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VIDEO GAME REVIEW

I Waited Four Years For This?

‘Enter the Matrix’ Goes Straight to the Bargain Bin

By Chad Serrant

Staff Writer

Enter the Matrix

Published by Atari for the PC, Microsoft XBox, Nintendo Gamecube, and Sony

Made for Playstation 2

Rated T

$49.95

My Golden Rule of Gaming: Eighty percent of licensed games fail. When a video game is based on a movie, comic book, or television show there is a good chance it will fail to deliver the fun and excitement that the property it is based on promises. Unfortunately, Enter the Matrix follows the Golden Rule. Bland gameplay, questionable graphics, and little fan service will (after the hype wears off) banish this game to the bargain bin.

The story of Enter the Matrix runs concurrently with the story of Matrix Reloaded. Enter the Matrix stars Niobe, and her partner, Ghost. Instead of going into character development, or their own interesting subplot that coincidentally helps the primary group, Enter the Matrix fills in the minor details that were not covered in the movie.

The game has the player control Niobe or Ghost as they go through the Matrix. Along the way, they have to fight cops, swat teams, and of course, agents. The battle system is, unfortunately, not exciting. Niobe and Ghost know their kung fu, and the game gives several ways to punch, kick, disarm, and throw opponents. Unfortunately, there is little reason to punch or throw. Kicks have better range, and disarming both throws the opponent and grabs his weapon. Kung fu quickly turns into button mashing.

There are of course a lot of firearms to pick up and use. The problem is that gunplay, just like kung fu, quickly becomes tedious and unexciting. Every stage has plenty of cover, and enemy AI is very weak, so gunplay turns into “wait for the AI to screw up and pump them full of lead.” Another problem is the lack of ammo available. For the number of weapons the game has, almost all of them run out of ammo too quickly. Only the MP5 seems to last throughout a whole mission, because every cop apparently has one.

But what would a Matrix game be without cool slow motion effects and bullet trails? Enter the Matrix calls this “Focus.” It is a regenerating bar that, when activated, speeds up the player and slows bullets down. The player can dodge bullets, run on walls, cartwheel around, perform ludicrously long jumps, and essentially perform the same five moves repeatedly. Sure, running off of a wall to perform a spin kick looks cool the first time, but the 30th time, it should at least look different.

Because the Focus bar regenerates at a very fast rate, the high-flying action scenes seen in The Matrix turn into a game of hide-and-seek.

Similar to bad drivers who abruptly start and stop a car repeatedly, the action scenes in Enter the Matrix are unrewarding. There is little mission variety. And the missions they have are boring checkpoint hunts, such as “go from point A to point B while beating cops/swat teams.” Sometimes, the player has to pick something up or hit a switch along the way, but this is the general format of most of the missions.

There are a few missions that are different and mildly entertaining. A few are driving missions, where the player is either the driver (as Niobe) or the gunman (as Ghost). There are also a few boss fights against helicopters and agents, but these are few and far between.

The level design lacks cohesion. Several levels have doors painted on walls that can’t be opened. Others just throw cops at the player. Others have confusing goals or controls. For example, one mission has Niobe wandering in a dark corridor armed with a sniper rifle with an Infrared sight. She can only see through the sight when in first-person mode, and in first-person mode, she can only strafe left and right. The player can either run forward in the darkness and get shot by the snipers waiting in ambush, or the player can strafe into the ambush. Poor level design choices like these confuse and frustrate a player.

The graphics won’t win any awards, but on the plus side, the character models are well detailed, and the “agent takes over someone’s body” animation is cool. On the minus side: everything else. Every single cop and swat team officer looks the same. Every level is extremely blocky and monochrome. The fire textures remind me of the “rotating corpse” issue in Doom. Some of the animations for Niobe and Ghost (running and ladder climbing, in particular) look too robotic. There’s no motion blur when an agent starts dodging bullets! They don’t show someone dematerializing when they leave the Matrix and regain consciousness (conveniently, the lights flicker out as the body disappears).

The sound won’t win any awards, either. There is good voice acting from Niobe and Ghost. Every gun sounds the same -- alas, pistols and shotguns do not avoid this fate. The music incoherently blares about at inappropriate times -- it reminds me of Minority Report -- and is too repetitive.

To top it off, Enter the Matrix was a project four years in the making. Shiny Entertainment, the developer, should have done something in that time. Max Payne, released in 2001, used Focus, or “Bullet time” to create a still-superior third-person shooter. And Oni, released in 2001, had a vastly superior hand-to-hand combat system than Enter the Matrix.

Unfortunately, with such a powerful license none of this mattered. Over a million copies of Enter the Matrix have already been sold, based on name recognition alone. Better marketing beats better products, I guess. Doesn’t anyone remember Superman 64?