Enter The Matrix
The History of games based on film licenses is littered with the fetid corpses of the mediocre. Often regarded as little more than marketing tools for the big picture, licensed games are frequently thrown together in slapdash fashion, seemingly for no other reason than to meet a deadline and bamboozle a gullible public. There are notable exceptions, but for all the brilliance of a GoldenEye, there are a dozen dismal Men In Blacks waiting in the wings to sully the genre and snag the cash of the easily fooled. Film licences don't come much bigger than The Matrix (you may have heard of it recently), and a big job needs a big man. Step forward Shiny Entertainment boss David Perry, who a few years ago actually turned down the opportunity to develop a game based on the original film, apparently believing it was going to be just another two-bit hacker movie. When the adopted Californian eventually saw The Matrix, the sound of him kicking himself could be heard in his native Ireland. But he was given a reprieve and immediately agreed to a game based around this year's brace of Matrix movies (Revolutions is out in November).
Today's game is Enter The Matrix, although at a glance you could be forgiven for thinking that it is still 1999. With many of the environments presented largely in Bland-o-Vision, there is scarcely a nod to the graphical progress of recent years. The game's crossplatform release contains the answer, as this is essentially a PS2 game given a token spit and polish for the PC market. And while it's a marginal improvement on the visuals provided by Sony's black box, suffice to say that the likes of Unreal II will not be unduly concerned.
But as we never tire of saying, it's all about the gameplay, and Enter The Matrix splices together a number of genres to create what could feasibly be described as an interactive movie. And if you thought that was a term that had been consigned to the 1990s, here's another one: Full Motion Video. A result of the CD boom, games in the middle of the last decade invariably came with laborious video footage of B-list porn actors interrupting your play time to deliver dialogue that was more wooden than a snooker cue. The novelty soon wore off and purists complained it detracted from the immersion, eventually leading to the proliferation of the game engine cut-scene. The advent of DVD-ROMs sparked fears of a return, and while Enter The Matrix comes on CD, we can safely say that FMV is back nonetheless.
However, rather than throw a few talentless gimps in front of a blue screen, the actual actors and sets from the films are put to full use, with the game featuring over an hour of exclusive footage. Perhaps seeking to cover all bases, Enter The Matrix also has a slew of in-game cut scenes, advancing the narrative' on a regular basis. That narrative is a key part of the Matrix universe though, and the game comes with the bold claim of being written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers, the guys who hit pay-dirt with the groundbreaking 1999 film.
Alas, for Bill & Ted fans, that story doesn't revolve around Keanu Reeves, and you won't be donning Neo's ankle-length leather coat and bewildered expression. Instead, a pair of new characters are available, namely shit-kicking gun merchant Ghost, played by Anthony Wong, and the sultry Niobe, recognisable by her Craig David hair and played by actress Jada Pinkett-Smith, wife of The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air. Their paths intertwine throughout Enter The Matrix, and while the claim it is two separate games is a bit rich, there are slightly different paths to take depending on your choice of character.
Those paths are negotiated in a third-person action adventure style, replete with all the gun-toting, high-kicking action one would associate with The Matrix. The big deal about the film was the revolutionary Bullet-Time, the slow motion effect appropriated by Max Payne a couple of years ago. Here it is known for some reason as Focus, and manifests itself in a similar fashion. Hold down your Focus key and you are thrown into a wibby-wobbly world where you can dodge bullets, walk up walls and administer boot leather to the temples of any nearby policemen.
Although Max Payne has long since stolen the thunder, it's still an impressive effect, and an essential tool when faced with any kind of gathering of enemies.
In fact, when not using Focus, the action is somewhat irksome, with bullets flying wide of the mark, and kung-fu moves reduced to a series of jerks.
The game allegedly features more than 3,000 moves, although in reality this is closer to three: punch, kick, and throw, variations added depending on which way you are facing.
There are a couple of nice actions, such as the ability to disarm an enemy, slap him on the head and then dispatch him with his own weapon. But while it looks great, you are sometimes left questioning whether you actually did anything, the whole move instigated by the press of a solitary key. This doubt reappears when grappling with vampires in the Chateau, as having slapped them around a bit your character will suddenly pull out a wooden stake and thrust it into their heart, giving the illusion that you're playing the game rather than randomly pressing buttons.
Focus has to be used fairly sparingly, as it depletes over time, topping up of its own accord (slightly quicker if you indulge in a lot of hand-to-hand combat). This is also a formula that applies to your health, which may irk the majority of PC gamers.
Health packs are virtually rendered redundant, as rather than leaping hungrily upon them in the traditional fashion, health is replenished by simply waiting around for a few seconds, an extraordinary move that cheapens any sense of achievement. That's not to say that the game is easy, and some sections will have to be repeated 10 or 15 times before you get past them. It's a monkey see, monkey do' approach to gameplay that is exacerbated by the save game mechanic. In a further nod to the game's console roots, all save points are automated, and scattered about in a fairly haphazard fashion, sometimes quarter of an hour apart, but then occasionally appearing inbetween minor cut-scenes. Die just before a tricky point, and you end up running through the same areas over and over.
