Matt Keller
24 Dec, 2005

The Matrix: Path Of Neo Review

PS2 Review | Why oh why didn't we take the BLUE pill?
In the early part of this decade, many people considered The Matrix to be a phenomenon, much like Star Wars in the late 70s and early 80s. The first movie in the series was released in early 1999 – it came seemingly from nowhere, with no-name writers and directors and just a handful of name actors, and yet it made a fortune for Warner Brothers, as well as being critically acclaimed. Many ideas from The Matrix made it across into gaming, with plenty of titles featuring heavily armed trenchcoated heroes, bullet time and the camera swivel – especially Max Payne, which benefited greatly from the influence of the Wachwoski brothers’ film (and even managed to outsell Enter the Matrix).

An unbelievable amount of hype surrounded the release of the two sequels; The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, and the release of the first official videogame, Enter the Matrix. The first sequel opened to record attendances, and briefly held a number of box office records. Unfortunately, the critical response wasn’t too good, as many found the philosophical overtones of the movie to be either overwhelming or superfluous, which led to Reloaded’s box office figures dropping fairly quickly, though it still beat the first film’s gross by a significant margin. Enter the Matrix launched the same day as the first sequel, and was intended to be a companion to the film, detailing the adventures of Niobe and Ghost, part of another crew heavily involved in the movie. With many editors caught up in Matrix fever (including yours truly, who awarded the game a generous 6/10), Enter the Matrix didn’t really receive the critical drubbing it deserved, despite being ugly, undercooked, bug ridden and most importantly, featuring two really boring main characters – many people were left wondering why we couldn’t play as Neo.

The third film received poor reviews, and only took half the theatrical gross of the second film, with many fans feeling the film had a weak ending. Rather than being thought of as a phenomenon, The Matrix seemed to be more of a joke now – many people wish to deny the existence of the sequels; it is pretty evident that the brothers Wachowski bought a little too much into their own hype, and believed they could do no wrong. The plight of the franchise continued with The Matrix Online, an MMORPG for Windows-based PCs, which was a huge failure, selling a mere 18,000 copies worldwide. The Matrix videogame franchise still continues for consoles (especially since 5 million copies of Enter the Matrix were snapped up quick smart), and now many fans have the opportunity to fulfil their videogaming dreams – the ability to play as Neo through the three films. Unfortunately, The Matrix: Path of Neo is more like a Matrix fan’s nightmare.

Path of Neo follows the exploits of our favourite dumbfounded hacker throughout the Matrix trilogy, as well as splicing in a large number of events in between. The game starts innocently enough, with the sequence of Neo being woken up at his computer. Once you’re contacted by Morpheus, the proceedings degenerate at a ravishing pace. The first level of the game is executed with an amazing lack of polish; Neo must “get to the office at the end of the hall” like the film, but the scene is dragged out with other unnecessary bits. The stealth mechanics are utterly flawed, with agents and police managing to see you when you are clearly hidden. Once you actually get out to the scaffolding, the game improves marginally, with the player being offered the option to escape the building, or just accepting the agents capture. Once you’ve met up with Morpheus and taken the red pill (you do have the option to take the blue pill, but you just get a game over screen), the game really begins.

Morpheus never mentioned that the One would also have impeccable ballet skills

Morpheus never mentioned that the One would also have impeccable ballet skills
Many events from the films have been fleshed out to accommodate for satisfactory amounts of gameplay - with mixed results. A good portion of the game is spent inside Neo’s mind, training in various martial arts and procedures that will come in handy inside The Matrix. It does get a little annoying when you realise you’ve just spend 3 hours of your time completing tasks that were done instantaneously in the movie, but it does set you up well for what’s to come.

The game’s combat system is significantly enhanced over Enter the Matrix – Neo has many more moves and abilities at his disposal, most of which look really quite impressive at first, until you realise that the game uses a dial-a-combo system for martial arts moves. Players will often find themselves in situations where they’re surrounded, and the fighting system has been adjusted to account for multiple opponent combat, which can look impressive at times, and ridiculous at others. Gunplay is still a viable option when taking on many foes at once, and a few new tricks have been added, such as launching your enemy into the air before filling him with lead, as well as a variety of disarming moves. New to Path of Neo is weapon based combat, which is essentially the same as kung fu in execution and power, but looks cooler. The focus meter enhances your martial arts moves, improves your accuracy with firearms, and allows you access to Neo’s divine abilities, such as bullet dodging. As you progress through the game, Neo’s mind becomes stronger, and as a result the player gains a longer focus meter and access to greater abilities, including improved combos, new aerial moves, and of course, the ability to stop bullets mid air and throw them back. In between levels, the player will also be allowed to choose a new ability to upgrade for the upcoming level.

