Release Date: May 15, 2003
A game that is based upon an immensely popular video franchise is a hard thing to pass judgment on, as any fan of the movie has always had their own conception of what a Matrix. Since the opening day of the first movie every gamer had their own thoughts on what a Matrix game would and should be and now that an official Matrix game has been released some of the thoughts change from should and would be, to could be.
Enter the Matrix changes its face value quite a few times as you play it. At first glance EtM has very many apparent shortcomings, some of which go away as you play. As you continue to play and hope that it gets better, it actually does and blossoms into a quite fine product if still flawed in a few aspects.
One of the best aspects of Enter the Matrix is its genuine attachment to the Matrix universe. The Wachowski brothers not only wrote the plot for the game but also directed the in-game cutscenes, which can be either in-engine cinematics or real action footage that you won’t see in any of the movies, and it shows. The cinematics in the game feel just like something out of the movie, down to the camera angles and character movements. The plot ties to both the live action Matrix movies and the Animatrix animated movies is something of even greater power, not only does the game tie into them if you see or play one before the other it wont spoil the others. For instance, with Matrix Reloaded in theaters at the time of writing, if you were to see the movie first the game’s plot wouldn’t be spoiled, but you would have a better understanding of the events going on in the background, and vice versa.
As far as the plot itself goes, the player steps into the shoes of either Captain Niobe of the Logos who is a martial arts expert, or her crewmember Ghost who handles guns like second nature. Each character has an individual plot that weaves into the same and different threads as the game goes on. For instance, since Ghost and Niobe always work as a team the order of the levels remains the same, and even the levels themselves, but sometimes the character will travel through certain parts of a level while the other character would be in a different part. Thus, while being the same in terms of the order and layout, each character has their own path.
As for the differences between the characters themselves, while the game sets it up as Niobe is a master at martial arts and Ghost is best using guns the differences are very slight. Niobe can handle guns just as well as anyone, and when it gets down and dirty Ghost can easily throw down and rumble with the enemy. What it all boils down to is a matter of preference in what character you pick, and to which plotline you want to play through.
Imagine the kung fu action of the Matrix movies, and imagine the all out gunplay. Imagined? Good, because that is what you will find in the game. The game essentially has three intertwining systems related to combat, the kung fu, the gunplay, and Focus. Focus is the bullet time that you use to slow the action down to a snails pace as well as to utilize to pull of impressive moves in combat. For instance, the kung fu moves without focus are relatively normal to that of a human being, but if you use focus while engaging in martial arts combat all of your attacks, throws, and disarms reach a new level of cool, with enemies getting dispatched in a multitude of flashy and effective ways.
The focus system has a similar affect on the gunplay. While out of focus you are very inaccurate with your guns and are limited to the moves of a relatively normal human being. However, as soon as you enter focus mode your guns are nearly dead on accurate and you can do all kinds of moves, from forward corkscrew dives to side cartwheels, all the while delivering a heaping helping of hot lead to anyone within firing range.
The way all of the systems intertwine has to be noted as well. If you run up to an armed enemy and use martial arts to combat him, you can either fight him and keep pummeling him so he is unable to use his weapon, or you can take his weapon from him. If you use focus and take his weapon from him, chances are you will not only take his weapon but also use it against him all in one fluid motion. The same goes for the gunplay, if you were armed and just threw someone in normal time the enemy would get back up again, but when done in focus mode you would grab them and use your armed weapon to execute them.
But wait, there’s more! Focus can also be used as a tool while out of combat. While in focus your character will jump higher, run faster, dodge bullets, run along and up walls, and engage in other evasive maneuvers to keep you alive and the enemy’s fire at bay. Enter the Matrix has a system not unlike Halo to refill your life, if your health or focus is less than full after a short wait they will quickly jump up about 20% and then slowly increase from there as long as you aren’t getting hurt somehow. While in a big hectic firefight there isn’t always to chance to take a breather, it’s a nice touch to not only not be bound to random pickups to refill your health and focus but to also not be entirely invincible.
The graphics in the game are hit and miss, though thankfully mostly on the “hit” side. The character models are awesome as are the levels and texturing for the most part, but some of the animations like climbing a fence can look just plain silly. The signature bullet ripples as bullets fly through the air in slo-mo look perfect, as do a large majority of the abundant special effects in the game. When you kill enemies you can see their code leave their body for a split second, while not only looks cool but shows to you that they are in fact incapacitated. Enter the Matrix does boast higher resolution support as well, so those who have the technology will experience an eve higher degree of graphics.
The sound and music in Enter the Matrix is perfect in every regard except for its balance levels. The sound effects pack a punch, the gunfire sounds just like something out of the movie, and the thuds of melee combat all reach out and touch your eardrums. Even the sound effects are overshadowed by the musical score which sounds like it was directly taken from the movie, lending a big hand in the immersion factor when in a hectic car chase or, say, fighting an agent. However, some sounds seems to blare out the others not matter what balance you set in the options menu, with the biggest problem in the live action cutscenes. Turn the sound up for those, down for the gameplay, and even lower for anything that involves your character in a vehicle.
Nothing is perfect however, and that is one thing that Enter the Matrix nearly falls flat on its well-crafted face on. The first thing you will notice is the games control scheme seems to be ill designed, and dismayed at the fact it isn’t too customizable. However, once you actually use the control scheme it becomes apparent that it not only isn’t too bad, but also really couldn’t be done any other way. The biggest program though is the camera control, or lack thereof. See the right analog stick? You pretty much wont be needing that, as its only use in the game is you can tap it in any direction to engage first person view, which you then have to use the left stick to look around in. Thus, you have a mostly third person game with no way to control the camera other than moving your character, a cardinal sin in the world of gaming. Also, at first many of the moves like putting your back to the wall and jumping out from around corners seem entirely useless until you get a good grasp for the focus system.
Enter the Matrix also has a mini-game in a sense called Hacking, in which you use a Matrix style terminal to “hack” your save game. While it mainly serves as a way to view character profiles and weapons data, it can actually be used to create new weapon drops in areas as well as to view any cutscene you have already viewed while playing the game. The hacking mode seems similar to DOS in its look, but in its actual use it is much more dumbed down. On the other hand, it is also easy to use so anyone with basic computer experience should find the hacking mode to be an intriguing addition to the game.
In closing, anyone who saw and understood the first Matrix movie will easily understand and enjoy this game, but being a superfan of the series isn’t a prerequisite to have a good time with it either. A word of caution though, those of you that didn’t understand the first Matrix movie or didn’t see it at all will probably understand quantum physics better than this game. That aside, Enter the Matrix is a good game that is marred by a few flaws (some unforgivably), and overall will be a good addition to your gaming library. Matrix fans will love the authentic plot and the expansion on what exactly Ghost and Niobe were doing while Neo and the gang were out and about in Matrix Reloaded, and anyone with even a basic understanding of the first Matrix movie will find that Enter the Matrix has a relatively fresh style of gameplay that is not only fun but stays fun for the duration of the game.
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