Review by Steerpike
The World's Longest and Most Meaningless Movie
Being a red-blooded American male who likes hot women dressed in
leather, kung fu, clever plotlines, and big gunfights, I naturally
enjoyed The Matrix. Being an educated individual with little
patience for intellectual patronization, endless expository dialogue,
and lectures about the nature of causality, I naturally found The
Matrix Reloaded hugely disappointing. Being a Sacrifice
fan who is still mad at Shiny Entertainment for failing to make
a sequel, and a student of gaming history who knows how good movie-franchise
games usually turn out to be, I was dubious at best about Enter
the Matrix. And this game, by far the most expensive ever made
and sporting a plotline nearly integral to understanding the second
movie, is indeed the mediocrity that I feared it might be.
Enter the Matrix follows the adventures of Captain Niobe
and the crew of the hovercraft Logos. Niobe, played in the game
as in the movie by the delectable Jada Pinkett-Smith (indeed, the
whole cast of the movie appears in the game at some point or another),
along with her first officer Ghost, are the two principals in a
story written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski, who quite
frankly flexed their narrative muscles much more expertly in this
game than they did in The Matrix Reloaded.
Twisting in and out of the movie's plot, Enter the Matrix immerses
you in adventures corollary toand occasionally directly alongsidethe
travails of Morpheus, Trinity, and Neo. An army of crazed machines
is digging toward Zion, the last human city, and it's up to you
playing as either Niobe or Ghost to do what you can to save humanity
from its own fiendish creation: a savage artificial intelligence
that has enslaved the species by plugging it into a computer program
that simulates normal existence while drawing power from the heat
generated by six billion human bodies in tanks of pink goo. The
handful of "free minds" not enthralled by the Matrix computer
program move freely between the virtual and real worlds, combating
the nefarious programmatic constructs of the AI.
Niobe and Ghost follow somewhat different paths through the game;
each is an expert at different things and you'll have to play Enter
the Matrix twice to enjoy everything. Enough of each course
is similar that you will find yourself replaying a significant portion
of it if you choose to go through the game a second time to see
both stories. Niobe is the pilot/driver; some of the more thrilling
levels in Enter the Matrix deal with piloting either land
vehicles (in the Matrix itself) or your hovercraft, Logos. Ghost,
who does get the opportunity to drive now and then, is really best
when it comes to riding shotgun and providing support for Niobe.
Outside the vehicle levels, both seem more or less equal to the
tasks at hand.
This review is of the PC version. Console players, I'd be curious
to hear your take on the myriad portsa massive worldwide release
on May 14 included all major platformsso shoot me an email
if you found your experience to be notably different from my own.
Hello, Cray Supercomputers? I Need to Place an Order
Enter the Matrix wins the award for the most staggering
system requirements of any PC game. Minimum processor speed, at
800 MHz, isn't so bad; GeForce 4/Radeon 8500 and 4.3 gigabytes of
hard drive space, on the other hand, are going to limit the potential
PC audience for this game. The tradeoffs for these demands are blisteringly
fast load times, comfortably high frame rates, and a relaxingly
smooth gaming experience implying that the requirements were a conscious
decision intended to enhance immersiveness, not the product of bloated
code. But I wouldn't recommend that anyone spend money to upgrade
specifically for this title. Because though Enter the Matrix
is a vaguely entertaining game, it is by no means spend-money-to-upgrade
If you liked the hand-to-hand combat of Oni and the slo-mo
gunplay of Max Payne, then Enter the Matrix is the
game for you. Despite serious flaws, it elegantly combines elements
of the two with sufficient artistry to escape overt comparison but
brings little else that is stylistically new to the table. Gamers
should prepare themselves for frenetic action, a cleverly constructed
storyline, and thematic tie-in to the movies that marks Enter
the Matrix as the first game that truly builds on an existing
cinematic experience, rather than being a mere product of a franchise.
Machines Don't Need Testers
Game developers could stand to learn a lot from Enter the Matrix,
especially on the subject of securing good writing, talent,
and effects sequences for cinematic games. Because the entirely
professional movie cast and crew is employed, the game features
slick production values unrivaled by anything else out there. It's
a good example of the nebulous line between cinema and mediated
interactive environments such as games.
But the problem is not with the story or the script, or even with
the talent. Problems with Enter the Matrix fall into two
distinct and equally crippling categories: first, it contains bugs
of nearly every description, from the minor to the crashworthy.
Second, it sports ill-conceived design that keeps players focused
on the deleterious aspects of the game rather than enthralled by
other, superior, sections. Since these two aspects of the game fall
entirely under Shiny's purview, I lay all the blame at the feet
of a company still occasionally hailed as a leader in the evolution
of games as a new narrative art form. Enter the Matrix comes
across as a sloppy game, with flaws that would have been corrected
in testing had the release not been timed to coincide with the movie.
