What is the Matrix?  This was the question posed by the commercial campaign for The Matrix when it was released in 1999.  The few commercials showed some outstanding special effects, the likes of nothing ever seen before.


The movie was released, and while it didn’t make a huge splash at the box office, it made a huge amount of money as it was one of the very first movies released on DVD.  The Matrix became a phenomenon, and the “bullet time” effects were copied and parodied in countless movies after that.


The sequels came along, and the fans of the original movie were waiting in high spirits in anticipation of the new movies.  However, the sequels were mostly panned by the critics and fans were mostly disappointed.  Few movies have been more polarizing.


Enter the Matrix was released in conjunction with the first sequel, and it sold many copies on the consoles and the PC.  While it was made to fill out the story of the first sequel, the game bombed with critics.


Not to let a good license go, Warner Brothers Interactive has released The Matrix Online to the MMORPG world.  Does the Matrix Online (MxO) capture the world of the Matrix and offer fans a new experience, or does it disappoint like the sequels and Enter the Matrix before it.

MxO sports graphics that are impressive for an MMORPG.  The environments are created faithfully to what you’d expect in the world of the Matrix.  After jacking in at a phone booth, the world looks like the green lines of code that Neo sees towards the end of the original Matrix movie.  Eventually the colors change to represent the city streets, cars, people, and other objects.


Once jacked in, you see the city surroundings around you.  The streets and buildings feel dirty.  Paint is peeling off of doors.  Roads have cracks and bumps in them.  It feels abandoned and neglected.  Moving into nicer areas will be clean and shiny, with a freshness that lacks in the slums.  The contrast is noticeable.


Moving inside the buildings is a nice change of pace from the drab worlds.  The carpeting is nicely textured, while some of the walls are a bit bare.  The buildings are littered with desks, filing cabinets, chairs, and cardboard boxes.  These touches add to the immersion of the world.


While you have many customization options for your character, the enemies you fight are less varied.  There are gangs on the street all have similar costumes, but have a few different faces and hairstyles.  In some missions where you fight off guards, there is a mix of male and female guards with a few different outfits.


I played this on an Athlon XP 2500+ with 1 GB of RAM and a Radeon 9700 Pro.  Framerates were acceptable at 1280×1024.  MxO does provide options for fastest framerate, average graphics and speed, and best graphics.


About the only real complaint is that there is a lack of textures in the game for similar settings.  Most of the buildings look the same from the inside.  While going through missions, I felt that I had been through the exact same building several times before.  Also, there are some issues with object detection.  You can open a door and then run through it if it opens towards you.  However, it is nice in a way that you can do this as it speeds up the pace of the game.

Anyone who is familiar with the films knows the sounds of the Matrix, and MxO really gets the sounds in the game done right.  The music in the background isn’t very loud, but it’s loud enough to set the mood.  Anyone who has watched the Matrix movies will instantly notice the background music.  The mysterious ambiance is evident through the minor chords.


While the music sets the tone, the sound effects really take center stage.  During hand-to-hand fighting, performing a special move causes the rewind sound effect to sound in conjunction with a hit.  The high-pitched scanning sound effects are present during the use of programs.


There are guns within the world of the Matrix, and they are as important as hand-to-hand combat.  The shotgun has a nice punch to it, while pistols sound much weaker.  While a little more variety would have been appreciated, the sound effects for them are appropriate.


Certain missions have voice actors from the original movies playing their parts.  Laurence Fishburne reprises his role as Morpheus.  While Jada Pinkett Smith doesn’t return as Niobe, Gina Torres does such a good job with the voice acting that I couldn’t tell that she had been substituted for Niobe’s voice.  While it would be nice to have more voice acting within the game, it is nice to have major character voices included.

Controlling your character is similar to the FPS control scheme.  While the WASD keys are used for movement, the A and D keys turn your character, while Q and E are used for strafing.  The mouse can be used for turning and changing the camera angle, but I didn’t find the mouse sensitive enough for turning while around other characters that are attacking.


Picking up objects is done with the mouse.  Clicking on an object will bring up a window showing the contents of the object.  A “Take All” button is available for grabbing all the objects available.


A hot bar is shown at the top of the screen.  It is completely customizable.  Any special attacks, programs/viruses, and inventory items can be placed there.  To use them, either a number key can be pressed or it can be clicked on.  Also, multiple hot bars are available, so sorting out inventory in one hot bar and special combat moves in another is possible.


The upper left hand corner displays your target information, while the upper right hand corner holds your character status.  The bottom left corner displays a summary box as well as a chat and emotes area.  The lower right corner shows options and displays a map, inventory screen, and mission log.  The lower center holds a compass which shows which way you are facing.


