J. Michael Neal
# of Players:
Dolby Digital, HDTV 1080i
Let me tell you a story:
Of the many things that marked the latter years of my childhood, an
assertion that David Perry was god probably sticks out as the most
memorable. It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but after Earthworm
Jim one and two I was convinced he was the most talented,
creative individual on the planet. I idolized the man. I collected
every scrap of information I could find on his company and
everything they were working on. I would, honest-to-God, cut out
pictures of the man, glue them to my schoolbooks, draw little crowns
on him, and write “King Perry” above his head. I still have the
notebooks to prove it! Every kid has their heroes I guess, mine was
Because of my childhood obsession with all things Shiny, few people
know as much about the company’s ups and downs as I do, and few
people have been as hurt, time and time again, by this company as I
have. You have to understand - I’m pretty young at the time, middle
school aged, fixating on every detail of this company, biting every
hook the silver-tongued Perry would throw to the media, looking up
to this man like a saint – every time Shiny disappointed the public
it hit me a thousand-fold. Every delay of their soon-to-be
“masterpieces” felt like an eternity in purgatory. I’d always
console myself with fantasies of how groundbreaking the games would
be upon released; the games, however, would never live up to the
mammoth hype Perry would single-handedly generate around them.
Neversoft’s pathetic port of MDK was the first knife. I had
waited years to play that game, and was slapped in the face with an
ugly, buggy, frustrating shell of empty promises. That did not dim
my expectations of Wild 9s however. Wild 9s was to be
Shiny’s grandest project. Breathtaking 3D worlds ripe for
exploration, revolutionary gameplay that allowed you to torture and
kill enemies in near endless ways, and some of the best character
and story design ever seen. I had to wait forever once again, but
Shiny kept dangling outrageous promises in front of my nose,
including action figures, a television series, and a motion picture.
How could I resist?
I’m still waiting for Wild 9s to deliver on at least SOME of
those promises. For starters the game was “pseudo 3D”, which was all
the rage at the time among companies unable to deliver upon their
original promises. I’m looking at you Spider – the Game. This
meant “breathtaking 3D worlds” turned into “pixilated polygons on a
2D planes”, “endless ways to torture and kill your enemies” ended up
maxing out at about five, and unless you were like me and ate,
slept, and breathed Wild 9s for months on end you wouldn’t
have even known the characters had names, much less back
stories – the wonderfully unique characters and off-kilter story was
left to about a paragraph’s worth of material in the manual. I
figured they had focused their efforts on the, supposedly, completed
movie script, but as you can see Wild 9s – the Movie never
Bear with me. I’m trying to make a point here…
Even after all that, it took Messiah to finally sever my
emotional ties to Shiny Entertainment. Long after the game had been
delayed enough to render the, as always, “revolutionary Shiny
gameplay and technology” obsolete, even after the, as always,
incredible Shiny character and story design had been once again
relegated to manual-filler, even after I had been burned enough to
officially end my “Shiny Era”, I STILL ended up buying that
turd! I even finished it! It was then that I realized I had a
sickness and I needed help. From that day on I never believed
another word out of David Perry’s mouth or felt anything even
approaching anticipation over another Shiny product ever again.
Even so, Shiny titles have still managed to find their way into my
game library. I have a copy of Sacrifice I’ve installed but
never played, a copy of Giants: Citizen Kabuto, programmed by
former MDK team Planet Moon, I played but never finished,
and, most recently, a copy of Enter the Matrix I acquired
through a deal I couldn’t refuse. That brings us to the topic at
hand, my review of Enter the Matrix…
I expected nothing but the worst from this game. The hype
surrounding it was impressive even for Shiny fair – hour-long
television specials and celebrity filled Hollywood premieres
impressive. I knew there was no way it could possible meet fan’s
expectations, especially after watching the film take everything
great about the first movie and flush it down the toilet. I figured
the tight time constraints would force Shiny to under-develop this
one as oppose to over-develop, and the early reviews seemed to
agree. I chalked another one up to the Shiny curse and went on about
my business. That was until I actually played the game.
Although Enter the Matrix isn’t the greatest game ever, it’s
still pretty darn fun, and frankly, more enjoyable than anything
they’ve put out in years. It could be the former Shiny’s bitch in me
talking, or just the guy that wanted to find brilliance in a movie
sequel that was anything but, but I actually found myself enjoying
this game at least as much as Max Payne or Dead to Rights.
It definitely has a limited appeal, but if you go into it with low
expectations you’ll probably be as pleasantly surprised as I was.
The key to enjoying Enter the Matrix is to think of it as
more of a beat-um-up than anything else. The shooting, the driving,
and the flying are all incredibly weak, but the hand-to-hand combat
sets a new standard for the “beat-um-up” genre. It’s a little on the
button-mashy side, sure, but it’s fast, fluid, and beautiful to
watch. Besides, it’s just plain fun to wail on nameless authority
figures with your wicked kung fu! It gives you a pretty good feel of
what it would be like to “bend to rules” of reality, as well as
further insight into the Matrix universe. Maybe not as much insight
as all the PR mumbo-jumbo had you believe, but there are still some
nuggets of wisdom here worth discovering for the Matrix fans
If you are expecting ETM to clear up the numerously
unanswered questions you no doubt have about Matrix Reloaded
(“What the hell was the Architect talking about”, “organic EMP,
what’s up with that”, “could Keanu possibly be any more
emotionless”, “why did this movie suck so bad”, “if I beg the
manager, can I get my money back”) you’re going to be disappointed.
