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Enter the Matrix

We need fun. Lots of fun, so choose the red pill, don your shades and mock-mock-turtle leather jacket, and disappear down the rabbit hole

Enter the Matrix

Hype? Can you remember how much Reloaded had? At the point of writing, we are still waiting to see it. The tension hangs heavy in the air, like 99 rotting balloons. Of course, the fact that we have not yet seen the film, and this means we shall be reviewing this game in an innocent light. This is the correct light. A game is to be judged as a game. It is not a novelty decoration for a movie franchise. We’ve discovered a way to wash ourselves clean in an anti-hype shower, and now we stand before you, glimmering and sweet smelling, ready to tell you the Truth.

No. That’s the answer to your question, and we may as well give it to you as early as possible. No, it’s not good enough. Enter The Matrix is not a revolutionary, moment-making, genre-defining game, and it is not worthy of the licence. There is no escaping from this judgement – it had to be that good, if it was to live up to the cinematic trilogy from which it is spawned. The Matrix reset the boundaries for action cinema, and Enter The Matrix was required to do the same.

Ghost of a chance
ETM is a cross-platform third-person action game, asking you to take on the role of one of two minor Matrix characters, in a series of tasks that mirror the events of the film. You are either Ghost or Niobe, male or female, sniper or arse-kicker – a choice you make at the very beginning. Which means that you have twice the game for your money, because each character has a distinct approach to the tasks that face them, and later in the game, an alternative set of responsibilities as the pair works as a team.

The vast majority of the game is running your chosen character through the enormous levels of twisting corridors and occasional large interiors, beating up, and shooting at, the legions of enemies thrown at you. But where has all the design effort gone? That’s right folks, it’s bullet time.

Try to keep focus
Once upon a time, a game called Max Payne appeared from nowhere, and astonished everyone by introducing a new means of shooting things on your computer – slow motion. Clearly inspired by the original Matrix film, 3D Realms created bullet time – a means by which you could slow time down, but maintain your regular reactions. It was fantastic, enabling you to dive from behind a wall, shoot three or four baddies with just three or four bullets, and then roll into hiding before they’d even heard the first shot. Despite Max Payne’s faults (too short, slightly weak level design), the bullet time concept was so compelling that it became compulsive playing. And now the rightful owners have come back to claim their property.

Called ‘focus’, the slow-mo antics are absolutely at the centre of any merit ETM earns. Indicated by a slowly draining bar, focus opens up your character’s abilities, thus transforming them from a merely competent martial artist, to the gravity defying magicians that everyone loves. With focus, you can run along walls, leap giant distances, perform awesome spinning kicks, cartwheels and punches, and best of all, do that run up the wall and backward somersault thing. The moves that can be pulled off during the endless fights are mind-blowing, frequently causing us to let out exclamations of “Oh my goodness!” and “Good grief!” (Can you hear the arrival of a but?) But, none of it is ever done on purpose.

Wachowski – bless you!
Here are the combat controls in full: left-click – punch; right-click – kick. The end. Because of its console roots, ETM has only the most pathetically simple options of involvement. And because the bulk of the game is spent in fisticuffs, it is also spent frantically clicking your mouse buttons, pulling off the most spectacular fighting moves, and feeling wholly dissatisfied with the entire experience. Even when using the enormous arsenal of weapons available, you have no crosshair and no option to aim – it’s all done for you, leaving you once more doing nothing but clicking the mouse. Of course, the thing you’ve already heard about Enter The Matrix is that it contains over an hour of film, written and directed by the Wachowskis. And there are some fabulous scenes, featuring what is by far and away the best acting ever to appear in a PC game.

Two scenes that particularly stand out are the lorry crash, featuring Morpheus being rescued by a certain someOne, and a superbly acted scene between Niobe and the Oracle. But their sheer quality only makes the rest of the game look amateurish. Apart from the face design of the two main characters, the graphics never reach above mediocre, embarrassingly managing to look poorer than Max Payne’s – a two-year-old game. Beyond the hour of film footage, there are hours more of in-game cut-scenes, which while extremely well voice acted, look awful.

There’s never a visual moment that inspires awe, and there are frequent moments that make you shake your head in shame. At some points the engine is so weak that cars have hexagonal wheels. Explosions, of which there are many, are particularly dreadful, cracking into the seams of the engine, exposing it for the hollow casing it truly is.

So do you bother? It’s a tough one. Enter the Matrix does truly add another dimension to the film, picking up threads, and filling in all the convoluted sub-story detail, all crafted by the film’s writer and directors. But put this aside and all you have left is an immensely difficult game with minimal interaction. There’s no quick save, and the gaps between save points are often filled with near-impossible sequences to complete – especially when battling agents. It works, and it’s playable, but its remarkable fighting isn’t enough to pull it out of the mire labelled average.
Merovingian John Walker

This article first appeared in PC Format issue 150 - July 2003

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Enter the Matrix

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  • Another chance to play with bullet time
  • A cacophony of averageness permeates
A mediocre action game, that fails to live up to its primogenitor.
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