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Review By:  AJ Middleton

Developer:  Shiny
Publisher:  Atari
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Adventure
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  11-9-03

It was hyped as one of the most unique games of its time, a revolution in gaming, and even as the best game ever.  Of course, we all know by now that the more hype, the less the probability of the perfect game.  Enter the Matrix had so much going for it too.  The Matrix Reloaded hit the big screen as the second chapter of three, and the Animatrix came along as an anime set of prequels and side stories to the whole experience.  Wouldn’t a revolutionary game just make the whole mess maybe more successful than Pokemon?

…Most likely, but Enter the Matrix wasn’t that game.

Let’s start with the feature that was supposed to separate it from all other movie games, the plot.  I think everyone remembers the model of normal games-based-on-a-movie.  The plot is VERY loosely based on the motion picture.  Things tend to be added or subtracted, and some scenes that should be playable just aren’t.  Put simply, if you’re looking for a playable version of your favorite movie, the game won’t cut it.  However, Enter the Matrix decides to save the Matrix franchise from this fate by actually making the game a part of the entire story.  For a start, the Wachowski Brothers, the creators of The Matrix, wrote the game’s script, directed the exclusive movie scenes in it, and basically designed how the game would play.  And then to avoid any sketchy to-game changes, they decided to not make the game a copy of The Matrix Reloaded, but to make it run as a true side story to the movie.  That means that anything that happens in it can be used as a valid point when discussing the series.  In fact, it was even hyped that one couldn’t fully understand The Matrix Reloaded without playing Enter the Matrix.  THAT’S a catch for any Matrix fan, and all of those pluses alone are enough to jack anyone in, gamer or not (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

As a side story, don’t expect to play as Neo, Trinity, or Morpheus.  They’re off saving the world, remember? (But for those who can’t live without the “Big Three,” they do all make appearances in the game.)  Enter the Matrix stars Captain Niobe of the Logos, her first mate Ghost, and the ship’s operator, Sparks.  Wonder why those guys aren’t seen much in the movie?  Because the Wachowski Bros. saved their stories for the game.  Enter the Matrix starts out where the Animatrix episode, “The Final Flight of the Osiris” ends.  And from there, we discover what Niobe and her friends do while the movie is going on.

For those of you who like a sense of time and want to pair up the game’s action with the movie’s, you will recognize some scenes from The Matrix Reloaded.  But don’t be upset, because the amount of movie in the game is for real.  It contains a lot, maybe even an hour’s worth, of actual, exclusive, A+ film footage (This is so much that Enter the Matrix spans 2 disks!)  In these special scenes, you will discover a majority of the plot, and most likely get even MORE confused.  And if your parents are listening, they’ll think you’re watching the movie.

The music also makes Enter the Matrix an interesting gaming experience.  All of it was specially composed for the game, and some of it even comes from the movie itself.  So yeah, it feels very Matrix-y alright, despite the near absence of the three main characters.

The game is about as action packed as the movies.  First off, after the intro movie scene, you pick to either complete the game as Niobe or Ghost.  Both have the same basic adventures.  They both go to the same basic places, but their tasks or path may be different.  For example, in the airport, Niobe has to go find a captured rebel, ending in a plane chase, while Ghost has to go help someone else, ending in a boss battle and helping Niobe make her chase.  While in a car and on the Logos, Niobe steers while Ghost shoots.  That means that as Niobe, you have to steer AND manually make Ghost shoot at enemies, but as Ghost, only shooting (with unlimited ammo!) is necessary.  So in a way, while playing an individual adventure, you’re actually playing a side story to a side story.  Of course, many adventures are just inverted for both for the sake of simplicity (Ex: depending on who you are, the other character must be rescued.)

Let’s talk moves and controls.  The game has built in control and tip screens, so you can check how to do whatever whenever you pause.  Tips even pop up whenever you first need them.  This is extremely helpful, especially when you’re in a car or on the hovercraft and have no idea what you can do.  With normal combat, you can jump, use firearms, and fight with all sorts of kicks and punches.  The hand-to-hand combat moves can be used in different combinations to get a random combo, although no combo is ever really needed to beat anyone or anything.  Guns reload automatically, which makes things a little easier.  Ammo can also be taken from any cop or guard that you fight.  Combat is VERY quick and smooth, again giving a Matrix feel.  The only downside is that combos are random and get old quickly, so fighting can become a bore after awhile.

