Review: Enter the Matrix
Posted 21 May 2003 at 15:49 by Bas van den Burgh
After much secrecy and many promises we get to play Enter the Matrix at last. It's been hyped so much, can it do anything but disappoint?
It sure looked promising. First, the Matrix world seems perfectly fit for a videogame. Especially the famous Kung fu-like fighting style was much anticipated. Second, the game is developed by Shiny, who have already made some great games (Earthworm Jim, MDK). On top of that, the creators of the Matrix have written and directed the project themselves, letting the film and game plots intertwine. Sounds great, but let's see how it works out.
The presentation of this game is done very well. From the moment you turn on the console it's clear this is a Matrix game. Logos, menus and loading screens are all in Matrix style. The game itself is graphically a bit of a disappointment. It doesn't look bad, but unlike the films there it's no visual splendour. The characters look best: the digital incarnations of Niobe and Ghost look realistic and the way their faces move as they talk is convincing. Their movement in the in-game cinematics is also good, in contrast to their movement while playing. They sometimes seem move a bit woodenly, especially when running. Although it's supposed to be Matrix style, it seems awkward and the way they climb ladders is just stupid. The fighting looks pretty good, however. Most levels are grey and have a green tint. This is true to the style of the films, but it makes the environment a bit bland at times. The film sequences are great and are about DVD quality.
The soundtrack is very good. The music is similar to the films, which really adds to the game's atmosphere. From the chilling main theme when sniping, to the hard rock during car chases, it all suits the action perfectly. Sound effects are also handled well. Guns sound realistic and the sound of footsteps changes with the type of floor. Voice acting is done by the actors from the film and is also very good. The only complaint here is that the game isn't Pro Logic encoded: mono or stereo is all you get. Which is a shame really, because such a good soundtrack deserves to be heard from five speakers. If you make an interactive movie, it should be in surround sound. It's a mystery to me why this has been left out. Even Super Monkey Ball supports Dolby Pro Logic!
The release of Enter the Matrix comes at the same time as the premiere of the second instalment of the movie trilogy, The Matrix Reloaded. Instead of repeating the film events in an action game, Enter the Matrix focuses on two members of the supporting cast, Niobe and Ghost. The game explores some side plots of the film, hereby adding to the Matrix saga. Since Larry and Andy Wachowski wrote and directed both the film and the game, they're probably well geared to one another. I've haven't had the chance to check it though, because while I'm writing this, the film is still a couple of days away from release. What I can tell is that the plot of Enter the Matrix is highly dependent of the story of the film. If you haven't seen the film, the story of the game is hard to follow since you're missing the bigger picture. Because of this the plot of the game feels somewhat less intriguing. This feeling is strengthened by the fact that the game doesn't cover the third film, leaving the game's story rather open-ended.
In the beginning of the game, you can choose if you want to play with Ghost or Niobe. An interesting feature of the game is that there's actually a point to this. Although both are on the same mission, they each have to fulfil different tasks. On the driving missions for example, Niobe always sits behind the wheel and Ghost hangs out of the window with a gun, keeping enemies at a distance. Choosing Ghost or Niobe affects both the storyline and the way you play a level, so replaying the game with the other character really pays off.
Enter the Matrix' controls don't differ much from other third person shooters. The controls are very basic, with buttons for jumping, kicking, striking and shooting. Fighting is not too difficult to get into. When approaching a character, the camera automatically moves to combat mode to show the action from a sideways perspective. This leads to camera problems in small spaces. The camera can't be adjusted, so sometimes you'll be watching a fight from behind a pillar. While fighting, just randomly hitting some buttons will have satisfying results, but when enemy troops increase, you'll need to learn to fight Matrix style. The Matrix is a computer program, in which the heroes plug in. The program's physics can be influenced by focusing, giving the heroes special abilities. You can focus by pressing the L-button, which slows down the game world so bullets can be seen flying through the air, which makes it easier to dodge enemy fire. Well, actually it's not the world being slower, it's your character moving super fast, but it looks fine anyway. When using focus, not only your attacks are more powerful, it also enables you to perform special moves. When running next to or towards a wall Niobe and Ghost can walk on the walls and, if executed correctly, jump over their opponents to surprise them take them down. Focus lets you jump great distances and even change direction in mid-air. During the game you'll learn all the abilities focus provides, and there a quite a lot. My favourites are doing cartwheels and diving into combat while shooting with double pistols. It all looks extremely cool; the fighting is one certainly of the best aspects of the game. The control system is not very easy to understand, however. Using the same button combinations will not always lead to the same moves, because many of the moves are dependent on the fact if you're carrying guns or if enemies are nearby. Shiny should be commended for the effort, but the controls sometimes feels a bit awkward, at least not as intuitive as it should have been.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward. Most of the time you're going from place to place following the instructions from the operator on the ship shooting policemen and escaping from agents in the process. Sniping and driving offer some variation, but - apart from the fighting - the game doesn't offer anything special.
Despite the fact it takes up two discs, the game isn't very long. The film scenes probably take most of the space. The levels consist of a couple of very short sub-missions. Some of these are ridiculously short: watch a cinematic, and then run through three hallways to see the next piece of film. Overall the game has about six large levels and five driving/shooting missions. On the easy level setting, it can be finished in half a day. Normal and hard settings provide some more challenge and as mentioned before, you should as least play it once with each character, doubling the playing time.
The hacking mode is a very innovative feature. It allows unlocking cheats and other extras. Part of the fun is finding out how it works, so I won't reveal anything about that. Your hacking will be rewarded by a multiplayer mode and a couple training levels. The training is nice (although it doesn't live up to its potential) but the multiplayer is a bit disappointing. It's basically a one-to-one fighting game, but you can't use focus and therefore only a few of the special moves are available. The hacking and extras modes add some playing time, but they're not major attractions that'll keep you playing the game for months, so overall the lastabity is not very high.
The first Matrix film innovated the way action films are made. Enter the Matrix doesn't cause a similar revolution in game making. So if you were expecting a groundbreaking title, you'll probably be disappointed in what Enter the Matrix has to offer. If it's a decent action game you're after, this is a good choice. The combat is cool and the movie licence has been used well. If you don't mind a game being short this will satisfy your action and Matrix needs.
Note: This review has been revised because one paragraph contained incorrect information.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Doesn't live up to the hype, but it's a nice action game in its own right.
good use of movie licence
combat is cool