Some of the graphic work is terrific, including particles, fogging,
and fire effects. Niobe and Ghost are both heavily motion-captured
but would look better if their joints would quit popping so badly;
what few shaders are used are employed to great effect: subtle reflections
off a pair of sunglasses or a snakeskin jacket. And the cinematic
cutscenes are so obviously the work of the Wachowski brothers that
watching them is almost like watching another Matrix movie.
Everything from the slow motion segments to the moving camera freeze
frame technique that won them a special technical achievement award
is present in this game.
But the graphics, while good, do feature console port leftovers
such as ugly joint-popping and minimal use of shading technology.
Shadows cast by objects are few and far between (the game has no
dynamic light) and flicker so badly that they'd have been better
off without them. Shifting textures and clipping problems cause
entire objects to disappear into one another both in the game and
during cutsceneshonestly, developers, is it that hard to
create a good collision algorithm?
The sound, too, suffers from a Januslike schizophrenia also caused
by this game's rushed production schedule. Musical sequences pulled
right from the movie help enhance the action and further underscore
that this is very much a Matrix game; sound effects, voices,
and the like are well-synced and employ some really spectacular
environmental effects. But sound crashes infuriatingly often, blaring
into a static feedback so deafening that people down the street
know I'm playing this game. The only escape is to quit the app altogether,
start over, and hope for the best. The designers also fell in love
with music and reverb, so voices are often drowned out by the soundtrack
or are too echoey to understand, and the voice volume slider in
the game options defaults to maximum.
Enter the Matrix also crashesa loteither freezing
up or dropping out to Windows unexpectedly. I imagine a patch is
on the way; even the most damning reviews (and this is not intended
to be one of them, though they will be out there) won't stop the
Matrix juggernaut from carrying on. Millions are seeing the
movie despite damning reviews; the same will happen with the video
Ultimately, this game is a console port. The inability to save
at any time is proof of this (the game offers to save for you between
segments), and obtuse controls that would be far better suited to
a gamepad than a mouse cement the issue. Enter the Matrix doesn't
take advantage of most of a PC's vastly more advanced technical
capabilities, from graphics to memory to saves, and the result is
a highly unsatisfying game that I imagine will also be highly unsatisfying
to console gamers.
Like in a movie, there are warning signs for a bad game. In a movie,
if the studio denies a filmmaker nothing (to the point of looking
the other way while they blow $60 million on a 14-minute chase scene),
that should set off alarm bells with potential viewers. In a game,
the inability to save at any time and, much more egregious, making
game cheats available in the Main Menu (as they are in Enter
the Matrix) should do the same. Any time a game is so weakly
constructed as to allow cheating from the Main Menu (cleverly called
"Hacking" here), we should know that what's under the
hood will be seriously lacking.
Pow! Biff! Sock! Blam!
Enter the Matrix is a third-person game, but it sports such
obtuse camera control (or, rather, a complete lack of camera control)
that the player is often at the mercy of foes that cannot be seen.
If the camera were a more trustworthy ally, the game would receive
much higher marks for general control, as I'm pleased to report
that Enter the Matrix is the very first game I've played
where I've felt no desire to remap the default keys in any way.
Despite the complexity of what's happening on screen, the actual
control scheme is quite simpleWASD, the mouse, and a handful
of other keys are ample.
Like The Matrix Reloaded, Enter the Matrix tends to focus
more on chop-socky combat than techno-powered gunfights. Firearms
are available, of course; ammunition, however, tends to be limited.
And while you have the opportunity to pull off some of the supercool
movie moves like the cartwheel-while-shooting or dodge-bullets-in-slow-motion,
flaws in the gun combat system make such maneuvers rather inane.
There is, for example, no clear method of aiming. You shoot wildly
at opponents. When you "focus your mind," Enter the
Matrix-speak for Max Payne-like Bullet Time, you shoot
better. But unlike Max Payne, a game in which you shoot where
you're looking, the mouse has nothing to do with what you're aiming
at in Enter the Matrix.
Meanwhile, the kung fu elements of the game are much more expertly
implemented, if it weren't for a desperately thick camera that inevitably
fails to be where you need it to be in order to see what you're
doing. Since both Niobe and Ghost are motion-captured, the combat
engine works hard to make all hand-to-hand encounters look very
coolit never seems like you're repeating the same move over
and over again, even though in point of fact that's exactly what
you're doing. Left mouse is punch. Right mouse is kick. Hand-to-hand
combat is just a lot of clicking.
