Enter the Matrix Review
Without a doubt, The Matrix Reloaded had been one of the most highly anticipated sequels to grace the silver screen in quite some time, and the box office receipts have certainly proven this. To go along with the release of this second Matrix film, Shiny Entertainment finally unleashed their Matrix video game project, which had been in development for what seemed like forever. Boasting the collaboration of much of the same talent from the feature film, Enter the Matrix was almost of highly anticipated in gaming circles as The Matrix Reloaded was among moviegoers. Now the wait is over, and it's time to put Enter the Matrix through its paces to see whether Shiny has indeed done the Matrix franchise proud.
The first thing about Enter the Matrix that will likely draw fans of the movie in is the exclusive movie cut scenes, which feature many of Reloaded's acting talent reprising their roles. Many of these cut scenes feature Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and Ghost (Anthony Wong), as the Enter the Matrix storyline revolves around these two characters. Several other characters from Reloaded make special in-game appearances, however, including brief cameos from Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and from Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). The production value of these cut scenes is quite impressive, and there's almost an hour's worth of cut scenes interspersed throughout the game. While the cut scenes are well-done, they do throw up some red flags about their purpose, as they seem to replay several of Reloaded's major scenes and replace the principal characters with Niobe and Ghost. There are some totally original sequences, too, but those who have seen the movie will notice a fair amount of déjà vu.
As Enter the Matrix does revolve around both Niobe and Ghost, there are options to play as either character, and both the cut scenes and several of the action sequences differ according to which character you choose. If you play as Niobe, you're challenged to more driving sequences. If you play as Ghost, those driving sequences are changed to shooting sequences (while Niobe drives). Several level objectives change, too. This certainly would seem to open the door for some replay value, if only to be able to view all of the game's cut scenes and get the story perspective from each of the game's two main characters.
Once you actually get into playing the game, there's an almost immediate "cool" factor once the action starts. Each character comes equipped with his or her own firearm to begin, but the real fun lies in the game's hand-to-hand combat. There's plenty of punching and kicking to go around, and even more bad guys to try your skills out on. What's more, once you activate "focus"—or "bullet time", as it's sometimes called—things get even better. The characters can run along walls, perform daring defensive maneuvers like somersaults and flips, and pull off some awesome-looking martial arts moves that The Matrix is known for. The catch is that "focus" depletes as you use it, and replenishes slowly over time; this means that a bit of strategy must be employed as to when to use "focus" and for how long. Unfortunately, once the "cool" factor diminishes, you'll find yourself almost tediously dispatching the hordes of enemies and wondering how long it'll be until you find the level exit and unlock the next cut scene.
As fun as the hand-to-hand combat is (in doses, anyway), the gunplay in Enter the Matrix is droll. Targeting is automatic, which is a little uncomfortable, and switching weapons never feels as intuitive as it should—especially in a tight spot. There are sniping situations, which do feel all right, but these sequences are few in number and serve more to break up the monotony of continually dispatching countless enemies. If there's a good side to guns in Enter the Matrix, it's how they sound. While the sampling isn't quite as crisp as you'd find in, say, the Medal of Honor series, it still sounds remarkably good—especially if you're pumping the sound through a home stereo system.
While most of the game is made up of "kill ‘em all" levels, there are a few changeups that Enter the Matrix throws at players. The sniper stages, which are mentioned above, are one example. There are also vehicle sequences, and these are poor. If you play as Niobe, you're sentenced to more driving sequences than Ghost, and that's a bad thing. Controlling your car in this game is sloppy, as it's easy to over-steer and strike objects needlessly, which in turn shaves off valuable life. It's also way too easy to miss particular turns, necessitating unnecessary backtracking. Ghost's storyline puts him in charge of shooting and keeping enemies at bay, and this is marginally better. Lastly, there are sequences in which you must avoid conflict with agents (which are basically invincible) and run for your life. The excitement that Shiny was going for with these sequences never materializes, unfortunately.
One other major flaw with Enter the Matrix lies in the poor level design. Each level has a goal pointer (similar to Grand Theft Auto III), but this doesn't always show you the right way to go. Almost from the start (in the Post Office level), you'll likely find yourself getting stuck because you don't know where to go. This happens frequently in the game, and leads to potentially significant frustration. One particular stage caused me serious anger: the game allowed me to make a long jump across a chasm where a ladder leading down to the ground awaited. Upon climbing down the ladder, my character would then fall about 12 inches to his death. Wonderful. This doesn't always happen, of course, but the level design is so bad on occasion that you'll literally have to walk away from the game and go back to it with a fresh level of patience.
Aesthetically, Enter the Matrix both hits and misses. Each stage has a fair amount of detail. Running through the city in one particular level unveils a pretty realistic-looking city, complete with worn street signs and the like. The Post Office level is laid out almost like a blueprint, complete with automated sorters and internal offices that may make anyone who works for your local post office say, "Wow! They got that exactly right! I know where you are!" The characters look pretty good, too, but the walking and running animations look odd and trying to hold back laughter while watching Ghost climb a ladder is almost impossible. The sound and music, however, are solid all the way around. The game combines music tracks from both Matrix soundtracks with snippets of speech and it sounds awesome.
Enter the Matrix is really driven more by its license than by the sum of its parts. For Matrix fans, the cut scenes alone might be worth taking the game for a test run. There's even a "hacking" mode for players to get lost in which mimics the mainframe from the first Matrix title. The disappointment sets in relatively quickly, though, when you first see the poor level design firsthand and after you've seen every martial arts move that the game has to offer after the third level or so. Enter the Matrix had a lot of potential—and rightfully high expectations, given the constant delays that the project saw. Shades of that potential are tapped by this game, but it still feels like it needed more time to get things right. A rental is recommended here, if only to just experience what the game has to offer, but a full price purchase just doesn't seem justified for what amounts to an ad nauseam game of repetition.
6/2/2003 Peter Skerritt