Full Review: I'd bet Shiny wished they had more time to ?Focus? and polish this one up a tad.
Moreso than many other major film licenses, The Matrix has always been a movie that naturally played itself as a video game. Perhaps it's because the Wachowski Brothers actually meant for the film to be an actual video game would explain it, because The Matrix had so many video game moments that they probably should have given people in the theater a controller to play along.
Of course, this has meant that a Matrix license was hot property to make a video game about ? even though it's taken 4 years to actually make a video game rendition. Revered game developer Shiny Entertainment, who in the past have created classics such as Earthworm Jim and the criminally ignored RC Stunt Copter, were lucky enough to earn the right to make the game, and lucky enough to have to rush through it just to get the game done to release on May 15th, which was of course the same date as the release of the 2nd Matrix movie, The Matrix: Reloaded. Missing that date was not an option.
In many ways, that rushing both shows, and doesn't show. Enter The Matrix is an enjoyable, interesting Xbox game, with a solid Matrix side story and a decent bit of gameplay variety. However, the weird quirks, lacking challenge, and overall lack of polish also rears its head, leaving the game to be a disjointed, yet entertaining game that will easily be enjoyed by Matrix fanatics ? which is, in a lot of ways, the real problem with the game.
Enter The Matrix is actually a companion piece to the current flick ? you basically live out the elements of the story that Reloaded didn't touch on. You can either play as Ghost or Niobe ? each with a separate, mostly unique quest to take on. Scattered through the game is actual film footage from Reloaded, tying in the events of the film, and also spoiling the crap out of people who haven't yet seen it. This alone is the reason why Enter The Matrix released the same day as Reloaded since it represents the entire vision of the Wachowski Brothers ? who, not surprisingly, wrote and directed what goes on in the game.
The main game, surprisingly, is loaded with some gameplay variety to keep the game fresh. Mixed in with the classic 3rd person run & gun game such as Max Payne (which was influenced by The Matrix of course) is some occasional beat ?em up action in the vein of Dead to Rights (which was influenced by Max Payne, of course ? pattern detection time), complete with cool kung-fu action and some sweet disarms. There's also a bit of vehicular levels, whether in Niobe's ship or by automobile, which are typically just escape chases. This is where the different quests of Ghost and Niobe stand out ? in the driving levels, Niobe always does the driving, while Ghost rides shotgun with weapon in hand, picking off whoever gets in the way. No matter which character you pick, this is how it goes; Ghost doesn't drive, Niboe doesn't shoot. Period.
It wouldn't be a Matrix game, though, without what's famously known as Bullet Time (which of course was jacked by Max Payne and Dead to Rights). In ETM it's called Focus ? though it functions the same, slowing down time and giving the characters some extra abilities, such as being able to run faster, run up a wall for a short period, or gain a little extra hops when making a death-defying leap. Also, Focus lets you dish out more spectacular combos when in hand-to-hand combat.
In addition to the story mode, Enter The Matrix also contains a very cool Hacking ?mini-game? that is used for unlocking different goodies, such as cheat codes and the like. It functions in many ways like the old, ancient DOS-based computer systems, and if you happen to have some of these DOS skills (which would also mean that chances are, you're quite old), it will help you out with the Hacking. In a lot of ways, Hacking is a game all onto itself, which is why I call it a mini-game.
Despite all the different level variety, the simple thing to keep in mind is that Enter The Matrix is a very, very linear game. Now, there's nothing wrong with a nicely paced, challenging linear game. The problem is, Enter The Matrix is not really challenging. The computer AI is basically brain-dead, letting you wipe the floor with them without much of a fight ? even the boss battles are wildly simplistic. Whatever counts for ?puzzles? are easy as well, and it's impossible to get lost, because not only is there only one way, there's an arrow pointing you in the right direction. Hell, your health regenerates if you lay low long enough. It's obvious as to why its like this ? ETM wasn't really designed with a regular gamer in mind ? instead it's been developed for Joe Matrixfan, making the game structure extremely simple and almost hold-your-hand easy; so they can beat the game, see the other events of the Reloaded storyline, and be done with it. It's almost as if the Hacking portion was put in to appease gamers who will blow through both Ghost and Niobe's game in a couple days, since this technically isn't a game that will appeal to them.
However, despite this little problem, Shiny did manage to make the game rather enjoyable ? downright fun, actually. They somehow managed to make the hand-to-hand combat deep if you take some time to learn the controls ? even though it's not really necessary given the ease of ETM. Gunplay isn't really that great, as the auto-aim eliminates any real skill, except when working with a sniper rifle. Unfortunately, in a fight with 10 cops, you actually need to use guns, despite the kung fu elements being much more satisfying. When fighting Agents (who only make brief appearances here and there), a balanced use of Focus and good fighting combos is the only way to survive, making those battles the most intense and challenging. The levels where you have to protect allies are sometimes frustrating as they're out of your control, but once you learn the trick they're not too bad.
