America - Front
America - Back
30th Oct 2020 | 408 views
Game: Enter the Matrix.
Developer: Shiny Entertainment
Do you know they are making a new Matrix movie? I didn’t know that until recently, but apparently they are, and it’s going to be a sequel and not a reboot or a remake. I’m honestly rather skeptical of this, since the third movie of the trilogy closed down pretty much all routes for the story to go through. I simply don’t know what they could do to continue a story that was pretty much over and closed. Thinking about it made me wonder why The Matrix universe was so underutilized. There are many fictional universes that work better as a setting to play with than as a continue storyline, and I feel The Matrix was one of those. The mix of cyberpunk, action, martial arts and philosophy made for a very entertaining universe for setting up stories, which is why I’m surprised to know there are only three games about. You’d think that a universe as full of action and shooting as this would be prime material for action games, even more so considering how heavy the theme of computers and the digital world is, but no, only three games: Enter the Matrix in 2003, The Matrix: Path of Neo in 2005 and an MMORPG called The Matrix Online that lasted from 2005 to 2009. Neither of the three is considered fondly by either critics or players, and after the 2000s the series had lost its steam, so they just moved on. I remember playing Enter the Matrix when it came out, so I decided to replay it again to see if it was the way I recalled.
Enter the Matrix is an 3d action-adventure game developed by Shiny Entertainment and published by Infogrames and Atari in 2003 for PC, GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox. The game tries to tell a story parallel to the events of The Matrix Reloaded, following certain side characters and their roles within that story, while also completing information regarding the film’s plot. In the game, you fight for a humanity that has been slaved and driven back to the center of the Earth after a machine uprising destroyed the planet, and infiltrating in the world simulation known as the Matrix is one of the few things they can do to try and win the war.
Before I start, a bit of warning. This game is quite old, and as such, it can have problems running on modern computers. As such, I won’t be taking into account problems that I know arose from compatibility issues, like some sped up cutscenes I know they would’ve worked well otherwise. Also, spoiler warning for both the game and The Matrix Reloaded.
The game is straightforward enough at the start. It begins with the Logos, one of the many rebel ships of the human resistance, getting a warning from a recently destroyed ship, thus you have to retrieve it. You will be given the choice of playing as Niobe or as Ghost, each of them having a slightly different plot to follow. While the gameplay of them is pretty much identical, they have particular elements that make them stand out from each other, though it’s mostly different set pieces and modes (Niobe drives a car, Ghost shoots the enemies behind it, for example). Gameplay itself is rather simple, controlling your avatar through linear levels beating whatever enemy you come across. Similar to the movies, your arsenal relies on martial arts and guns akimbo, which right of the bat feel off. The martial arts are fine enough, with a lot of flashy movements to pull off, though it gets kind of repetitive the longer the game goes. The problem is the guns. Simply put, aiming is shockingly inaccurate. The game doesn’t have the option of an aiming reticle while you’re in 3rd person mode, instead it automatically targets enemies once you’re close enough. And it simply can’t do it, bullets will go left and right, up and down and take nonsensical trajectories instead of simply going forward and hit the enemy, while enemy will suffer little of this problem. This gets exacerbated by the fact that if you are shooting at enemies, you obviously want to avoid hand to hand combat, otherwise you’d be using your martial arts, so why the auto aim mechanic only works at relatively close distances is beyond me. This problem gets worse the more you progress through the game, since more and stronger enemies will appear, and they tent to all be armed to the teeth, while having a much more consistent aim than you. At the very least there’s enough weapon variety to make up for it, since some of those options do help iron out this problems (the shotgun is an absolute monster that can kill anything in a shot or two, including you, and it covers enough area to make aiming pointless). You do have a 1st person mode with reticle, but it limits you to movement to either side, being unable to move back and forth for some reason. Other feature of the game is the “Focus” gauge. By using it, you will enter the famous bullet mode, slowing down time and allowing you to do special movements, while also being able to see the attacks the enemies throw at you in slow motion. It’s cool to see the bullets coming at you slowly, allowing you just enough time to dodge them, and even the accuracy of the weapons improves a little bit. It’s honestly overpowered during the first half of the game, though the more you progress, the more enemies they throw at you, so you’ll ran out of “focus” sooner or later and have to strategize (which just means hide until the gauge fills up again, then repeat the beating), then it just becomes repetitive. The special levels break the monotony once in a while, but Niobe seems to have gotten the better deal, since not only Ghost has to deal with the helicopter bosses, which are a pain to take down, but also because Niobe’s driving AI is atrocious. It simply doesn’t know how to deal with the slightest obstacle, acts like simply going around things or moving backwards and getting back on track seem way above its ability to pull off successfully. And because every time the car gets hit loses life, she will simply kill both of you if she ever gets stuck on a big enough wall. Ghost’s shooting AI is not that much better, but at the very least you won’t pointlessly kamikaze you against walls and other cars. Seriously I had to restart some of those driving levels many times because of no fault of my own, she just kept crashing into things. After a while, you don’t care for police cars or agents on the road, you are just constantly watching for things that might make you crash.
