The first game inspired by The Matrix series of films features an original storyline with characters and choreography from the second movie, The Matrix: Reloaded. Players assume the role of either Niobe, a ship captain played by Jada Pinkett Smith in the film, or Ghost, a weapons expert and love interest of Trinity. Neo also makes an appearance, but only as a character who fights alongside players from time to time. The game takes place from a third-person perspective as players delve deeper into the Matrix while fending off a number of threats looking to stop them. The first film's groundbreaking use of slow-motion camera effects has been incorporated into the game as focus, where characters can manipulate the flow of time with a pressing of a button.
While this effect has been seen in games like Max Payne and Dead to Rights, Enter the Matrix takes it one step further with the ability to climb and run across walls, perform back flips, leap across buildings, and perform various other aerial stunts. In total, over 4,000 moves were motion-captured specifically for the game with the full cooperation of the Wachowski brothers, who also wrote the game's story. The element of focus, represented by a vertical meter along with health, can also be used in context-specific situations to automatically perform certain maneuvers, such as kicking two foes positioned on either side of the character with both feet. In addition to focus abilities, players can use the analog controls to guide how fast or slow the character moves throughout the real world.
Characters are not helpless without focus, however. Players can hide behind objects to use for cover, lean against walls to peer around corners, climb ladders, hang from ledges, shimmy across pipes, and more. The 3D environments are designed to be entirely interactive, allowing characters to travel across them however they desire. There are also vehicle stages where the two lead characters race across the real world or fly through the Matrix itself, avoiding the omnipresent Sentinels trying to latch onto their vessel and end the game. Rounding out the list of features are 24 different weapons, the ability to hack into the Matrix to learn more melee attacks or to enter cheat codes, a two-player sparring option from within a dojo, and voice-overs recorded by the cast of the series.
I went opening day to see the Matrix Reloaded and I arrived five hours before the doors opened. I was told I was too early and that there was no line-up yet formed to enter the show I was waiting for. Those five hours crawled by and after the movie finished, I couldn't help but feel a little bit disappointed. The fighting sequences had little snap in the punches, the storyline had few surprises, and the world of the Matrix didn't leave enough to the imagination.
Enter the Matrix is even more of a let down for fans of both the Matrix universe and for fans of good video games. A game based on a movie will always be fighting an uphill battle, and Enter the Matrix fails to surmount the obstacles it had to overcome in order to be an entertaining play. Instead the game looks, and feels unfinished through and through. The most obvious reason for this is most likely so that the release of the game could coincide with the release of the movie. Unfortunately, the biggest recipe for disaster for games is a development cycle that isn't given enough time.
You play as Niobe and Ghost, captain and first mate (respectively) on the Logos, and are given a choice as to which one to play in the beginning and herein lies one of the biggest problems of the game. No one really cares about Niobe and Ghost. The game was written and directed by the Wachowski brothers, so the package tells us, and their vision was one that included playing the game, watching the movie and watching the Animatrix. Aside from getting you to part with more of your money, their hope was likely that this would allow the fan to gain a thorough understanding of the Matrix Universe and the events in the movie. As such, the events in the game are those that happen with Ghost and Niobe off camera in the movie.
Helping this along are live footage cutscenes in which the actors playing Ghost and Niobe are filmed. The game's budget was said to be about 30 million dollars, and no doubt a good chunk of it went to the actors involved with the cutscenes. The cutscenes are a nice touch to allow the gamer to feel as if they are involved with the movie through the crew of the Logos, but once again, does anyone really care about Niobe and Ghost?
The game's graphics leave a lot to be desired for a $30 million game. Niobe and Ghost look good but the world they play in is distinctly bland. The textures throughout a given level are repetitive and the environments are not very creative. Perhaps this was a conscious decision by the developers as it could be construed that the machines that have created the matrix are themselves not very creative, but it still doesn't remedy the fact that this makes for a boring gameplay experience.
All this could have been forgiven if the gameplay was involving, exciting and challenging. As it is, the gameplay doesn't provide the gamer with any lasting entertainment value. The hand to hand combat follows the framework set by the movie where the characters are master martial artists in the Matrix. As Ghost or Niobe, you can punch, kick, throw, and defend in various combinations. There aren't really any special moves that require any skill as just repeatedly pressing the buttons will allow your character to execute a flurry of punches or kicks to your opponent.
The camera during the fight sequences is not very helpful as it will often provide you with an angle where you cannot see your opponent, and will at other times be completely blocked by the environment. Also when in fighting mode, your character assumes a combat stance that doesn't allow you to disengage from fight mode until you've killed all enemies in close proximity to you. This means that if a security guard is shooting at you, your character will slowly approach the enemy in their combat stance all the while being ventilated, until they are close enough to deliver a punch or kick. This is highly frustrating especially when you are trying to escape combat.
The game is not without its good ideas though. There is a function in the game called focus that slows down time temporarily and allows your character to perform special moves. These include running on walls, shooting while doing a one-handed cartwheel, and flipping off walls. Unfortunately, sneaking with your back against the wall, and using walls and obstacles for cover while firing at the enemy isn't executed as well as the special focus movements. Most of the blame can be attributed to the poor control scheme. For most gamers it will be a little too simple and it contributes very much to the unfinished feel of the game.
The game's shooting and driving modes are also very simple as well and don't offer much in the way of either entertainment or challenge. The driving physics are very simple and aren't challenging and in the shooting mode, there is no option to disable auto-aim. The weapons available are fairly extensive, but you'll find yourself running out of ammo very often and resorting to the fighting mode. Speaking of running, there is no walk mode in the game unless you have an analog gamepad. This is very strange as it is possible (and indeed on some levels required) for your character to act stealthily and sneak up on guards.
When I voiced to a friend of mine my disappointment in the Matrix Reloaded, he told me he thought that it was because the first movie didn't provide enough substance to warrant a sequel, and to some extent I agree. However I hope to be proven wrong when the final chapter in the trilogy is released this fall. Enter the Matrix doesn't have that luxury of having another sequel to save it from being a bitter disappointment. The ideas and the framework of a great game in the making are there, but as a finished product with a $30 million budget, it is unacceptable to gamers and to fans of the Matrix.
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