Really, the only place I found myself bored was during the driving levels ? it's obvious more time was taken to make the action sequences enjoyable than driving ? which makes sense given that there's more of them. As is though, the driving levels are just basically chases, that aren't even that challenging, outside of perhaps ?The Truck?, which is one of the more frustrating levels until you start using your best Grand Theft Auto tactics. The rest of the game, despite its faults and lack of polish, is pure mindless fun, albeit mindless fun that lacks difficulty and hampers replay value.
Enter The Matrix has plenty of save points and checkpoints to keep from repeating the same stretch over and over, if you die for whatever stupid reason (and that's usually how you die, stupid reasons), you don't have to backtrack. However, you can't save anywhere ? though you really won't need to, given the utter lack of challenge.
There's really only one truly difficult thing about Enter The Matrix ? adjusting to the controls. On the Xbox controller, the managed to come up with some weird configurations ? the default configuration actually has you set up to fire weapons with the black and white buttons, and instead of having a dual thumbstick movement combo like a FPS or Splinter Cell, it's all mapped to one button, and the right thumbstick now goes into 1st person mode. Instead of using the triggers, which makes more sense, you have to mess around with 2 buttons that are so rarely used it's hard to remember they're there. Thankfully, there are different control schemes to ease this possible annoyance, though I did learn how to use the default control settings ? fun!
Enter The Matrix also lacks polish in the graphical department, if you don't own an HDTV that is. The game features few enhancements from the PlayStation 2 build it's based upon (not surprising given the timeframe ? I'd bet Shiny would have done so had they had the time), and actually seems like a 1st generation PS2 or last generation Dreamcast game. The main characters are modeled and designed well, which is a good thing ? both characters resemble their real-life film counterparts, with good facial textures and expressions for the cutscenes that use the game engine ? and those blend in quite well with the live-action, widescreen film footage (which possibly contains the very first instance of girl-on-girl kissing in a video game). However, their animations are a tad flaky, resembling a person running either a marathon or having a golf club stuffed up their bottoms. When they climb ladders or fences, it looks even stranger. There's little animation for the enemies ? and as a matter of fact, there's few different character models, making the game feel like a generic looking beat ?em up with repetitive models of enemies.
Another problem with the game is the dark appearance. Even after messing with the video options, ETM looks dark and hard to see at times. Now, of course, we shouldn't be expecting a bright and cheery game from Matrix based games, but it shouldn't be so difficult to see what's going on. Admittedly, later levels in the game get brighter and some great Xbox lighting effects are shown off.
A final issue is with the camera ? it just tends to give you the wrong angle, and since you can't adjust it (since they didn't go with the dual thumbstick movement, which is essentially manual camera adjustment), it's hard to get out of. Numerous times you get trapped in a bad angle that results in your death since you can't see what's attacking you. It's not epidemic, it just happens at terrible times.
For HDTV users, Enter The Matrix features up to 1080i resolution ? only the second Xbox game to do this, outside of Dragon's Lair 3D. This probably makes the graphic argument moot, but since I don't have an HDTV, I can't say either way. As is, this is a decent looking game, but wouldn't even stand out on the PlayStation 2.
The element that Shiny and the Wachowski's got perfectly is easily the sound. Not that they could screw it up, or anything. The voices in the game are taken straight out of the movie ? even Jada Pinkett-Smith took the time to voice her own lines ? and there's more of them in the game than in Reloaded. There's no extra voice work for main characters Morpheus, Neo, or Trinity ? the only time you see them speak is in the film footage. What voice acting is in there is just as good as the movie ? which is always up to interpretation as to whether its good or not.
The music in Enter The Matrix is jacked right from the movies, like a Star Wars game would. As such, booming, orchestrated pieces are scattered all over the game, hitting their highest notes when there's a high level of combat, thanks to dynamic music that's growing in popularity with game developers. What amounts for sound effects comes down to basic grunts, groans, and the sounds of guns firing ? but given the strength of the music, it drowns most of it out.
No matter what's said in a game review, the audience Enter The Matrix was intended for will find the game and probably love it. As is, ETM is an enjoyable game that isn't perfect at all, but manages to be fun despite itself. It's probably only really worth a rental unless you're a hardcore Matrix fan who wants to collect as much paraphernalia as they can, but it definitely should be checked out by anyone interested in the film trilogy simply because of the story fill-ins you find. As is, Enter The Matrix is a rushed, yet fun game that could have been spectacular with slightly more polish and challenge.