Anyone who played 2003’s major disappointment Enter the Matrix can feel assured as they weren’t the only ones feeling empty, bored and frustrated with the entire experience. It failed to capitalise on the phenomenal Matrix franchise, and let’s admit it, the title felt rather rushed, as if it was trying to meet a deadline rather than satisfying us fans. Sure, the game sold well, but the game lacked any sort of flair that made fans sit down and say themselves ‘Wow, that’s exactly what I wanted’. No need to worry, it seems Shiny were listening and are currently in the progress of finalising what may be one of the hottest titles hitting your Christmas wish list these holidays. Thankfully we here at PALGN had the opportunity to see whether this statement could hold true. And what better way to do this aside from actually playing a near complete version of the game?
I had mixed feelings going into this hands-on with the title. I hated Enter the Matrix, and that voice in the back of my head kept bugging me saying “You’re a joke. You actually think a developer can produce a quality title based off a movie franchise?” I knew the voice was right, but that didn’t stop me from entering with open ears. And thankfully so, since Shiny showed us what could be one of the most promising movie-based titles made.
Unlike Enter the Matrix, this latest instalment follows the events shown (and not shown) from the perspective of the ‘chosen one’, Neo. While this is all fun and games playing what we’ve seen and knew about Neo from the movies, Shiny assured us that they’ve worked closely with the Wachowski Brothers and laid down a figure of 50% new content not seen in the movies, which is a pretty big number considering that the game follows the movie’s lead star so closely. The title will include a completely new ending summing up the events of Neo, and a lot of extended areas that weren’t explored or mentioned in the movies. For example, one of our favourites, and no doubt a lot of others, was the lobby scene. While in the movie it was merely a 30-second scene, in the game it is extended by quite a lot to build up a bit of intensity in what was a rather lacking scene.
During our playtime we were able to play two levels; the lobby scene (what better way to promote their game?) and the park scene with the hundreds of Smiths. Each level seemed to fulfill the expectations of those from the movies, and created a similar atmosphere that was witnessed in the movies – the lobby scene was fast-paced, while the park was eerie and twisted just like the movie. The first thing we noticed was the introduction to each level included short snippets from the movie. While these were minor touches to the experience, it certainly put you in the mood of where you had to be and what you had to do, and as always, Neo was there to kick butt.
Probably the one issue that plagues your mind when jumping into a game that follows a combo/button mashing sort of title is how tight and responsive the controls are, and for the most part, they’re pretty comfy and well executed. The left and right buttons on the D-Pad allows gamers to browse through various weapons (fists, pistol, shotgun etc.), the main face buttons included evade, grab and general attack, while the left analog stick focused on movement and the right on the camera. There were several additional buttons that included some helpful moves such as the notorious ‘bullet-time’ function and the ability to cling to nearby walls allowing gamers to look around corners as such. Usually with a game that is as fast paced as this you’d expect excellent camera angles, and that’s what the game seemed to offer. I was pretty surprised by this, as this is usually an aspect in games that developers tend to overlook. Thankfully the camera always positioned itself nicely so you could see all the action, and if you couldn’t you just needed to adjust the camera with the right analog stick. When the camera pasted over objects such as pillars, those pillars would become see-through allowing perfect vision. While it is usually a small area of concern, I was glad the developers executed a responsive camera system that didn’t effect how you played the game.
The only problem found with the control layout on the PS2 version was that it felt a little awkward at first. The button placement was a bit questionable, and did put stress on you during intense sequences. Say for instances you wanted to quickly jump, and then pull up your pistol in air while moving Neo into the correct position. It would often become a difficult task to pull off all at once. However, this is a little area of stress that ended up feeling a little bit more comfortable as soon as we spent a bit more time with the controls. But it should be noted that the system still didn’t flow as smooth as originally anticipated.
