Take a renowned gaming studio, toss in a major movie license with a story written by the directors of the intellectual property, add in a heavy helping of the hype machine, set the blender to high and chances are you’ll get the indecipherable, lackadaisical mess that is Shiny and Atari’s Enter the Matrix. It’s a real shame that it had to be this way because the game’s premise and licensing seemed so promising. Oh well, it’s like they say, when something seems too good to be true it probably… well you know the rest.
In case you haven’t read what the hype machine has been spewing out for the past six months allow me to give you a brief idea of the game’s premise. While released simultaneously with the sequel to the first major motion picture, Enter the Matrix runs parallel to the Matrix Reloaded as opposed to recreating the events of the film. Choosing to place its focus on two new characters, Niobe, who appears in the Matrix Reloaded, and Ghost, an Asian badass who also appears in the movie but is never mentioned by name. Together the two will propel the storyline and try to fill in some of the holes left open by the movie via a set of both FMV and in-game cinematics that were shot specifically for the game. The movie's core cast, with the exception of brief appearances by Persephone, the Oracle, and Agent Smith, is notably absent.
I wish that I could say the gameplay of Enter the Matrix is the title’s main highlight but saying so would be an overzealous lie. It’s the aforementioned cut scenes that take center stage in this game, much to the point where they were actually left out in the preview builds of the game. To their credit they’re shot with the same production values as the scenes in the movie but they’re pretty pedestrian as a whole and don’t really do too much to advance the plot. In one sense you’re rewarded with a cinematic upon the completion of a mission but in another sense, they’re so weak and boring that it doesn’t really feel like a reward at all.
Depending on which character you choose you’ll receive a slightly different experience but the discrepancies aren’t too Earth-shattering. Choosing Niobe will force you to drive in the vehicle sequences while choosing Ghost will force you to fire in them. Sometimes they’ll take different approaches and paths through levels but again there aren’t very many changes. In fact they share the same basic moves and powers too so I’m not sure why the designers even decided to include the two-character storyline. It’s not like playing as Ghost will reveal something that you couldn’t see when playing as Niobe. Basically there’s no reward for going back and playing as the other character after completing the game, barring that you can actually make it that far.
Before we go on let’s make one thing clear, there are bound to be comparisons between EtM and Max Payne and with good cause, MP took the “bullet time” effect that the Matrix made famous and made it its own. The problem here though is that the comparisons between the two properties is basically unjustified, mainly because the guys at 3D Realms did a far better job of utilizing the Wachowski brother’s own invention. In many ways Max Payne beats the Matrix at its own game. In fact Enter the Matrix is actually a parody of itself in some respects, borrowing elements from many other games that have come into fruition since the release of the first movie. Kind of sad that the originator of it all has to borrow elements from supposed imitators but I guess that’s the way the ball bounces.
Shiny is perfectly capable of making an engrossing 3rd-person shooter, just look no further than the underappreciated MDK for an example of this. After checking that game out you could probably see why I was really shocked to find out just how poorly this game looks and plays. Most of the game’s problems can be derived from its control scheme which is more overtly complicated than it ever should have been. The back shoulder buttons are used to strafe, one button activates the focus (more on this later), black fires, while the rest of the face buttons handle the melee and jumping manuevers. It sounds simple enough in writing but when you actually get into the game it’s an entirely different story.
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