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The Games: Enter The Matrix
The first licensed game based on The Matrix, Enter The Matrix, is actually an essential piece of the overall Matrix story, developed under the creative direction of the Wachowski Brothers. As the name suggests, you'll get to enter the Matrix and experience the awesome gunplay and spectacular martial arts that are familiar to Matrix fans (including lots of Bullet Time).
In addition to the gunfighting and hand-to-hand combat, there are several missions where you will drive Niobe's car from Reloaded, as well as pilot the Logos, the fastest hovercraft in the fleet (coincidentally, also Niobe's). You can hack into your gaming console (or computer), visit the Oracle, and take on Agents! This game isn't just set in the Matrix universe - it's an integral part of the entire Matrix experience, weaving in and out of the 2nd installment in the film trilogy, The Matrix Reloaded. When you see Niobe and Ghost go off-screen in Reloaded, it's likely that they're setting out on a mission from Enter The Matrix.
People have asked if there will be a fourth movie in the Matrix series. Well, if you're interested in a fourth movie, get this game! It includes one hour of film footage shot during the sequels' production, including all the real actors, sets, and props. Additionally, there is another hour of video rendered by the game's graphic engine, featuring the voices of the sequels' cast. That gives you 2 extra hours of Matrix footage, not available anywhere else! And in case you think the footage is just eye candy for the game, I can tell you right now that a bunch of new information is revealed over the course of the game, information that hasn't been revealed in either The Matrix or Reloaded!
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Having finished Enter The Matrix a few weeks back, I wanted to let my experience settle a bit before writing TM101's review. Obviously there have been a ton of reviews already written and published, with many including both positive and negative comments on the game. Before I get into my impressions of the game, I should mention I'm not a hardcore gamer. I game infrequently, and pretty much exclusively on my PC. When I do play games, they tend to be sports simulations, though I was pretty heavy into First Person Shooters back when Doom and Duke Nukem 3D were hot. My interest in ETM was more on the storyline side than on the gaming side. I wanted to see where the game would take me as opposed to what actions I had to perform to get there. My impressions of the game (and therefore this review) are heavily influenced by what I was interested in getting out of it - as I think yours would be too.
ETM is an extremely unique game. It's the first game written, directed, and shot as an integral part of the original movies that it is based on. The game developers had access to the cast for motion capture and voice work, the stunt/fight crew for choreography, and the directors for just about everything else. The Wachowskis wrote the game script as part of the overall story of Reloaded and Revolutions, and collaborated closely to ensure the game fit into the Matrix Trilogy as an essential piece. Given this level of planning, design, and Hollywood level talent, you'd think the game would be revolutionary...and it almost is.
As a concept, the game rates a 10 out of 10. What the creators attempted to do is so big, so challenging, and so ambitious that you almost knew it would be nearly impossible to completely succeed. And while ETM comes close, it never quite comes together the way it should. Overall, the concept of the game is superior to the execution, but it's really not far from being a complete success. Let's take a closer look at various elements of the game:
The fighting system is fairly straightforward and not too difficult to pick up. And as the pre-release hype promised, you can do just about every move you've seen in the movies. It's exhilarating the first few times you execute a familiar combo move of kicks and punches. The movement is smooth, accurate, and realistic (or, as realistic as things get in The Matrix). Before long I was mashing buttons and kicking butt all over the place like someone who'd been fighting with the Resistance all my life. Slowing time down with "focus" (that's the Bullet Time effect) allows you to dodge bullets, run up walls, and jump higher and farther than you otherwise would. Opponents get progressively tougher, and you really do have to get good and fast at combo moves, and at "focus"ing at the right time. The moves, while impressive, do get somewhat repetitive the deeper you get into the game, but that's partially due to the fact that you fight a lot of opponents.
The weapons are a lot of fun, and as you may expect, you get to use many different ones over the course of the game. There are handguns, shotguns, rifles, submachine guns, machine pistols, etc, etc, etc. All have strengths and weaknesses. The sniper rifles were both my favorite and least favorite weapons - being able to zoom in and provide cover fire for other members of the Resistance by picking off the bad guys was great, but at full zoom the scope jumped around at the slightest touch of my mouse, which was really annoying.
Overall level design was well done, with a lot of locations looking like they were lifted directly from the movies. Some levels were a little large for my liking - but I'm a task-oriented kind of person. I want to know what I need to do to learn more or get to the next stage. I'm not as interested in exploring a giant Chinatown level. On the other hand, a lot of time and effort went into the levels, and Sparks (your operator) is usually there to steer you in the right direction if you start to lose track of your goals.
The hacking engine was a lot more fun than I expected, and provided some unique surprises. It also gives you the ability to do a bunch of useful things, like play back the full motion video segments you've already encountered during gameplay. I won't spoil anything by saying any more than that.
I've heard complaints about the look of the game, and while there's no doubt it could have been better (there's always room for improvement), the graphics were quite good on my P4 2Ghz machine, and the fighting animations were very smooth and realistic. The backgrounds and settings are very nice, with my favorite being the Chateau. I felt like I was standing on the staircase and running though the hallways from Reloaded.
A hugely appealing part of the game is getting to know Niobe, Ghost, and Sparks better before Revolutions. In Reloaded, Niobe is pretty prominent, and her character in the game builds on what you already know of her. Ghost, who may have a line or two in Reloaded, gets more fully fleshed out in ETM. He's funny, philosophical, incredibly skilled in combat, and apparently has a thing for Trinity! Sparks, who I don't think is even on-screen in Reloaded provides comic relief and a lot of direction for your characters. All three become your best friends by the end of the game, because you've spent so much time with them.
To me, the key element of ETM is the story. As the game's plot weaves in and out of Reloaded, you get to visit characters and locations from the movie (sometimes before the movie's characters do - for instance, Niobe and Ghost actually encounter the Keymaker before Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus). This level of interaction adds depth to both the movie and the game, and is one of the game's key strengths. It is an essential piece of the overall Matrix story, and while you can enjoy the movies without the information contained in the game, the added level of detail definitely enhances the experience. Seeing Reloaded on IMAX immediately after finishing the game lent a new weight to certain scenes because I understood what had to happen before this scene could play out. Did Niobe and Ghost appear out of nowhere to catch Morpheus on the hood of Niobe's car? No way - I had to do a lot to get them there.
Simply, if you're a fan of the story the Wachowskis are building, you have to have this game. It's not perfect, and the concept sets the bar so high that the game sometimes has trouble achieving those lofty goals, but ETM is a very good game. If you're a hardcore gamer, you may find parts you're not satisfied with, but there are likely other parts that'll blow your mind. It's fun, engaging, challenging, and offers a deeper look into the Matrix (not to mention some hints of what's to come in Revolutions).
Brady Games has released an Enter The Matrix Official Strategy Guide. It's 192 pages of hints, tips and tricks to help you complete the game. Normally I'm not a big fan of these guides (they end up taking some of the fun away), but in this case, I have to recommend it. This book will help you get everything possible out of the game - a fairly important goal considering all the cool tidbits of Matrix info they've hidden away in there!
Did You Know?
The Matrix Trilogy's visual effects team surpassed the bullet time effect by creating 3D photo-realistic copies of the actors. 5 high-res digital cameras captured minute details of the actors' performance. The information was fed into a computer which calculated the actor's appearance from any angle. The virtual camera can then encircle any virtual action at lightning speed as we saw in the Burly Brawl.