One of the most promising areas of the game was the depth of the combat. Aside from pulling off your typically punch, the game offered gamers a variety of simple and complex combos that saw Neo flying across the room, swinging enemies into one another or using enemies as nun chucks (don’t ask, it just looks cool in action). Neo had a lot of flexibility with what he could perform in combat, and his movement throughout levels. Rather than mindlessly pressing the action button over and over again, the game requires gamers to play closer attention to their enemies. The AI seemed pretty responsive in combat, having enemies dodging attacks or grabbing you if all you did was punch over and over again. And unlike other games in this genre, The Matrix: Path of Neo allows gamers to quickly switch between enemies with a tap to the right analog stick, and seeing as though The Matrix is based around fast and intense action it was great to have the ability to quickly switch between enemies at any given time.
Sure, the combat was fantastic but when you switched on bullet-time, the game just took a massive 360turn in the right direction. The accuracy and precession of the feature was top-notch and blew the experience of the game right up there. During the lobby scene, we were lucky enough to run along the wall, jump off and pull out our pistol sending a few bullets through our enemies all in slow motion. It really felt like the movies, and it was an area Shiny were obviously trying to accurately portray so that gamers could have the opportunity to pull off all the moves that Neo himself performed throughout the movie. Visually the game looked pretty nice during bullet time, bullets flying everywhere, debris getting kicked up through the air and all sorts of mayhem. Combat was fun normally, but once in bullet-time it just felt like a completely different experience where gamers could not only perform the unthinkable, but also pull off some seriously awesome combos.
We’ve talked and talked about some of the combos we saw, however, Shiny mentioned that gamers would have to work towards reaching some of the cooler, and insanely difficult, moves. And this is what The Matrix: Path of Neo is all about. It is your path, and it is up to you how ‘your’ Neo progresses through the game. And this is where the RPG elements of the title come out. The game offers an intriguing level up system where gamers can acquire new abilities for Neo throughout the game including simple and essential upgrades such as flying combos or chucking combos. However, an idea that hasn’t really been touched upon in other video games is giving gamers the ability to gamble their experience points. We were shown an unknown ability that gamers could acquire, however no description was shown of what it was. All that was shown were these weird symbols. And this is an intriguing feature that really fascinated us. Shiny were laying down the law to their gamers by saying ‘Are you hardcore enough to take a risk?’. We weren’t told of what could’ve been unlocked through these, it could’ve been a new hairstyle for all we knew, but giving the opportunity to gamers to play a little risk in their progression certainly seemed like an interesting idea that will have many gamers spending time deciding whether or not to take the plunge (“Do I take the Red pill or the blue pill?”).
While the combat blossoms, other areas fail to make an impact, and in particular the graphics. From what we saw the graphics seemed to be fairly stable, while offering a few nice touches here and there that stood out. However, there were occasions that didn’t seem fitting for a game with so much potential. The models accurately represent the characters featured in the movies, however they didn’t seem too polished in the version we saw. They seemed to lack a great deal of detail, and a bit choppy in areas. Another problem we saw was in the park scene. Once Neo destroyed one of the nearby buildings, the continuously running Smiths seemed to run through the walls of the destroyed building regardless. It wasn’t something particularly attractive to witnessed, and it was something that Shiny tried to avoid showing quickly after. However, in other areas, the game did seem to present itself quite nicely. The textures seemed incredibly sharp even for a PS2 title; looked to be pushing the power of the console quite nicely, and the animation of the characters were precise and smooth. While the areas we addressed were minor issues, they were two issues that you would hate to see ruin a perfectly fine game, which is something The Matrix: Path of Neo is looking to be.
Each of the levels we witnessed introduced a nice tempo of music that felt perfect for the action presented. The lobby scene had it’s original tune, and the other areas we saw had some nice tunes that felt perfect for the action shown on the screen – relaxing, scary, intense etc. The voice acting was fluid and the talent of the original cast seemed to appear for all the major characters from the trilogy.
While that voice in the back of my head continues to plague my vision of movie-to-game transitions, I have felt somewhat reassured that there may be a bit of hope in proving that wrong after seeing what The Matrix: Path of Neo had to offer. The combat is incredibly fun and action packed, the absolute dedication shown to provide fans of the series with new content is amazing, and the customising features sound promising. However, the fact remains that there is a lot in this game that could ruin the experience. But from what we saw, the good definitely outweighed the bad.