When lag is an issue, moving around can be troublesome, and getting used to the delay in the game from the server can take some getting used to if you aren’t used to other online games.  However, the response was good enough for most of the game.

The Matrix Online comes on three CD’s.  After loading the game and creating a new account, I logged in and got an updated version of the launcher and got patches from the game.  The support thus far for MxO has been incredible.  Patches have been swift and fixed numerous issues with the game.


After logging in, a number of servers were available.  While the first day I logged on one of the servers, the server had issues and the game crashed on me a couple of times.  However, since then the servers have been stable, and I haven’t had any issues with the servers since.  A generous number of servers are available, and you can create a unique character on each of the servers if you wish.


Once logging into the server, creating the character was the next step.  Each character has five attributes: Perception (studies an opponent, excellent for martial arts), Focus (used for sneaking), Reason (used for writing code), Belief (useful for extreme physical abilities like a hyper-jump or fighting toughness), and Vitality (used for increasing health points).  Ten different personality profiles are available, from a Detached Spectator to New Age Hippy to Troubled Intellectual to True Believer.  Each of the personality types increases one attribute and decreases another attribute.


Once you have created the class of your character, you create the look of your character.  Since you don’t have any actual physical form, you can create your Residual Self Image (RSI) in any manner that you want.  There are four default characters that you can select from immediately, but you can manipulate the look and style of your RSI in several ways.  RSI creation includes gender, body figure, hair color and style, skin tone, tattoos, and clothes.  The number of options was fairly extensive, and creating a character that has the same characteristics of someone else’s isn’t very likely.  Once you have your “Redpill” targeted, you create the handle and name.  Optionally, a bit of background can be entered in as well.


Once you enter the world of the Matrix, you are taken to a training simulation that allows you to take a quick tutorial that covers combat, movement, inventory, and NPC interaction.  While some of the information is rather intuitive, the combat tutorial is well worth taking because the combat is a very unique experience.


Once jacked into the Matrix, you encounter NPC’s that give you information about the Matrix.  Some give information for acquiring weapons, while others talk about the different factions involved in the game.  Only other Redpills can be talked to.  Bluepills who aren’t aware of the world of the Matrix won’t interact with you at all.


Getting missions to complete is as easy as making a call on your cell phone.  At first, you only have the option of completing missions from Tyndall, an agent of Zion.  These missions serve as a way to level up rather quickly at the beginning.  However, after the first four missions, you get noticed by the other factions in the Matrix who will also attempt to recruit you for your services.


Three major factions exist in the Matrix.  Zion is made up of Redpills, or people who have been “freed” from the Matrix.  They believe that each person should be able to choose whether to live in the real world or the fantasy of the Matrix.  The Machines are the race of the mechanical beings that created the Matrix.  The need the bio-electricity created by the humans to survive.  They will make deals with Redpills when it is to their advantage and are not actively hostile towards Redpills.  The Merovingian are a race of AI’s that were originally created by the Machines that gained self-awareness and free will.  They are only concerned that the Matrix continues to exist, or else their existence will cease.


Once you have completed several missions, you will be able to take missions from other factions.  As you work your way through the missions, your reputation will rise or fall with the other factions, depending on how much you help or hinder them.  Your reputation also affects how friendly the factions are to you and what kind of missions they will offer you.


Missions are varied and actually feel like they fit into the world of the Matrix.  While typical Fed Ex and escort missions exist, they aren’t as generic as some other RPG’s.  A waypoint marker assists you in completing the missions.  Completing missions earns you experience and $Information.  $Information is the currency of the Matrix.  While you can buy and sell items from a vendor, you can also get money by recycling items.  Opening up your Inventory screen shows all of your items.  Right clicking on an item gives different options for that item.  One of those options is to recycle items.  This is more convenient than finding a vendor to sell the items to and can assist you clearing out your inventory.


While completing missions helps you gain experience to level up, there are times where it will be near impossible to complete missions further in the game without leveling up through other means.  While fantasy MMORPG players might be familiar with “rat hunting,” the Matrix is filled with gangs that you can take care of.  Here you can gain a lot of experience in combat.  However, fighting against characters that are too low of a character won’t gain you any experience points.


There are two types of combat in MxO.  The first type is long-range combat.  Usually guns are involved in long-range combat, but code/downgrades can be used as well.  You select a weapon and then select a target.  If you use the auto-combat option, then your character will fire at the target automatically when there is a clear shot.  If auto-combat is turned off, you need to double click on your target to fire.  A certain amount of time needs to pass before you can fire again at your target.


