Enter The Matrix Reader Review
I have a confession to make. Despite twelve years of prodding and cajoling from friends and family members, I still haven’t seen any of The Matrix films. Perhaps, therefore, delving into a game designed as a bridging point between the much-heralded 1999 piece of cinematic gold dust and its then-unreleased sequel, The Matrix Reloaded, might not have been the greatest of ideas. Enter The Matrix, we were told, was to be a landmark in the emergence of video games as legitimate mainstream phenomena, offering a revolutionary and legitimately canonical complement to one of the most popular new franchises in recent years. This was the real deal – the long-awaited opportunity for games to solidify their place at the forefront of popular entertainment.
With all that in mind, I couldn’t help but feel a little left out. If Enter The Matrix was to be the turning point in the entertainment industry, I wanted to be part of it. But without substantial prior knowledge of what I was assured was a deep, complex plot, I was worried that the finer points of Enter The Matrix’s narrative would pass me by, robbing me of what was sure to be a riveting experience.
Still, I was fully aware of the intense hand-to-hand combat and dazzling bullet-time standoffs for which the series had become known, and so many of the film’s scenes had been satirised over the years that it was almost impossible not to be at least slightly familiar with much of the series’ lore. And, after all, even if the subtleties and intricacies of the in-game cut-scenes and live action cinematic sequences sailed over my head, I could always find solace in the interactive replication of the film’s action-packed merriment, right?
Wrong. Enter The Matrix was an unmitigated flop, epitomised by a slew of flaws on almost every level imaginable.
Where to begin? Well, the controls would be a decent starting point. To call them clunky and unintuitive would be an understatement, with the process of venturing between Points A and B via a handheld button pad quickly becoming an exercise in fist-clenching frustration. The Xbox’s now-defunct black button serves as the chief shooting mechanism, a somewhat baffling choice on the part of the game’s designers considering the corresponding decision to map the melee controls and ‘action’ key to the standard face buttons. What results is a series of unnatural and arthritic hand movements that not only could have been avoided by simply making use of the trigger buttons, but that also eliminate the game’s potential to mix gunplay with melee combat in a seamless, fluid manner.
And then there’s the combat itself. What ought to have been a dynamic blend of kung-fu artistry and fast-paced gun toting ends up being a broken mess of repetitive tedium, with most standard enemies disposed of without hitch through the combination of no more than two melee buttons. The much-touted bullet-time system, allowing players to slow down time during gun battles, also comes into play, but the ease with which one’s AI adversaries fall to the player’s steady stream of gunfire in normal play render it almost entirely superfluous. This, it cannot be denied, serves as a pretty significant kick in the teeth for a franchise promoted so heavily around the bullet-time concept, not to mention the fact that it had already been done so well in Max Payne two years previously.
Woeful enemy AI doesn’t help much, either. Flawed and lacking in depth though the combat may be, something could have been salvaged from the wreckage if the flurry of guards, henchmen and even vampires displayed the merest shred of intelligence. But it just wasn’t to be. Enemies display a stubborn determination to either stand rigidly still or run straight into the player’s welcoming offerings of fist sandwiches and bullet sundaes, breaking off only to wander aimlessly into walls and presumably discuss the day’s events over a Danish pastry. Once again, this undermines the necessity of the bullet-time mechanic, which, rather than helping one turn the tide during a seemingly impossible battle, simply makes the transition through a corridor or room that little bit longer.
In fairness, though, Shiny Entertainment, the game’s developers, are anything but biased in this regard. So as to ensure that everyone got a piece of the pie, the men and women and shiny were kind enough to extend the shoddy AI to friends as well as foes. This is never more apparent than during a particularly infuriating vehicle level, when the player’s efforts as the accomplice’s gunner are inconvenienced ever so slightly by the AI driver’s tendency to drive into walls, nearby vehicles and anywhere else other than her actual destination. At best, such behaviour makes the level tedious and frustrating. At worst, it results in numerous restarts in the faint hope that no foreign objects spoil all those admirable campaigns for the eradication of the notorious female driver stereotype.
From a technical standpoint, the game takes a further step down Rage-Inducing Avenue. Graphical and sound bugs further mar the interactive experience, with frequent load times, lock-ups and frame rate issues rearing their Kotick-shaped heads at almost every opportunity. While it’s understandable that the game’s release must have been strictly timed in order to build anticipation for the upcoming film release, such a lack of polish can only ever be representative of an unfinished, neglected product.
With everything else falling short of expectations, could the game’s story, the very aspect that I had attempted to overlook, be its saviour? Sadly, no. Without ever being of offensively poor quality, the adventures of Ghost, a guns specialist, and Niobe, the supposed vehicular prodigy, drift lifelessly in no solidly definable direction, lacking any semblance of soul or intricacy. True, there are numerous cameos from some of the main characters from the films, but the rapidity with which they are executed and subsequently forgotten make them come across as lazy, tacked-on attempts at fan service, which was even more ineffective when experienced by an uninitiated entrant into the series such as myself. As the largely uneventful plot unfolds, players are whisked off to a sequence of locations of varyingly uninspired design, whilst the game’s objectives come so thick and fast that any pretences of immersive flow are tossed by the wayside as the cut-scenes and new objective notifications pop in at alarming frequency. As a consequence, the player quickly becomes detached from the narrative experience, ultimately being relegated to spectator status during the cut-scenes’ most spectacular moments.
All in all, then, it’s not looking particularly good, is it? But don’t just take my word for it. Having finished both of the game’s storylines, I set out to seek the opinions of some of my Matrix-obsessed companions in the real world. Their thoughts? They hated it. Whilst I had come away from the experience feeling as though I had lost little more than a few hours of my time, those who had watched and loved the original Matrix film felt that Enter The Matrix had taken a rich, expansive world that should have translated naturally to the gaming medium and purged it of all its excitement, charm and substance, leaving behind the scattered remnants of a shattered dream of interactive progression.
Enter The Matrix may have sold in excess of five million copies, but its place in the series’ canon appears to have been dismissed by the masses. Adding salt to the wounds of Matrix fans, the second and third films in the saga were met with almost unanimous critical scorn, wrenching the wheels off what seemed destined to become one of the biggest entertainment franchises since Star Wars. Although the game probably can’t be credited with dealing the killer blow to the franchise, there are people out there who have fervently argued that it offered the first evidence that the writing was on the wall, providing the spark that started the raging bushfire that was to come.
Maybe we shouldn’t have believed the hype. Maybe we should have remembered that, with a few exceptions, games based on film franchise almost always fall short of the mark. But maybe we’re also entitled to expect at least a serviceable outcome from a project that had such hefty funds and resources thrown at it. Eight years on, then, I still haven’t seen The Matrix, and this sloppy excuse for a blockbuster hit might just explain why.