You don’t talk Matrix without mentioning the slowed down “bullet-time”, and you don’t have a Matrix game without it either.  To fight in bullet-time, hold down Z to start using the power of Focus.  While using Focus, time slows, allowing Niobe and Ghost to perform different physical attacks, dive and float through the air while shooting, and to perform such trademark stunts such as the cartwheel, wall walk, and back flip.  Your accuracy also increases as well as your ability to dodge bullets.  To add to the fun, the Focus option was designed especially well.  Unlike other games with super powers, there are no tokens or items that are necessary to obtain in order to bend the rules of the Matrix.  The Focus meter sits at the bottom right of your screen, and starting at 100, it will deplete for every second you hold Z.  And the best thing is that it restores itself over time.  So as long as you don’t go Focus crazy, you can always take a short break to restore power.  And for those destined Focus Freaks who can’t get enough of the flashy moves, certain bosses in the game will cause your Focus meter to go down more slowly after you beat them.

Health in the game has a meter similar to Focus, but of course, it only depletes when hurt.  The bad thing is that you only have 100 units for the whole game.  The good thing is that it also auto-recovers itself over time.  It may seem like that twist only makes the game easier, but believe me, you’ll be thankful for it after large gunfights.

Enter the Matrix takes you to many places, which adds to the large fun factor.  The first mission is in a post office.  After completing the mission, the heroes have to take to the streets of the city, only to later reach an exit phone, but be cut short by an Agent.  Next, you’ll have to go to an airport.  This includes lobbies, hallways, the runway, and bathrooms.  Other locations include the sewers, the highway, the Merovingian’s mansion, and even the tunnels of Earth.  If some of these places sound familiar, they should.  Many are key spots in The Matrix Reloaded.  For example, we all know that Niobe saves Morpheus when he’s fighting the Agent on top of a truck.  Well, since the action is from Niobe’s perspective, rescuing Morpheus is one of the missions.  Interactions with the lead characters also take place in a few other places.

With the excellent graphics, great music, awesome features, and the fact that it adds to the movie, what could go wrong with Enter the Matrix?  Unfortunately, enough to make it undeserved of all of the hype and pre-release praise.  Let’s start with the save feature.  I would have preferred a game that saves at save points or auto saves without interrupting the action.  But instead, Enter the Matrix saves at the end of missions, AND randomly midlevel.  This has to be one of THE MOST annoying aspects of the game.  Although it comes in handy sometimes, it feels quite sloppy.  You’ll be in the middle of sneaking up on an enemy, and BOOM, the screen fades, the Matrix code starts to pour down, and it asks you to save.  In one part, you save, leave a room, go across a small hall into another door, and the game asks you to save again.  And with every save comes an even longer loading time.  What a waste.

Ok, the save is a petty thing, but there’s more!  There are many missions in this game, but the missions are all a part of levels.  First off, the missions are usually “Get to the end” disguised in some clever phrase, which is usually like “Find the correct P.O. box.”  A compass rose sits in the top center of your screen, and it will turn green when you’re going in the right direction.  And the levels may be detailed and nicely designed, but there are too few.  Niobe has twelve levels, four of which contain one mission, and two that have only two.  Ghost’s adventure has fourteen levels, with six one-missions and two two-missions.  To top it all off, most of the single mission levels could have been mixed in with a previous one.  The lack of diversity will, in retrospect, make the game seem a little bland.

As I stated, the missions basically all have the same goal of getting to some endpoint.  That’s really all you ever have to do, because the game likes FMVs.  By the time you actually get to the P.O. boxes, the game takes over and does it for you.  As soon as Niobe gets to the airplane, a five-minute FMV starts in which she gets to a car, Ghost shoots guards from above, and Niobe successfully drives into the plane.  Or, Ghost just enters the doorway of a building, but an FMV starts where he goes in, climbs some stairs, and answers the phone.  I thought this was the Matrix VIDEOGAME?  Although I must admit, you do more in Ghost’s adventure, being that he tends to serve as Niobe’s backup.  Nevertheless, the game just takes charge way too much.

Now for what you CAN play of the missions.  There are basically three types.  The first type of mission, the most numerous, is your typical “get to the end.”  Follow the compass and you’ll be fine.  Unfortunately, it always seems like something goes wrong when you reach the goal.  This means that the NEXT mission is to backtrack!  Fun fun!  It’s ok at first, but having to hear Sparks say, “Oh no!  The exit’s blocked!” or “You’ll have to stay on your heels until I can find an exit!” over and over gets a little old after a while.  The other excuse to elongate the mission (or missions) is “Oh, you forgot to ___, or now you have to ____.”  Why couldn’t you have been told that earlier?  Because designing new tactics takes too long for two guys who made up a movie series that is actually being studied as philosophy.  Good grief…

The next type of mission is that in which you have to protect other rebels.  Now, these are especially annoying, mainly because I don’t understand why these other guys can’t save themselves.  These missions have the horrible fate of being complicated in such a way that you’ll have to get a game over a few times before understanding what you have to do.  Most of the time, guards are attacking your allies, and this ALWAYS happens in the dark, so finding your targets can be insanely hard.  Heck, finding your ally is hard enough!  So, you’ll probably spend most if your time watching an ally’s life meter go to zero many times before you get the hang of things.

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