unlocked, check out design sketches for the game, enter cheats in a menu, unwrap a special present for Niobe, as well as other features like playing with the Xbox vibration control, unlock an extra training level where you can get gun practice an unlimited number of enemies to brawl with and unlock a two player fighting mode that pits your favorite characters against one another in different training constructs (sorry guys, no use of focus here). Of course finding everything in hacking mode is a little time consuming but still pretty easy. Controlling more elements in the game from here would have been a bit cooler, but it’s still an innovative side-game that will certainly peak your intrest, especially when you get to 2 player battles.
As a whole, Enter the Matrix is a hard title to judge for anyone I think. While Shiny certainly got the most important elements of what the matrix game should be, all the versions seem a little rushed and too unpolished for a formal game release. These games are so buggy, one has to wonder if there was any extensive beta testing on them at all. All the hush-hush legalities that have completely engulfed the Matrix world, combined with the unchangeable deadline for the game being launched simultaneously with the movie, I fear, has drastically affected the outcome of a game that would have had everyone amazed.
Being as buggy as it is, Enter the Matrix still provides and exhilarating experience for all gamers. The gameplay is a blast to play with for every second your using it. Kicking the hell out of guys while shooting in a focused mode is just as fun 8 hours into the game as it is 8 minutes in. The extra hour of filmed footage will bring you both laughter, surprise and intrigue. It’s all very good stuff, except for the unpolished graphics, fairly barren level designs, and a glitchy construct, Enter the Matrix comes through with guns blazing–in slow motion no less. “The Matrix has you,” there’s no doubt about it. Whether a hardcore Matrix aficionado or a casual gamer, everyone should at least take a gander at what Enter the Matrix has to offer. Not the perfect experience everyone was expecting, but still a game that’s easy to have loads of fun with, and if you think otherwise after seeing all the extra filmed footage, action packed sequences and giggling like a little school girl while kicking-ass in slow motion for a duration of 10+ hours…then shame on you!