Enter the Matrix
Enter the Matrix is an odd game in that it is only entertaining for short bursts of time. Don’t get me wrong; surely any undertaking to make a Matrix game is a difficult one. The development team must make a game that keeps intact the spirit and style of the movies’ revolutionary fight sequences and the mood set by the dialogue and dark, naturally lit locales, and (most daunting of all) it must fall in line with the lore that has been written and spoken of since the initial film’s 1999 release and make sure all the salivating Morpheus followers are duly satiated. A tall order indeed – is developer Shiny up to the task? Wait and find out.
Initially refusing the Wachowski brothers’ offer to make a Matrix game back in 1999, Shiny has now been given a second chance and for the most part redeems itself of its grievous mistake. Enter the Matrix shines in its presentation, being the coolest kind of cool and yet not overtly showy at the same time. Look at the front of the box, for goodness’ sake – with glowing holographic symbols like that, it has to be cool, right? This is undeniably your initial thought as you pick either Niobe or Ghost and begin the game by jacking into the Matrix to retrieve a chip containing the final transmission of the ill-fated Osiris. Neither’s missions vary too drastically from the other person’s, except in special cases (for example, in car chases, Niobe drives while Ghost wards off pursuers with a shotgun) and the obligatory character-specific assignments. After obtaining the Osiris transmission, the game opens up and begins to really dig into that esoteric cult following that the movies are known for, and facts that do actually correspond with the occurrences of the movie are revealed, much to the delight of the hardcore Matrix fanatic. However, anyone who’s seen it will be able to relate that the Matrix is far more than boring missions and endless yammering. It’s the time-warping battles that count for just about everything this game is worth.
At first, the game will hand out tutorial tips like candy on Halloween, making it feel like a training exercise as you go along. It is from these that you learn how to open doors, kick glass panes out of windows, and eventually, learn to use “Focus” (better known in video games as “bullet time”) to slow down your enemies, outrun their constant ammunition, and increase your aiming accuracy so that every shell fired leads to the green binary smoke of death. Having to pause the game and scroll to the Tips menu every five seconds in a new mission becomes cumbersome, but in time you will learn to do without them. All of the things you learn allow you to pull off some fascinating fireworks, although oftentimes you find that you know how to do something before the in-game advice shows you how. Still, there’s nothing quite so adrenaline-pumping as running around the corner of a wall and planting your boot heel in a security guard’s skull, and thus EtM succeeds in finally allowing gamers to live vicariously through the actors who got to do all the neat stuff in the movie.
No matter what you’re able to do, though, the game still packs on an unshakable difficulty, whether it’s in being absolutely lost and not knowing what will set off the next cutscene or being accosted by endless security guards and scrambling madly to regain health and focus without being ruthlessly shot down. And who knows how you’re going to react when it’s both cases at the same time? Frustration often rides high in Enter the Matrix, and having to “jack back in” (the game’s fancy high-tech way of saying “continue) loses its initial appeal and sucks away all the get-go after a while. Small helps do what they can to aid the situation – for example, the arrow at the top that tells you where to go and how far in meters you are from the current destination – but most times you will throw your console and controller at the wall in absolute anger only to turn the game on again later and conquer the source of your rage in one try. Ergo, the reason why I said the game is only fun in short bursts. The game is a failure at keeping any given gamer’s attention span forever, which ultimately makes it an awkward game to play in spite of the constant glut of things to do.
EtM has some excellent graphics, which is most notable in the smooth motion of the world during the use of Focus. Things are in fact so smooth during that time that repeated rapid transitions from fast to slow made me nauseous on occasion. After some fresh air and liquids, you’ll see the live-action footage that has been hyped so heavily in previews and such. In spite of however much value it adds to the Matrix saga, the acting is rather stiff and the dialogue somewhat peculiar, except from Sparks, the comic relief operator who provides well-timed deadpan jokes and predictable but understandable insecurity about the dangers of the mission. Everything looks great in the game as well; characters move fluently and realistically and react well to sudden events, but the natural darkness becomes a problem. In a sniping mission, I had to turn up the brightness on my TV quite a bit to prevent myself from shooting my ally Soren. As a result of the lack of light, it is hard to see where gunfire is coming from, and you can sometimes lose 75% of your health meter before realizing that you need to turn to your left and hit the Focus button pronto. It’s definitely a strain on the eyes, and another argument for the fact that prolonged play is not in EtM’s best interests.
Matrix also contains rather appropriately themed music that pushes your fear hormones out of their comfort zone and kicks you into a high-speed adrenaline rush when the time is right. Every time the string section crescendoed inside the post office building, I turned around expecting a stampede of security guards (or worse, an Agent) that I’d have to dodge bullets and fists from only to see no one there. Thumping techno accompanies the faster sequences like driving scenarios and gun battles with helicopters of massive girth and simultaneously manages not to annoy me like most songs in that vein. Most of the time, you’ll hear the sound of shots being fired from all directions, so the music may not be so noticeable to you, but do take time to notice that everything, and I mean everything, slows down – that includes the music! A fine touch, indeed, and perhaps one of this game’s strongest suits.
In time, you will become accustomed to everything Enter the Matrix has to offer. Though the control demands that you often hold down three or four buttons at once to produce a desired effect like jumping out from around a corner with guns a-blazing, this surprisingly becomes nothing major to ask of you. The biggest problem is that the game spaces its most interesting moments out too far and makes the road to get to them a tedious one. Whether you beat the game as Ghost, Niobe, or both, it may take a while to reach the plateau of victory when you get bored every half-hour. Other features like hacking into the Matrix to produce cheats may occupy your time, but what good are they if the big bombastic adventure itself comes up short? The game puts itself in a weird dilemma: third-person shooter aficionados may feel too much out of the loop if they’re not Matrix fans, and Matrix fans who aren’t big on third-person shooters won’t get anything out of it unless they’re willing to overcome their dislike of the genre. Therefore, I can only recommend it to the hardcore Matrix lover who is also reasonably proficient at handling third-person shooters. It’s a niche market, yes, but then again, isn’t the Matrix itself one of the deepest of them all?