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Enter the Matrix

Review By:  J. Michael Neal

Developer:  Shiny Entertainment
Publisher:  Atari
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Action
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Dolby Digital, HDTV 1080i
Date Posted: 

9-20-03

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 David Perry.

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 was.

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 out there.

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 normally have.

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 already.

Highs:

  • 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!

Lows:

  • 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.

Final Verdict: 

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.

Overall Score: 7.4

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