Matrix fans jack back into the computer-generated fašade we know as reality, and for the first time, take the role of The One who is destined to save us all from its soul-siphoning illusions. As the subtitle suggests, this single-player action-adventure allows gamers to take the role of Neo himself, and to follow his path through all the films in the sci-fi series (including material from the Animatrix shorts), making use of extraordinary abilities such as gravity-defying leaps, martial-arts mastery, and control over the flow of time itself. Path of Neo was created by veteran design studio Shiny Entertainment, which also developed 2003's Enter the Matrix.
Is it really necessary to revisit a film franchise that has gone by the wayside since the last film was released more than two years ago? The whole idea behind The Matrix: Path of Neo is that the answer to that question is, "yes." Essentially a movie trilogy companion game, Path of Neo starts off in a rough spot, trying to find relevance in a pop-culture that has essentially put the franchise on the back burner already. From there, the game has to fight an uphill battle.
The Matrix: Path of Neo takes players through the trilogy of Matrix films and a little bit beyond, giving them complete control of Neo all the way back to the beginning of the story. Simple RPG-esque elements guide Neo's development of skills through the game as he progresses towards the status of god. However cool this may sound, a combat engine that is essentially broken down to two attack buttons keeps the action from really excelling. While this control scheme may have worked on a console gamepad at moments, it doesn't translate well to the mouse/keyboard combo on a PC. In fact, the controls become so cumbersome that certain segments of the game actually feel like a chore to complete.
One shining moment for Path of Neo is in the action animations. Each focus attack manages to convey a sense of brutality that you can't help but giggle at. Unfortunately, for every gleeful moment there are two that make you cringe as the camera pops inside Neo's head during certain attacks (causing you to see the inside textures) and even the hair textures on some of the models don't line up with the associated head.
I read somewhere that the idea behind Path of Neo was that game players' biggest disappointment with Enter the Matrix was that they didn't get the chance to play as Neo with his god-like powers. I really don't think that the best way to accomplish that sense of omnipotence was to simplify the control scheme down to two action buttons. It almost detaches the player from the action as everything is reduced to simple button mashing. What good is it to be god if you can't control what you are going to do? Perhaps the whole package would have been a better fit in 2003 when the franchise still felt relevant.
I really enjoyed Enter the Matrix when it came out alongside Matrix: Reloaded in 2003. While the game wasn't great, it did manage to take the Matrix license beyond the screen and compliment the franchise. The Matrix: Path of Neo never manages to accomplish that feat. An overly simple combat engine combined with clunky controls, a clumsy camera, and marginal graphics bog down the idea of playing "god" in the virtual matrix. It doesn't help that interest in the Matrix franchise has waned following the disappointing climax to the trilogy.
Remember Enter the Matrix? Shiny's last game, timed to coincide with the launch of the last two Matrix movies, was seriously flawed, but still included moments of fun. Path of Neo addresses the main complaint about the first game - you couldn't play as Neo - but bugs, bad decisions, and schizophrenic cutscenes leave this game in worse shape than its predecessor.
As you progress through Path of Neo you'll unlock new abilities and fighting styles for Neo to use; however, the game's simplistic, button-mashing fighting engine doesn't require you to use the new skills at all. All you need to do to win is to jump around like a madman, mashing buttons.
Although you have an arsenal of weapons at your disposal throughout the game, the awkward and inaccurate control scheme makes it impossible to use them effectively. Instead, you'll find yourself relying on your martial arts "skills," except in rare circumstances where firearms are required.
While the martial arts combat can be visually satisfying, we felt like we didn't actually have control over the action. Despite pushing the appropriate buttons to start combos and enact big moves, Neo almost always ended up performing the same boring routine, over and over.
Walking along the Path of Neo left us with more than one head-scratching moment. We were initially confused (and then annoyed) by the mashed-up cutscenes, with footage culled from all three movies in an attempt to improve the unsatisfying second and third parts to the trilogy. The puzzle levels couldn't be solved using any logic we saw, instead they required blind exploration.
Worst of all, after finishing the game, the inexplicable ending still has us wondering whether the Wachowski brothers added this awful final boss because they actually thought it would be fun, or were they making a sly commentary about the current state of video games? We're really not sure, but either way it was un-fun.
People who downloaded Matrix, The: Path of Neo have also downloaded:
Enter the Matrix, Max Payne, Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, MechWarrior 3, Manhunt, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Made Man: Confessions of the Family Blood
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