I have entered the Matrix, and frankly, I want my money back.
I honestly don’t know how a great idea for a game could have gone so horribly wrong, but Enter the Matrix is a pretty bad game that happens to feature some very cool full motion video scenes with the cast of the “Matrix” trilogy, all while enhancing the story of The Matrix: Reloaded. So the catch is this: Are the storyline and FMV scenes worthy picking Enter the Matrix up? Renting, yes. Buying, no.
The game runs parallel to the events in the second film in the trilogy and fills in the missing back story to both Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Ghost (Anthony Wong). The player can choose to play as either one, with there really not being much difference between the two in terms of abilities or skill set. Their stories do tend to run in opposite directions for much of the game, but there are a few lapses here and there where the exact same events happen to both characters. How are they supposed to be separate stories when they both walk across the same pipe that explodes the same way and then have to protect the same pair of guys and so on?
I was really hoping to like this game, I seriously was. I got a huge kick out of the first film (before it became the overrated “legend” it now is) and the second film was superb entertainment, but hindered by one of the things that hinders the game: The characters need a reality check, so to speak. In the movies (as in the game), every single character speaks so seriously and with such a heightened sense of self, it was a great relief to see them all knocked off their high horse by the revelations in the final half hour. For example, when Ghost and Niobe get to the meeting location, the guy behind the door opens the slot, looks at them both, then says, “You’re here.” Really? Because I had doubts as to whether they were standing in front of a door.
The multi-enemy fights in the game are pretty slick though, don’t get me wrong on that. Being able to jump off walls and knock enemies into one another then kicking one up into the air and knocking him across the room with a punch is well done. It’s ironic that the bullet time aspect is not as well done as it was in Max Payne, a game that shamelessly ripped off the concept from The Matrix but then put it to such elegant use it would be impossible to play it otherwise. Characters can go into bullet time as long as their “focus” meter is filled, and can leap great distances, fight in slo-mo with a dozen guards, and hurl people through the air like they were weightless.
But the thing that frustrated me most was realizing Enter the Matrix is really a game about memorization. You have to memorize where things are in every level, because you will be repeating them constantly. Running and jumping across rooftops to escape an Agent you might miss a ledge you didn’t see and have to start all over. Or, in one of the early sewer missions, you have to climb to the top of a ladder and snipe an enemy that is shooting your companion. You have exactly five seconds from the time you hit the top of the ladder to when your companion will die. I am not exaggerating. So it becomes more about climbing the ladder until you find the sniper, then climb it again to find him and try and shoot him only to realize with the cumbersome controls you holstered your gun instead of shooting, so replay it one more time.
The one feature I would go so far as to label “innovative” would be the Hacking system. With this option, you can literally “hack” your save games and give the characters infinite health, drop weapons into the Matrix for your use, access the FMV scenes, play different beeps, get messages from Morpheus and Trinity and so on. You even are given a little DOS menu where you select the keystrokes and enter them manually. It’s a really neat gimmick that’s surprisingly well implemented, and kudos to Shiny for including this option. Also, every sign during the freeway chase scene in The Matrix: Reloaded is a cheat for the game, so if you’ve got eagle eyes during the movie, you might just find some keys to the game.I really have to knock the designers from some of the most unrefined character animations I’ve seen in a long time. The models are very blocky, the environments are sparse and try as I might I could only break glass and not kick chairs into enemy guards. What Enter the Matrix most reminded me of was Oni, a game that had a huge amount of room to run around in and some pretty cool fights, but overall was a very empty and lifeless world. So to is Enter the Matrix: A whole lot of flash, not enough substance. This world could have probably looked a whole lot more realistic (or just better in general) had it another six months in development. I can appreciate the need to get the game out at the same time as the movie, but then they should have started sooner. The music is actually pretty good, but it just gets repetitive when you hear it over and over again. The Wachowski Brothers know their techno and know when to bring it in at the most effective moments, so the soundtrack is worth listening to. It only rarely will overwhelm a scene, but its forgivable. The control scheme has to be one of the most cumbersome schemes I’ve ever played. I don’t think I’m easily confused (easily distracted yes, but not easily confused), but I kept hitting the wrong buttons when I needed to be hitting the right ones as people’s lives were on the line. As such, it leads to replaying several levels repeatedly as I was fighting badly designed controls on badly balanced missions. Overall, I would not recommend Enter the Matrix at all. The FMV scenes are very cool and seeing the real cast fleshing out some of the more questionable scenes from the movie was way cool. But then there’s the other 90% of the game. Besides being badly designed, the fun wears off after maybe an hour. Tedium sets in then and you’re down to the same few maneuvers which looked cool the first dozen times you performed them but get old when they’re the only moves you do, ever. I burned through Enter the Matrix with both Ghost and Niobe pretty quickly, but I would estimate about 15 hours total to fly through it twice. Since all of it is scripted, once you’ve seen one mission there’s no reason to see it again, especially since most of the missions aren’t fun to begin with. After you have a finished save game, it can always be hacked to watch the FMVs by themselves.