Most combat will be in Close Combat or Interlock.  Ranged weapons or hand-to-hand combat can occur during this time.  While in Interlock, an Exchange happens every couple of seconds.  During this time you have the option of changing the type of attack.  You have a Power Attack, Speed Attack, Grab, and Block.  The Power Attack is an attempt to hit a critical area.  The Speed Attack attempts to hit your opponent as many times as possible.  The Grab does little damage, but it tries to force your opponent off balance or disarm your opponent if they have a firearm.  When the Exchange happens, your attack is matched against your opponent by assigning each attack a number.  If your attack number is higher than your opponent’s, then you will hit your opponent, while the opposite is true if your number is lower than your opponent’s.  The game factors in skill levels and modifiers, as well as randomly generated numbers.


Special attacks can also be used during combat.  These special attacks use Inner Strength to perform.  They also can’t be performed in succession like the other attacks.  These special attacks are fairly powerful though, and can change the tide in combat.  Some of the special attacks are a Head Butt and Cheap Shot.


The combat is quite interesting for a while, but it can lose some of its luster while leveling up to complete missions.  You can beat up on gang members for just so long before it gets monotonous.  However, watching others in combat can be very enjoyable, especially if they are a much higher level than you are.  One other issue with Close Combat is trying to withdraw from it.  It can be done, but it is incredibly difficult.  Even if you escape Close Combat, you can be brought back into it again right away from your opponent.


Redpills start with an Awakened Ability.  However, after leveling up and having enough Memory Capacity, you can load abilities that will drive you towards different disciplines.  The three Disciplines are Operative, Coder, and Hacker.  Operatives specialize in combat or stealth skills.  Hackers modify the code of the Matrix to assist team members or injuring enemies.  Coders are the most difficult path, and they generate code as needed.  They can create objects and even AI that mimic the player.  Each of these classes have the ability to specialize even further within each of the disciplines.


As you gain levels within The Matrix, you can either choose to focus on one of the three Disciplines, or you can split your abilities throughout the three different Disciplines.  While splitting your abilities across the three Disciplines will give you more abilities, you won’t be very powerful in any of those Abilities because your leveling will be spread out.  However, specializing in a single Discipline, or specialties within the Disciplines, can leave you too focused with major weaknesses.  Having the option to spread your abilities across Disciplines gives you a lot of flexibility on how to play your character.  This may be an attractive option to those who are used to being able to only focus on a certain aspect of a class in other MMORPG’s.


Since you don’t have a true physical form in the Matrix, your RSI is not killed.  However, after you lose all your health in the Matrix, your RSI needs to be reconstructed.  When this happens, you return to the Loading Area, and the Operator completely disintegrates your RSI.  You don’t have any real penalties in this other than a time penalty and your performance will be hindered for a short time.


When on a mission, you can invite other members to form a team for that mission.  Up to eight players can be on a team.  Only the team leader can invite other players to the team as well as boot out players from the team.  Loot can be divided Alphabetically, Randomly, by order of Most Damage, and by a Free for All.  Experience is divided evenly amongst all the members of the team.  Members of the team don’t have to be near the same level.  MxO automatically scales the mission’s difficulty according to the strength of the entire team.


Crews can be formed within the Matrix.  These crews are the members of a Hovercraft crew, and the invites are sent out by the crew’s Captain.  All of the crews are associated with one of the Organizations.  While with a crew, you are associated with that Organization until you leave that crew.  Crews can bank $Information in a common account, but only the Captain or First Mate can withdraw from the $Information account.  The Captain can promote anyone to First Mate, as well as demote that person.  The Captain can make anyone else the Captain if the Captain wishes.  The Captain can also disband the entire crew, but all $Information and items are lost when this happens.


Factions are similar to crews, except factions are groups of crews.  A Captain of a crew can start a faction.  Also, the Captain is the only member of a crew that can accept an invitation to join a faction.  The crew Captains receive a Faction Rank that can be promoted or demoted within the faction.


Right now, the story is starting to build up.  Rumblings of “The One” coming back have surfaced.  It would have been nice to see more of the story unfold, but it’s understandable why very little of it has been revealed.  Hopefully the execution of the story will live up to the build-up.


There aren’t that many people playing MxO right now.  While that might not be a problem for solo players, those who want to find a group might have trouble finding people.  However, if more people sign up and give it a chance, I think they’ll find an interesting experience.

There is plenty to do within MxO.  The support of the game has been evident ever since the first day I started playing it, so I don’t believe that new content will be an issue.


The game does include a 30-day trial subscription out of the box.  This is typical of other MMORPG’s.  Some scoffed when it was announced that MxO would cost $15 a month.  However, other payment options are available which bring down the price of the game per month closer to $10-12 per month.  If you plan on playing the game often and continue through the storyline, I believe that players will get more than their money’s worth.  However, it’s unfortunate that it seems to be difficult to find people playing.  Those looking for a group adventure might be disappointed.

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