If you expect two hours of film footage shot specifically for the
game, you are also going to be disappointed. What was selectively
left out of the cover stories and ten-page previews on the game was
that the vast majority of those “two hours of footage” are made up
of cut scenes using the weak in game visuals, not FMV, and that most
of the film footage in the game seems lifted straight from the
movie. Completely “original” scenes probably don’t add up to more
than 15 minutes.
What story there is here is a bit hit or miss. While some parts do
fit nicely with the film’s storyline, showing what Ghost and Niobe
(the game’s main characters) were up to while Neo, Trinity, and
Morpheus (the ones people actually care about) were starring in the
film, most of it seems like filler ham-handedly placed to sync
events with the film and extend the length of the game. However, it
is just an action game. If this were an RPG maybe points could be
taken off for that, but since most of the story here is simply to
set up for a big fight scene or give you a reason to run through an
airport and kill everyone inside, it’s not as big a hindrance to the
fun as you would think. Besides, some interesting things are
revealed or expounded upon in this game, like the relationship
between Ghost and Trinity, or how the final transmission of the
OSIRIS was recovered.
What is a hindrance, however, is the game’s daunting length. I know
many people complain about short games, “Max Payne was too
short”, “Metal Gear Solid was too short”, but I am a
long-time fan of the short game. Some games aren’t meant to be long,
and ETM is a shining example why – games that are a bit on
the shallow side should end before they get boring. Sure, it’s fun
to run around and beat the crap out of people for, say, the first
ten hours, but around hour fifteen you really are ready to see it
end. Too bad you’re little over halfway there. Thank God you only
have to finish the game once. Yes, you can replay the game
from the other character’s point of view, but since they share such
similar move sets and objective there’s little reason.
Just because the move sets are similar, however, doesn’t mean they
are anything to sneeze at. This game has, by far, some of the best
motion captured martial arts ever seen in, courtesy of the legendary
Wo Ping Yuen of Matrix, Fist of Legend, and
Crouching Tiger fame. This really is about as close as most
people will get to pull off some of his groundbreaking wirework –
you’ll flip off walls, unleash furious combos, and disarm people in
style. If you “focus” you’ll be able to pull off even more fantastic
moves, switching the game to the, now ubiquitous, bullet-time the
original Matrix pioneered, and who wouldn’t want to do that?
Who wouldn’t want to cartwheel across a room, dodging a hail of
police fire, or launch off a wall and spin kick someone right in the
face, or sweep a person then punch them a dozen times before they
hit the ground? Not any self-respecting geek, that’s for sure!
You’ll need to focus often to pull off those kinds of moves, and
although the focus meter is finite you can rig the game in your
favor by hacking the Matrix. You heard me correctly: there is a
“mini-game” within ETM that allows you to snoop around in
hard drives, decrypt passwords, chit-chat with characters, and hear
secret messages as well as unlock artwork and cut-scenes and hack
your character. Infinite focus, infinite health, infinite ammo, free
weapon drop points, invisibility, they are all at your fingertips,
all you need to do is know where to dig. And digging, my friend, is
where the fun lays. I found myself enjoying the time I spent fooling
around with this inventive addition as much as the actual game, and
although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “selling point”, it is
definitely one of the cooler extras you’ll find in a game.
Another cool extra you’ll find, again with some skillful hacking, is
a multiplayer game. It’s nothing spectacular, just a one-on-one
fighting game using the game’s combat engine and some of the
franchise’s more popular characters in familiar backdrops, but it’s
enough to give this game a little more longevity than it would
As previously mentioned, the visuals in this game are a little weak.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call them “pug-fugly”, but they certainly
won’t be winning any awards this year. They are low on the detail
factor and incredibly under-whelming by Xbox standards, riff with
slow-down and occasionally jittery animations. I assume the PS2 and
GameCube versions aren’t much better, although the Xbox and PCs
option to play this game at higher resolutions might improve things
a bit. However, character models are, on the whole, satisfactory (at
least the important characters anyway) and the film footage is
seriously high quality.
Sound wise the game fairs much better. The music is definitely movie
quality, although it doesn’t have as strong a soundtrack as the
films, and the voice work is top notch. Sound effects could have
been a little better and overall the game seems a little too quiet,
but who’s keeping track?
The controls, on the other hand, are bothersome. Over-complicated
and uncomfortable, even with alternative configurations available,
the controls will prove problematic for most gamers. Luckily, since
this game is pretty much “MASH-MASH-MASH” it won’t be too
much of a problem. You’ll get use to them soon enough, and then your
problem will be hitting that black button without lifting your thumb
off the main face pad.
This really is a once through kind of game. Even if you love it,
you’ll be lucky to finish it with both characters. It’s longer than
it should be, and has some noticeable weak spots, but Matrix
fans and people looking for a good beat-um-up with a little Max
Payne thrown in for good measure will be pleased for at least
one run through, two tops. Seeing how many copies it sold, it’s only
a matter of time before it hits some sort of discounted price, at
which time I would recommend giving this game a try if you hadn’t
Combat is fast and fun.
Might fill in some gaps in the film’s story.
Hacking is pretty cool.
Film footage is a slight plus.
Come on… it’s the Matrix!
Other gameplay elements are not as strong as the combat.
Previews were misleading about the story content.
Who cares about Ghost and Niobe?
Visuals are weak.
Controls are cumbersome.
Little to no real replay value.
Excessively long for this kind of game.
This game isn’t as bad as it must sound. Think of this game as
Fighting Force times a hundred and you’ll be fine; anything else
and you’ll probably be disappointed. But, for Matrix obsessives and
fans of the aging beat-um-up genre this is at least worth the
trouble of a rental – there is actually some fun buried under all
the unfulfilled hype this time around.