Developer: Shiny Entertainment
Release Date: November 7, 2005
The Matrix trilogy has definitely left its mark on both the movie and video game industry. Max Payne and quite a few action movies wouldn't be the same without bullet-time. Not to mention the changes in fashion (sunglasses inside? Genius!). After the groundbreaking first installment, people were practically foaming at the mouth for more, so when it was announced that Atari would release a Enter the Matrix to coincide with Matrix: Reloaded in theaters, movie and videogame fans rejoiced. Unfortunately, what they got was a somewhat buggy and fairly ugly game that instead of focusing on Neo and his fight against the machines followed two side characters that people didn't really care about. Shiny tried it again, this time tracing Neo's steps from his first flight from the agents to the Super Burly Brawl with Agent Smith for humanities future. With Path of Neo, the developers managed to improve a few things, left some things seemingly the same, and a few things actually came out worse.
For the two people out there who somehow managed to never hear of The Matrix, here's the gist of it: The world mankind lives in is a virtual dream land meant to keep us satisfied while machines grow and use us as a source of power. A group of people who managed to get out of the matrix is taking the fight to the machines and at the forefront of their battle plan is Neo, better known as The One. According to a prophecy, The One is essentially the savior of the human race and the only one who can truly defeat the machines. I'd recommend seeing the movies first if you haven't already: Path of Neo mishmashes various scenes from the movie and can be confusing enough even if you have already seen the whole trilogy.
PoN starts out by giving you the same choice as Neo: red pill or blue pill. You need to take the red pill for the game to continue, but the blue pill is still an option. Taking it will boot you back to the start menu, granted, but it's a nice touch nonetheless. Next, the game drops you into the famous lobby scene, but with a catch: this is really just to test your skill and provide you with the appropriate difficulty level by throwing increasingly difficult waves of enemies at you (starting with unarmed security guards and ending with the deadly agent).
The game opens up with the cubicle-crawling stealth mission that occurs at the beginning of the first movie. After that, though, the last thing you'll be doing is hiding. Neo does indeed know kung fu, and even that's an understatement. The hand-to-hand combat in Path of Neo is very satisfying, if a bit repetitive. There's only one main attack button, but this, accompanied with the stunner, can open up quite a few combo possibilities. Many of the moves you saw in the movies, in addition to some welcome new ones, are at your disposal. Multiple enemies can be engaged at once, my favorite example being a move that involves grabbing two enemies and brandishing them like nunchaku. There are also quite a few melee weapons at your disposal, including katanas and staffs, such as the one Neo used to beat back all of the Agent Smiths in the Burly Brawl.
Unfortunately, the gunplay in Path of Neo isn't up to snuff. As far as selection goes, there's the standard assortment of pistols, shotguns, SMGs, and the like. That's not the problem, though, but rather the game's shoddy targeting system. Clicking in the right thumbstick holsters and unholsters Neo's guns, causing the targeting crosshairs to lock onto the nearest enemy. Going into focus mode slows things down and tightens up your shooting, helping you to drop the bad guys that much quicker. The problem is, the game thinks that that dead body is still a threat, as it will continue to target them. Holstering and unholstering your guns quickly can fix this, but it shouldn't be necessary in the first place. Switching targets is even more of a pain because the game refuses to target enemies that are near you. Needless to say, this makes it really awkward when an enemy is firing at you, five feet away, but you're forced to target his buddy that's 50 feet away. In all honesty, the targeting in Enter the Matrix worked much better.
Sad to say, but Path of Neo just doesn't look good at all, especially up close. Nearly all of the textures are muddy and low resolution, which doesn't really show up in the environment as much as in the character models. Where to begin with the character models? Well, first off, when they speak, their mouths move like ventriloquist dummies; Neo looks like he's recently received the worst haircut ever, as he looks like he's missing patches of hair in places; and Morpheus seems to have splotches of green and purple on his face. One would think that Shiny could've upped the quality on the textures and spent more time making the game look decent, but what we get is a game that doesn't look any better than its prequel from two years ago did, which is inexcusable for last-generation software.
The sound design is pretty decent. The sound of katanas cutting through the air and clanging against each other is one of the high points in this area. Kung fu fights are made a little more real, thanks to the whooshing of fists and connection of kicks. Whereas Enter the Matrix featured licensed music to help connect it to the movies, Path of Neo has an original score that consists of mostly techno beats that provide a good backdrop for the action. Nothing really sticks out as great, but it gets the job done. There is, however, a bug where all sound in the game will just cut out. Again, there's no reason for a game to behave this way in the last generation of a console's life.
Aside from the targeting issues discussed above, the controls in Path of Neo are responsive and shouldn't cause any fights to be won or lost thanks to them alone. Like most 3D games, though, there are the occasional camera issues that of course crop up in the indoor levels, but nothing that makes the game unplayable (well, any more than the targeting system already does).
As you progress throughout the game, you can upgrade Neo's moves. While they all eventually get maxed out, you can at least choose which ones get there first (which are most likely the ones you use the most). Different strings of combos can be unlocked, and with names like "Codebreaker" and "The One," they prove to be pretty enticing. There are also storyboard panels and combo videos if you did deep enough. My favorite, though, is the blooper video, which is just a glorified show of all of the bugs the developers (thought they) got rid of. It's worth a watch just to see how many of them are still in the actual game, which unfortunately is more than a couple.
If you eat up all things Matrix, then Path of Neo might be for you. It can be a fun experience every once in a while, as long as you don't expect anything groundbreaking. It's worth mentioning that the ending of the game is different from the ending of the movie, but arguably not for the better. However, if you didn't like Enter the Matrix or just didn't like the movies, then there are much better choices out there, such as The Warriors.
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