The solidarity of Path of Neo’s combat system is heavily compromised by the sheer number of frustrating and outright unnecessary levels and objectives the player is forced to endure throughout the game, not to mention the inexcusable lack of polish throughout the experience. Many people made allowances for the bugginess of Enter the Matrix, given the tight schedule Shiny had to adhere to, but in this case, the team has had over two years to polish this game, and they’re not on a strict release schedule, yet Path of Neo still has about the same level of bugs of Enter the Matrix, if not more. Several portions of the game you’d expect to have been really cool like the rooftop battle are ruined by bugs and glitches to the point where they are barely playable. We also experienced many cases where cutscenes and scripted events wouldn’t trigger, or AI characters would suddenly stop moving, and have to be forced (with a shotgun) to move to their required location.

Code in the Matrix is more coherent than code in the PALGN backend

Code in the Matrix is more coherent than code in the PALGN backend
The most insulting parts of the Path of Neo experience can be found in the sequences that have been created solely for the game. These range from the unnecessary lengthening of scenes from the film to outright filler that’s supposed to explain events that happened between the movies. Some of these scenes really make you question the developer’s intentions – are they doing this because they think it’s cool, or is it just to piss off the few remaining fans of the Matrix franchise? While rescuing “hopefuls” from the Matrix is within the scope of what you’d expect Neo to be doing, there’s no real explanations for the outright bizarre sequences we experienced in the subway train section, and later in the Merovingian’s mansion. Scenes like this may have looked cool in American McGee’s Alice, but they’re just outright bizarre – you’d almost expect one of the members of Monty Python to pop up half-way through the game and order it to be stopped because it’s too silly.

It gets worse too – the sections that aren’t outright bizarre have an overwhelming amount of pretentious post-modern nonsense going on. The scene where Neo meets Seraph is extended – they fight in the regular location before eventually crashing through the roof of a cinema, where the player must continue to fight Seraph in front of a movie screen showing the Neo/Seraph fight from the second film, while a fat, bearded nerd yells movie clichés at the pair. It gets even more pretentious than this when the Wachowski brothers show up just before the finale in “their digital forms” to explain to you why the martyr ending of the videogame is unsuitable, and why you should fight some big arse monster with sweaty palms and such. Seconds later, the Smiths form into a large monstrous version of the former agent. While the section is completely absurd, it actually plays a hell of a lot more solidly than the rest of the game. Considering that a new ending was one of the most hyped features of Path of Neo, this feels like a real slap in the face to the fans – are the Wachowskis doing their darndest to kill their own creation?

Hands up if you think The Matrix is now a dead franchise

Hands up if you think The Matrix is now a dead franchise
The game’s presentation is improved over Enter the Matrix with a better menu interface, widescreen presentation for both the game and the cinematics, and greatly improved load times. The cinematics themselves are actually mish-mash montages of various events in the movie, hacked to pieces and then stitched together – they come across as almost completely incoherent and unnecessary. In game, the graphics are reasonably good in some places, yet awful in others. The main characters look like their big screen counterparts, and the animation is quite impressive, but the game’s scenery is generally quite drab (despite Shiny’s claims of using normal mapping for the first time on the PS2), and the framerate never really climbs above 20 frames per second. Code vision is pretty cool too, but is almost completely useless within the scope of the game. The sound is quite good, although very few tracks from the movie are used, and only Lawrence Fishburne returned to record new dialogue for the game. The sound-alikes do a reasonable job, especially Neo’s actor (though Keanu is notorious for being wooden), but nobody other than Hugo Weaving should be allowed to portray Agent Smith. Path of Neo features a 60 Hz mode, but no surround sound support.

With the Matrix franchise in a fledgling state, one would think that Shiny, Warner Bros. and the Wachowskis would have come together to ensure that they could salvage what’s left of the once popular series, and bring out a product that would reignite some interest amongst sceptics and one-time fans. Instead, we’ve received a pretentious lesson in post-modernism attached to a second rate, bug filled game. Path of Neo does have its moments though – we’d really have just been happy if the game stuck to the films, regardless of the length of such an experience - as far as cohesion with the trilogy goes, Enter the Matrix did a better job. Instead, Matrix fans have just been dealt a slap across the face, and given affirmation of the fact that nobody really cares about them anymore.
The Score
A real slap across the face to Matrix fans. Do yourselves a favour and take the blue pill. 4
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related The Matrix: Path Of Neo Content

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15 Oct, 2005 PALGN goes hands-on with one of the many promising titles for the Christmas break.
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21 Jun, 2005 The latest screens, fresh from Atari's outbox.
Neo Contra Review
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8 years ago
Umm wow, didn't think it was that bad. I might still have to rent on the XBOX to play the ending.
8 years ago
They've driven this franchise into the ground, then dug a hole and pushed it further down. It's sad given the first movie's greatness (which itself has been diminished in light of the rest of the series).
8 years ago
Hopefully, this will be the last game of the series.
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