'Matrix' offers wild ride in a bizarre land

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

The "Matrix" movies, despite the bizarre and depressing world they present, are amazingly popular.

It makes sense, then, that a videogame would be part of the "Matrix" experience.

Unfortunately, "Enter The Matrix," from Shiny and Atari for all three consoles, appears to have jacked in prematurely. It's an interesting action game, but could have greatly benefited from more development time and a bit more creative energy.

I played the PS2 version.

The game is related to the new "Matrix Reloaded" movie, although it focuses on two lesser characters, Niobe and Ghost, and runs parallel to the movie's story. The game, written by the Wachowski Brothers, who have done both movies, allows you to follow either character's adventures.

Both stars provide a similar wild ride.

The game features plenty of action, but in most cases it seems to be used in place of an actual plot, and your enemies are laughably easy to beat. Even when they attack in quantity, it's almost impossible to lose a fight. There are plenty of weapons available, but both characters are described as hand-to-hand combat experts, and the ease with which they slice and dice their way through the baddies backs that up.

It's also not easy to die. If your lifeline is shrinking, just stand in a corner for a while and it will refill. There are health pickups scattered around but unless you find one at exactly the moment you need it, they're rather useless.

Falling killed me off far more often than the action of my enemies.

Saves are generously allocated, although the developers appear to be ignoring my one-man campaign for all games to have a "save any time" feature.

The game makes good use of movie sequences featuring the real stars, but both those and console-generated segments are used too often in place of game play. Use them to advance the story, not to finish a mission, please.

Entertaining portions of the game involve high-speed driving, but only Niobe drives. If you're playing as Ghost, you get to work whatever weapons are available. When playing as Niobe, you do the driving and the AI works the guns.

Niobe also flies the hovercraft Logos, and again Ghost is the gunner.

"Matrix" also features the now ubiquitous "bullet time," which puts everything in slo-mo. Bullets become visible and characters move like they're in molasses. It's fun, but "Max Payne" did it better.

There's also a "focus" meter on the screen. Push a button and your character can avoid bullets, hurdle long distances and run up walls. It's the most interesting part of the game, although it runs down far too quickly.

By the way, I used BradyGames' excellent "Enter The Matrix Official Strategy Guide" to help me work my way through the game. In addition to helping you over tough spots, it's a fun read.

Graphics get a C+. There are some excellent images, especially as far as the characters are concerned, and "bullet time" is fun to watch. But details of environments are bland and unappealing and inconsistent camera angles mean some fights involve mashing buttons without seeing the results.

Sound gets a B. The music and effects fit the game like spandex ski pants, and using real actors in the filmed cut scenes is a nice touch.

Control gets a C. Keeping your character on course is iffy, the camera often confuses you, and the whole thing is decidedly un-Matrix-like.

"Enter The Matrix" gets a C. For action junkies it's not a total disaster, but the game obviously needed more time in development. Jamming it out to match the movie release date was a bad call.

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