Retro Monday – “Enter the Matrix”

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With the now full closing down of PlayStation Home which was revealed this week, I can say that I think that the bubble of virtual world games/simulations/lives is now on the way out. Considering where I’m saying these things I feel like I should prepare a tirade shield or even a will. If it gets really bad, a new form of employment, (I doubt). But from the Second Life user numbers I could muster up (at least the ones I could find because Linden Labs doesn’t publicly release them apparently which itself isn’t a good sign,) it looked similar to user numbers for the latest “Call of Duty”. And CoD is crap and in the firing line for not moving or innovating since Modern Warfare 1, near 7 years ago. Yes, it’s pretty unfair to compare the two considering CoD just came off its popularity peak a few years ago but seeing similar services head for the chop has to be disheartening for some. I liked and played PSHome a lot but, like both PSHome and Second Life, I’m one of the many that now doesn’t.

Title: “Enter The Matrix

Developer: Shiny Entertainment

Publisher: Atari

Released: May 2003

I am a big fan of “The Matrix” films. Although the series as it went on it did get a bit crap (mainly the second film) but I still like the mythos and style of the films. So when the universe got expanded with the “Animatrix” and “Enter the Matrix” I bought it to it right away. I loved the “Animatrix” right away (personal favourite is “The Kid’s Story” directed by Shinichirō Watanabe who did my favourite anime “Cowboy Bebop” oddly enough,) but my relationship with “Enter the Matrix” is more love/hate then adoration.

The style is great. It looks and sounds like it’s not just from the Matrix universe but part of it. They have the cast from the films to do voice-overs and be physically in the game. Not just in the motion capture work for their avatars, but also in specially filmed, actual film sections. Although, the switch from game engine cut-scenes to actual film can be jarring at times. Most of the time it just a cut to black, play film sort of deal. I can’t help but feel like that sort of editing just devalues the filmed sections because it just makes the filmed sections just another cut-scene, the same way the modern “Final Fantasy” games jam their photo-realism so hard it gets in the way some times. The film sections are great but they sometimes just feel out-of-place with a 2003 era game engine. Games like “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” used film footage but faded into it from the game engine so it was hard to tell where the game cut-scene ended and where the film footage started. It eased the transition and was smooth. Or maybe it’s just because I trained as a camera man and it just irks me because I’m a film ponce.

The cast put in a lot of effort and are really good in both their filmed sections and in their voice-over roles. From the cast, you can either play as Anthony Wong (Ghost) or Jada Pinkett-Smith (Niobe) who control pretty identically in a campaign that is pretty much the same no matter who you chose. Both the characters fight in the same way, move in the same way and shoot in the same way. The only difference is in the (what I like to call) ‘run away sections’ where you run away from something. If you chose Niobe, you drive (or pilot) the run away vehicle while Ghost hangs out the side (or sits in the gunner’s seat) and shoots. If your shooting, it’s just a rail-shooter section that sits so heavy on the game you can hear the creaks as the game slams on the breaks and slows down. If your driving on the other hand, prepare for total sensory overload because all hell will break loose and you are in control of everything. You see, while the driving sections are totally liner, there will be a point where you have to survive or avoid a timer (which don’t happen if your playing as Ghost). It just feels like padding. That would be it that but vehicles handle like arse. They drive like they have no traction and the physics engine is missing a few screws. Also, you have to say when Ghost sticks his head out the car and shoots. This just means that if you play as Ghost, these sections slow to a crawl but if you don’t shoot them quick enough (because at some points you have to be inhumanly fast) you will end up repeating the same section over and over. But your only shooting. If your Niobe and driving, you have to drive, dodge enemies, makes your way past obstacles (some are destructible but most of the time you only find out after you’ve hit it,) and you have to tell Ghost to shoot back with a limiting but regenerative bar.

Another section that is sits out-of-place, but is the same with both characters thankfully, is the fighting sections. At set points in the game you have to fight people having camos from the films in a side-on “Street Fighter” sort of way. These sections, just like the driving/rail shooting sections, just feel unfinished. You just end up using your focus power to bullet time your way to victory. Your focus power is how they incorporate the bullet time from the films. You press and hold down a button and you go into bullet time mode. Basically everything slows down but the enemies slow down more than you, giving you an advantage. It is the only way to win these fighting sections. After you pass a particular point in the game, literally every move you do is countered. So you just end up falling into the cycle of using all you focus power to beat the crap out of the person, running away while it regenerates, and repeating. It slams the breaks on the pace. What is meant to feel badass (as it was an awesome thing in the films) just feels slow and sticky.

The rest of the time, when they aren’t trying to make a two parallel plot with Ghost and Niobe, the game is very good. Most of the game is a 3rd person run & gunner with a cover system. You can pick up every gun, the one-handed ones like handguns can be duelled, and run about shooting people. If things get panicky you can dive for cover. You can climb and jump over stuff but it was early in the parkor game mechanics era so there are some limits and it is a but clumsy and stodgy at times. One of the most fun things is the bullet time. You can dive about, off balcony and over things, spraying bullets everywhere in slow motion. As proved by every “Max Payne” game ever made, it is awesome and it makes you feel like a badass. In the sections when the police are raiding, sweeping the area methodically with decent AI, you swing from cover, wall running and cartwheeling off the wall before kicking a guy in the face in slow motion while duel welding MP5s. Even the most twichy of modern FPS players will watch this slowly unfold and splurge themselves.

This is why I have a love/hate relationship with this game. On one side, it makes you feel like you are part of the Martix universe. On the other, it feels unfinished and whole sections slow down to a crawl and get boring and monotonous. The sad thing is, if you say that you want to play a Matrix game, I’d suggest “Path of Neo”, which follows Neo through all the movies. It even has the film and game directors, the Wachowski Brothers (now the Wachowski’s after Larry became Lana), saying why they deviated from the films original plot in a fantastic add-in animation that just gets to the core at why people said the last film got complicated. (“It’s Martyr time!”.) Knowing about the “Path of Neo” now just makes “Enter the Matrix” feel like a trial. A test to see how to adapt the series to a single player story game. It’s ended up as second fiddle. Although, if it was by itself I’d just end up saying that is was just about alright. It’s rough in far to many places but still ok and fun overall.

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