As for the locations, many are taken directly from the films, although you'll be on familiar ground, ticking such boxes as Sewer, Dungeon, Airport and Generic Industrial Plant, for instance. Tasks often involve little more than getting from one place to another while eliminating any opposition, and in keeping with the action movie theme, it's generally about balls-out gunplay and hi-octane grappling, with stealth making only the briefest of appearances, such as the ability to sneak up behind someone and snap his neck with a satisfying crunch. Gore fans will be disappointed though, as the game doesn't feature even a drop of blood. There are a couple of nice touches, such as being able to take cover behind a wall, wait for the enemy to loom into view and then unleash an arsenal of slow motion death. Enemies vary from security guards to SWAT officers to Agents, and when dealing with the latter, it's best to follow the advice of the film, and run.
The Al isn't always up to Mensa standards though, with coppers occasionally to be found moonwalking into walls for no particular reason. There is a suggestion that development of Enter The Matrix simply had to be cut off so that the game could be released simultaneously with the film, a theory given credence by such anomalies as complete loss of sound during a cut-scene. We await the first patch with particular interest and anticipation.
The big action scenes can be quite satisfying, but there is a tendency towards repetition. This is slightly rectified by the intermittent appearance of rudimentary driving sections, although in reality they are little more than interactive cutscenes. They differ depending on your choice of character, with Niobe taking the wheel, and Ghost often to be found hanging out of the window with a machine gun, the gameplay harking back to the on-rail shooters of yore. And as a treat for hovercraft fans, there's even the opportunity to pilot that big old ship out of the film.
Something of a mixed bag then, and one that comes with all the hallmarks of Shiny's ambitious approach. David Perry has often spoken about his desire to create a truly mainstream game, and with such a huge licence, this was an opportunity. But the oversimplification of the combat may deter the hardcore, while the control system requires a degree of manual dextenty that could preclude movie-dazed casual gamers. That said, similar shortcomings didn't stop Tomb Raider from being a massive hit, and with the pistol-toting female character, back-flips and beam hanging, there are direct comparisons with that series.
Desert Of The Real
In conclusion, it's fair to say that the various facets of the game are inferior to rival titles. There are many better shooting games available, as a beat 'em up it is found wanting, and were the driving sections extrapolated into a full game they would be roundly scoffed at. Similar accusations were levelled at minor French classic, The Nomad Soul, but the composite parts gelled together to create an enjoyable whole. The same is true here, and the idea is clearly to make you feel you are taking part in your own personal version of The Matrix. Given such a remit, it can't be dismissed as a total failure, and despite the lengthy spells of trudging about, some of the action sequences are undeniably exciting, despite the occasional cack-handedness and graphical shoddiness - square wheels, anyone?
Thanks to the full involvement of the movie staff, the authenticity can't be questioned, and for true fans of the films it's essential, if only for the exclusive footage. Absolute freaks might even be able to decipher the storyline - which will apparently make more sense after viewing the two new movies - but in the meantime seems to involve little more than protecting other rebels while notching up an impressive body count.
Somehow, Enter The Matrix manages to reduce one of the most impressive film series of recent times to the status of a B-movie, albeit an occasionally mindlessly enjoyable one. When the music and the action kicks in, it's undeniably intense, and the Focus/Bullet-Time is still pretty cool, even if it does enable you to see that your blows aren't actually making contact. The mixing of FMV with regular cut' scenes is a little incongruous, but if nothing else the story parts' do at least give you a break from the relentless action.
The NME recently declared that if The Matrix were an album, it would be AC/DC's Back In Black. Praise scarcely comes higher, but the same unfortunately can't be said of the game. If Enter The Matrix were an album, it would probably be Now 54! - granted, some standout moments, but a lot of filler.
I'm Sorry, I Don't Understand
Apart from the main action, there is also an interface that supposedly enables you to hack into your game and somehow change the settings, thus spookily mirroring the films and maintaining the illusion that it is all one big simulated world. But to be honest, it's all a bit confusing. The manual isn't much help either, offering only: The rabbit hole is very deep, with many places to explore. You must have a previously saved game stored to begin hacking. After that, you're on your own. Thanks for that.
Walk, Don't Run
A sizeable howler, this one. When playing the game on one of these new-fangled Next Generation consoles, it's possible to walk around using the analogue stick, easing it forward slightly to break into a trot, with a full push enabling you to run like a bastard. No such luxury is afforded to the PC's default mouse and keyboard setup, which either has you standing still or running at full speed, thus precluding any notion of stealth, and forcing you to give your position away and indulge in extended fire-fights when you might have been able to simply skulk away.
Admittedly, stealth doesn't play a great part in the game, but for the sake of one key, it would have been nice to have the option. Yes, you could plug in an analogue controller, but by the time you've dicked about binding all the various buttons (Focus, punch, kick, jump, primary and secondary weapons), you might as well just get the PS2 out. Rubbish.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode