Review: Enter The Matrix
By James "The 342nd" Wiles
I honestly didn't think I would ever get to play this game. Seemingly in development in one form or another since the planet's crust was still enduring the slow, steady cooling process, Enter The Matrix has been hotly anticipated since word got out that it was being made…. About the same time that the first film hit theaters. And much as we did for the next entry in the film trilogy, we all waited.
And continued to wait.
And waited some more.
It's been a long time coming, but the game is finally resting in my clammy little hands. And I'm pleased to say that in some respects it has been worth the wait. But in many other ways…. Not so much. Few games have succeeded so brilliantly in some areas while failing so miserably in so many others.
If nothing else, ETM has earned its place in the annals of video game history simply for its relationship to the second film in the Matrix trilogy. Enter The Matrix is not a mere video game interpretation of The Matrix Reloaded so much as it is an interactive companion piece to the film, complete with new footage shot exclusively for the game by the Wachowski Brothers. In that respect it is a remarkable achievement; not since EA's Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers has a game been developed in such close association with its source material. The way the game's plot integrates itself with that of the film and fleshes out these characters that the audience wouldn't have gotten to know otherwise is quite impressive, and it certainly sets a new benchmark for what can be done with movie-licensed games (granted, that isn't saying a huge amount). However, there is a bit of a downside to this picture; If you have not yet seen the film (which I would advise you to do, regardless of whether you want to play the game or not), pretty much every part of said plot will be gibberish. It does a brilliant job interweaving itself into the film, but that comes at the expense of its story not really standing as well on its own.
But I digress. ETM follows the exploits of Niobe and Ghost, captain and first mate respectively of the Logos, as they aid in Neo and the gang's quest to stop the machine army from destroying Zion, and ultimately liberate humanity from slavery. Through the course of the game the player engages is three distinct styles of gameplay: third-person fighting/platforming, driving, and rail-based shooting. The player's choice of character defines some of the paths they will see during the game, as well as the mix of the three styles they will see (Expert pilot and driver Niobe will be doing just that… driving, while weapons master Ghost rides shotgun to provide her support fire).
The majority of the game is comprised of third-person action segments…. Which is fortunate, as they are the only ones that really feel worth playing. Resembling something akin to a more gun-centric Devil May Cry 2, Shiny's game really (pardon the pun) shines during these portions. Combat is truly a pleasure, gifting the character with plenty of easy-to-pull-off martial arts moves, a nice assortment of weapons, and large, destructible environments in which to play. The crown jewel of the gameplay is the Focus meter, which activates all of the truly cool Matrix-style maneuvers and abilities like super-long jumps, dodging bullets, running along walls, and more. Every fight exemplifies everything the game should be: They're fast, super-slick, and intuitive as one could want. Both Focus and player health regenerate with time, so fights often feature some truly tense moments as the player dodges for cover and plots their next move while gaining back some precious Focus.
But as with seemingly everything in this game, the cool stuff comes at a bit of a price; The game's character models and fighting animations are top-shelf, but the eye-candy largely ends there. The animations for just about every other activity Ghost and Niobe engage in that doesn't involve fighting are flat-out funny; Whichever one of the developers decided our heroes should constantly run like the T-1000 and climb like mutant chimps with rickets deserves to be beaten soundly about the head and shoulders. Also, while the environments are plenty large and sport a few nice details, the textures within them are pretty plain. Every area seems pretty much like the last: rather bland and sterile-looking, and tinted a sickly green throughout. While the look is very true to the films, it certainly isn't visually dynamic enough to really hold the player's attention for long. The sprawling size and bland nature of the environments severely hinders navigation, providing few landmarks and fewer clear paths from point A to point B. The game does provide some help in the form of tips from the operator and an intuitive HUD directional arrow, but both seem to go AWOL exactly when they are needed most. The camera doesn't help matters either, as it frequently snags on objects while trying to realign itself for close-quarters combat. Speaking of combat, the game's enemy selection is rather dry, as well; most of the game will be spent fighting either standard cops or SWAT team guys, all of which are pretty easy to defeat. While Agents pop up in a couple of levels (as well as another welcome surprise set of baddies), they don't show up nearly as often as one would like.
While the fighting portions of the game show a decent level of polish, the rest of the game shows a decided lack thereof. Driving sequences are an amazingly drab affair, with shoddy controls, adequate-at-best vehicle models, and in perhaps the largest sin, a decided lack of action. Most of the time the player simply weaves through a bit of traffic, occasionally signaling for Ghost to do his thing and shoot an approaching enemy.
Ghost's rail-shooter sequences fare about the same; there are seldom all that many enemies for him to deal with, and the ones that are there fall pretty quickly.
Another area where the game somehow manages to both innovate and fall on its face is the sound. The music is taken directly from the films, and their orchestral majesty really adds another layer to the experience. The music changes somewhat in response to the onscreen action, but the transitions between tracks feel rather choppy at times. And on occasion the music appears to just vanish entirely, only to start again later for no readily apparently reason. Worst of all, the sound during cinemas often glitches out, creating a disconcerting echo effect. Fortunately, the rest of the game's auditory palette is very strong, with amazing Dolby Pro Logic II sound throughout. That extra step on the in-game sound effects shows even on the most rudimentary of stereo setups, lending plenty of oomph to the game's gunfire, swirling clothes, and crunching Kung-Fu moves. The game's Surround Sound effects are also remarkably crisp, with seemingly every sound sourced remarkably well.
Interestingly enough, one of the few areas where the game manages to largely succeed is the little gem of a mini-game called Hacking mode. With an interface patterned after now ancient DOS-driven computers, Hacking provides a forum for the player to unlock various game enhancements and other goodies while exploring other aspects of the Matrix world. As simplistic as it is, Hacking can be genuinely fun in a Rubik's Cube kind of way, and it offers plenty of cool rewards and extras for the player. Perhaps its only flaw is that a skilled player can dash through it pretty quickly.
As it stands, Enter The Matrix has definitely carved out something of a niche for itself with its close ties to the film and its exclusive material. Kudos to Shiny and the Wachowski Brothers for that. But as a game it is worth precious little to any but the most ravenous Matrix fans. After playing through this buggy and uneven little piece of software with both characters (which will likely take a couple afternoons, tops) and toying with Hacking, there's really no incentive to go through the game again. The curious won't be disappointed by a quick rental, but the couple playthroughs that the game is worth hardly seem to warrant a purchase.
James' score: 3 (out of 5)