“You know me Niobe. It’s not a choice. It’s a way of life.”
We’ve looked at the films. We’ve considered the Animatrix. We’ve touched upon the comics. But there’s one last element of The Matrix’s milieu that we’ve forgotten about. And unless the servers for The Matrix Online come back online, this is the last piece of the puzzle to fully understanding the universe. Today we’re looking at the infamous tie-in game, Enter The Matrix.
Filmed alongside Reloaded and Revolutions, and released in the same month as the former, this game sounded pretty fantastic on paper. Not only would you get the chance to do all of the cool stunts from the film, it was written by The Wachowskis and featured over an hour of live-action cutscenes directed by the pair. The game promised to deepen and expand on the mythos, with the events of this game taking place concurrently with the second film. And yeah, it does all of those things and delivers on those promises. But it’s also an absolute mess of unfinished gameplay elements and crappy controls – leading to a real mixed bag overall.
You play as either Niobe or Ghost, who were played by Jada Pinkett Smith and Anthony Wong in the sequels and they reprise their roles here. That’s the first good sign. It feels like everyone involved was really trying to cram the spirit of the blockbuster movies into the game. It has actors you actually recognise, and not only in the live action cutscenes – they voice and mocap everything too. The writing is by The Wachowskis, as is the direction of the live action sequences. It may not have the same budget as the films, but through some clever trickery you never notice.
And it all feels connected. That’s the absolute best thing about it. The first level sees Niobe, captain of the Logos, and her first mate Ghost retrieving a package from a postal warehouse. This package turns out to be the one posted by Jue in The Animatrix segment ‘The Final Flight of the Osiris’. It contains a message from Captain Thadeus’ warning about the about the machines drilling down to Zion (which sets into the motion the events of the sequels). So it is Niobe and Ghost who warn Zion, after seeing the message, bridging the gap between tie-in animation, video games, and the films themselves. Maybe it doesn’t sound like a big deal. But after being immersed in this world for the past month, it was amazing to see everything come together like that. I felt that experiencing all of these things actually did enhance the story, just as I’m sure The Wachowskis intended. So it’s a shame there isn’t more of that.
The gameplay, as you’d expect, involves a mix or hand-to-hand combat and gunplay. And it’s super satisfying. You have a ‘Focus’ bar which allows you to activate the bullet time whenever you want. Suddenly, you’re running over walls, cartwheeling, diving through the air, all whilst firing a machine gun or two pistols. There were quite a few moments where I did feel like Trinity or Neo in the midst of the lobby shootout in the first film. It’s like Max Payne taken to the extreme. But that’s only if you can wrap your head around the mind-boggling controls.
At first, I thought it was an age thing. After all, the game is 16 years old. But I’ve played third-person action games all my life. Thinking of others that I played around the same time this released, (Everything or Nothing, Max Payne 1 and 2, Red Dead Revolver, etc) and they played great back in the day and still play great now. Enter The Matrix is complicated, unnecessarily so. It means gun battles usually end up with you just madly hitting every button – diving through the air or off walls to avoid bullets. And the amount of tips on this game is ridiculous. Someone should have seen the list of gameplay tips and thought, “Are we trying to do too much?”. Don’t even get me started on the driving portions of this game (ugly and boring) or the infamous platforming sections (absolutely ridiculous).
Some of the terrible gameplay mechanics work. There are certain sections where you have to outrun an agent. And either because of the sheer power of the agent or the rubbish controls, they are terrifying segments and really give you an idea of how powerful the agents are (before being replaced by Smith). And occasionally your mad fumbling will result in a really cool moment, as you throw yourself from cover, debris flying around you, bullets whizzing by slowly as if underwater. And the game has some standout set-pieces – a fight on a cargo plane being a highlight. But between every cool moment, there’s the tedium of running through huge, sparsely populated, grey areas. Over, and over, and over.
After hours of this, I’m ready to quit. I’ll just watch this cutscene, I think. And then a character from the film will appear and say something tantalising about the lore (Bruce Spence makes a memorable appearance as The Trainman – talking about how long Zion lasted “last time”). It’s exciting to me, all these years later. And I can imagine the fans at the time, patiently waiting for the next film, being hooked to every cutscene, being drip-fed bits and pieces of worldbuilding information. And that’s the appeal. The game is rushed, there’s no doubt about it. They forced it out to meet the deadlines and the game suffers, mainly through confusing controls, poor level design, and an abundance of glitches. But occasionally there’s a cool moment where you feel like Keanu Reeves, just without the leather trench coat and sunglasses. And the live action cutscenes are well worth watching, even if you just watch them on Youtube.
Played on Xbox.