Take the blue pill.
Although I’m a big fan of the Matrix films, I wasn’t expecting anything amazing out of Shiny’s Enter the Matrix game, despite its supposedly revolutionary connections with the movie and moviemakers. As it turns out, my mediocre expectations were right on the money. Enter the Matrix is neither a horrible nor excellent game, but it is most certainly disappointing in light of the time and money spent on its development. In regards to its claim to be an indispensable companion piece to The Matrix: Reloaded, it’s just as lackluster.
The gameplay is a mish-mash of different genres and ideas, most of which don’t work very well. Though environments are often huge and intricate, the game offers little incentive to explore them, and in fact you’ll more likely be punished for going too far off course. Not that you’ll be eager to snoop around run-down apartment complexes anyway. Thankfully there are very few platforming elements, though when they do crop up (mainly in the sewers), the execution is sloppy, and the wacky controls don’t help. The car chases are aimless, confusing, and heavily based on luck, whether you’re driving as Niobe or just providing cover fire as Ghost. And in all of these scenarios, the little arrow that’s supposed to guide you is painfully inept. It’s only semi-useful in narrow areas where it’s already obvious where you need to go. As soon as you step out into a large room or a maze-like network of hallways, when you would actually need help getting around, the arrow becomes all but useless as it points directly into walls or swivels around quickly while you’re not looking. As if to further taunt you, the operator will often tell you to run to this office or that church, knowing damn well you have no clue how to get there and will have to rely on the accursed little arrow.
Despite these problems, when the game puts you in a room with five S.W.A.T. team members firing at you with semi-automatic shotguns, Enter the Matrix looks and feels like a pretty good action title. The lock-on aiming takes some getting used to, but it works well enough with practice. The focus ability slows down time, makes your shooting more accurate, and allows you to pull off some truly sweet moves. You can jump-kick off walls, take a flying dive guns-a-blazing into a pile of enemies, or cartwheel from one piece of cover to another, and none of these moves are difficult to pull off. Even better, the shooting action gets progressively trickier and more difficult towards the later levels. It becomes quite fun and satisfying to enter a heavily guarded room and take out every last enemy.
When you get close to an enemy, you enter the game’s fighting mode, which is basically a side-view from the camera and reworked controls. Because the view is designed for one-on-one fighting, other enemies will stop shooting at you and pretty much just watch while you take out one of their buddies. The punching and kicking is quite simple and can get tedious after a while, but the focus ability helps spice things up. Still, other than a precious few bosses, no enemy is even close to being a match for your character, and many baddies can be defeated in close quarters by simply pounding on the punch button over and over.
At the root of many of this game’s problems is its control scheme. Many buttons serve multiple functions, and they can switch from one to the other without any warning. For instance, when you’re being chased and shot at by an Agent, you may want to hold L and press Z to perform focus dodges, thus avoiding the rain of bullets. But if you’re within several feet of another enemy as you run by and press the buttons, the game will think you’re trying to disarm this second enemy and not focus dodge. Thus, you waste five or ten seconds taking away some dumb cop’s handgun while Agent Smith runs right up to you and fills your noggin’ with hot lead. Game over, all because of poor controls…and that kind of thing happens all the time. To make matters worse, the camera has a habit of getting way too close to your character, especially in tight quarters, and it doesn’t shift vertically at all, even when you’re on stairs or trying to jump to another elevation. There’s no user-control of the camera, so you have no choice but to deal with whatever awkward viewing angle the game hands to you.
Although you’re given the choice of playing through the game with either Ghost or Niobe, the two paths are not all that different. Each character has a few unique missions and a slightly different FMV with Persephone, but most of the game and even cut-scenes play out the same regardless of your path. Speaking of FMVs, the new footage shot just for Enter the Matrix is not nearly worth playing through the game just to see. There are a couple of small info nuggets here and there, but most of the clips feel like deleted scenes from the movie, and some are even reused from Reloaded. Plus, the major characters barely make an appearance, and despite using Factor 5’s new DivX video compression tools, the FMV has terrible picture quality. At least Sparks, operator for the Logos, is an entertaining character. The real-time cinemas are, for the most part, well produced. They feature decent lip-synching and some nice camera movement, although many of the films’ most basic special effects are either lazily recreated (jacking out of the Matrix) or are simply omitted altogether (an agent’s bullet-dodging haze of movement).
Enter the Matrix is clearly a rushed job through and through, as many of its problems lie in the superficial systems and could have been fixed with a little more time and effort. Moreover, there are some very common, annoying glitches and bugs that have no excuse being in any game that has made it through Nintendo’s testing program. During several missions and in various environments, I would often be unable to turn or step to the right; the effect would continue until I moved forward a certain distance.
For most gamers, trudging through level after level of Enter the Matrix’s shortcomings is just not going to be worth it. The later levels are a definite improvement over the first few, but there’s a lot of nonsense and poor design before you get to the really good shootouts. Then again, if you’re a huge fan of games like Jet Force Gemini, Winback, and other tense shooters, Enter the Matrix certainly does have its moments. I would definitely advise against buying the game only for the extra story development. Much of the storytelling is just rehash from the movie or isn’t that interesting to begin with, and the new bits toward the end are not likely to give you any significant insight into the movie’s plot or character development. The new material is more like geeky details that you could easily find on the Internet. Whether you want to try out the slick shooting action or just have to see the movie clips despite my advice, definitely rent Enter the Matrix before you buy.