The levels in and of themselves have problems. Level design is either too straightforward or too complex for its own good. Most of the time the missions boil down to “go from point A to point B” or “take out the enemies”, but some areas are way more expansive that they should’ve been. City levels full of stairs that leave to blocked floors, streets that leave to dead ends, big buildings full of machinery that create a maze to just cross it… All while being filled with enemies. And while in some of this scenarios work (finding your way through dark alleys while trying to run away from agents fits the setting), in most cases this just leads to a lot of backtracking. Also, if you’re not going to be able to interact with every door, why add so many of them? Going around searching door by door when you are already lost is annoying. There’s also the fact many levels look… green. For some reason, some of the levels have a strong shade of green, which gets distracting after a while. It’s not something universal, some levels don’t have it at all, so if they were trying to do it as an atmosphere generating tool, they didn’t really hit the mark. Leaving that aside, they at least look decent, at least to the standards of a tie-in game in the 2000s. They don’t feel empty, they are appropriately decorated and they sometimes even have NPCs going around doing their things. They just never rise above mediocre, which is sad, since you could do a lot with them.
The story is an expansion of The Matrix Reloaded, as I said before. They added two kinds of cutscenes, ones using in game graphics and ones using real actors. That’s right, they used the real actors and sets for this. Apparently this game was developed alongside the movie, and they decided to record a couple of hours of cutscenes for this game, enough that it could be its own movie, using the actual actors and sets of the film. You know what, kudos to them. Not every tie-in game gets that level of attention, much less original content with movie resources. Also, it’s nice this is more a side story rather than a retelling of the events of the film, it gives it much more reason to exist and be played. With that said, if you’ve seen the movie it’s based on, you pretty much know everything that’s going to happen, because it wouldn’t make sense otherwise. Some things are new, as are some details revealed, but overall it’s very derivative of its source material. Also, it feels like a missed opportunity for some of the elements mentioned but never capitalized by the movie. For example, in the film they said some monsters and legends of old are just rogue programs acting up, but you never really see anything of the sort in the movie. In the game, you technically get to fight against vampires and werewolves, right…? Not really, they are just monsters in name, they are only regular mooks that fight slightly different and die with a different animation, other than that they are exactly the same. You’d think that they could go balls to the wall crazy in a videogame, but it’s surprisingly tame. From what I’ve heard, The Path of Neo seems to have been much more willing to go crazy in this respect, but I haven’t played it yet, so I can’t really comment.
After beating the five different areas (or six if you’ve beaten the Seraph) you will reach the final battle of the game. And it’s quite disappointed. Without spoiling much, the battle becomes a static chore, without any of the strengths of the previous bosses. At the very least it’s not as annoying as those helicopters, but at least with them there was a sense of challenge and difficulty, this is just a static bore. I get why they did this, it fits the setting, but there was no reason to not make this a cutscene and just make a proper boss fight before. And speaking of cutscenes, once you beat this you get the final one, with the heroes trapped and lost in the dark… and it leads to a trailer to The Matrix Revolutions. Oh boy, you couldn’t get away with this kind of stunt today. Ending the game with the trailer for an upcoming movie would be quite poorly received today as a shallow ploy to advertise the sequel film, but this was an early 2000s tie-in game, I can’t be that mad. Besides, once again being tied so much to a movie limited the amount of ways they could’ve ended the film, so they really had no choice here. Still, the final boss could’ve been better.
The game also has a hacking system that allows you to modify the game in various ways, from accessing different content to entering cheat codes. It functions as a programming screen of some sort, and you need to insert commands to get to the content you want. It takes a long time to learn how to do, and if you don’t have the necessary codes at hand (which they came with the box) you won’t be able to do anything at all. It was fun at the time, not it seems a chore. I suppose it’s thematic.
The presentation is not this game’s strongest point. While it absolutely nails the themes of the Matrix, graphics and music leave a lot to be desired, even by the standards of the time. The music in particular saddens me the most, since the Matrix series has great music, and it’s not present here, instead having a couple of sound-alike pieces. Why they didn’t just use the original soundtrack is beyond me, since there should be no copyright or licensing problem in here, it’s the same franchise.
From what I’ve read, Enter the Matrix was quite rushed, to release alongside The Matrix Reloaded, and it shows in many ways. While I can see the basis and the potential for a good game in here, this game needed way more time in the oven than what it got, and it suffered greatly for it. Repetitive combat, below average graphics for the time, forgettable soundtrack… This could have all been solved if they had dedicated the time it needed, but being a tie-in product it simply wasn’t their priority.