As mentioned above, Enter the Matrix will endure a lot of
comparisons to two games: Oni and Max Payne. The hand-to-hand
combat in this game is much simpler than the complex, multi-button
combos of Oni; falling into the category of "minutes
to learn, a lifetime to master." Yet despite Oni's occasionally
ridiculously complex fighting moves, its camera and controls are
sufficiently tight to limit the frustration factor. The clickfest
that is hand-to-hand combat in Enter the Matrix makes you
feel like you're watching the game, not playing it.
Focus, Baby, Focus
Moving back to "focus." The cool factor of this power
would be significantly greater had we all not already played Max
Payne; essentially, you hit shift and time slows down. When
you're "focused" you tend to be better at things than
when you're not; your attacks do more damage, you shoot more accurately,
and of course you can run around on the walls and perform some of
the more amazing wire acts we remember from the films. Like Bullet
Time, focus exists in limited quantity and replenishes slowly. There
is almost always ample focus available for quick use (I, at least,
tended to use it in very short spurts), but once again the uncooperative
camera and simplistic controls makes mastery of focus very difficult.
The camera's unpredictability is comparable to the unpredictability
of how you behave near surfaces such as walls or crates. In most
cases, you can lean against them for cover and even peek (and shoot)
around them while still protecting most of your body; however, in
some cases you can'teven when it seems perfectly plausible.
Surfaces don't adhere to reliable laws of game physics. Rather than
a glaring flaw, minor issues like this strike me as further proof
that Enter the Matrix was very rushed and released with insufficient
I also wonder about some of Shiny's decisions involving powers
available inside and outside the Matrix. While most of the game
takes place inside the Matrix, your character's health slowly replenishes
over time, along with focus. That's great. Yet you can still fall
to your death in the Matrix, despite access to focus; you can jump
farther when focused, but you can't leap tall buildings in a single
bound; and you're generally better at pretty much everything you
try, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason to how much better
you really are. Compared to the Bullet Time in Max Payne, focus
has a lot of deficiencies.
It Ain't All Bad
Much of Enter the Matrix resonates more effectively with
the overall Matrix mythos than the second movie did. The
cast tends to look and act cooler in the game than the movie; there
are fewer grueling bouts of creaky exposition. Jada Pinkett-Smith
has the perfect attitude for a Matrix character, and Anthony
Wong's smooth and unrufflable portrayal of Ghost lends adequate
emotional attachment to his role.
The story is so expertly interwoven into that of The Matrix
Reloaded that it's clear why the Wachowskis prefer to see the
game and movie as little more than two halves of a whole. It's also
interesting to observe the activities of a group seen only briefly
in the film, because this sort of sideways narrative is useful for
reminding the audience that dozens of stories are going on around
us all the time, and those we actually experience are limited to
those we are fully privy to.
Though I think it would be difficult to overstate the clumsiness
of the game's level design, which is labyrinthine for the sake of
labyrinthinism, or the maddening camera, it's also necessary to
point out that everyone came out of The Matrix wishing they
could emulate those cool chop-socky moves, run around on walls,
dodge bullets, and so forth. The fact that gamers already had the
opportunity to do so with Max Payne doesn't necessarily diminish
the cool factor you feel when engaged in some combats, especially
those involving the inimical and ubiquitous Agentswho are
significantly more threatening in this game than they seemed to
be in The Matrix Reloaded.
There Are No Rabbit Hole Metaphors in this Review
So Enter the Matrix is not an abject failure; it fails on
many levels, is irritating on many more, but ultimately its ratio
comes out to about 60:40 bad to good. That's not a very impressive
score, especially from a company as revered as the mighty Shiny
Entertainment, producer of some of the greatest and most fascinating
creative executions of gaming in the past five years. What really
burns my boys is that the Wachowskis, ostensibly filmmakers, made
a mediocre movie and a great game; Shiny, ostensibly a game development
house, made a mediocre game that would have been a great movie.
For the inability to save at any point, for obtuse camera and fighting
controls, for subpar level design, for irritating crash and sound
bugs, and for the failure to make any effort to improve the technology
behind this console port, Enter the Matrix enjoys the dubious
distinction of a Rotten Egg award. And for Shiny Entertainment,
a loud "shame on you" for kowtowing to a surefire movie
franchise with a game of inferior quality rather than sticking to
creative guns and bringing us more of the work we've come to expect
from such a body of talent.
Release Date: May 2003
Four Fat Chicks Links
PIII 800 MHz/AMD Duron 800 MHz (PIII 1.2 GHz/AMD Athlon 1.2 GHz
128 MB RAM (256 MB RAM recommended)
4.3 GB free hard disk space (7200 RPM or faster recommended)
GeForce 2 256/Radeon 8500
4X CD-ROM drive
DirectX 9.0 (included)
Where to Find It
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