Enter The Matrix – Second Opinion

I agree with Gene that Enter The Matrix is a disappointment, but my reasons for thinking so are a little more complicated. I didn't pay much attention to the hype surrounding the game, so in my mind it isn't a question of "does it live up to the hype" so much as "does it live up to the potential of the concept." Considering the fact that a videogame based on The Matrix is a unique opportunity to construct a "virtual world" where seeing and exploiting its artificiality is precisely the point, Shiny really blew it. Any game based on the Wachowski Brothers soon-to-be trilogy should be, obviously, the Matrix itself. When adapting a film that knows the conventions of computer and videogames so well, you'd think the designers would recognize that what they've been handed is already a finished blue-print for a great game. But no. Rather than try to adapt the aspects of the film(s) which lend themselves naturally to the pace, structure, and conventions of a videogame, they've instead focused on adapting those aspects which are inherently filmic which, to me, seems to defeat the entire purpose of making a videogame out of The Matrix at all.

So what exactly do I mean by this? Take the way Enter The Matrix is paced, for example. The game is saved practically every few minutes, so that each mission becomes an endless string of save-points that the player can go back to if he or she fails. What seems frustrating about this is that the films actually had a much more compelling save-game paradigm: phone booths. One of the reasons the films are such a pleasure for a gamer such as myself is because of their ability to leverage videogame logic for suspense. In the films the tension of having to get to a phone booth to get out of the Matrix is, essentially, the tension any gamer knows of having to get to a save-point. You'd think that a videogame based on this fictive world would simply copy this, since that would easily recreate the suspense and excitement of the films in one effortless and economical design choice not to mention take advantage of the videogaming metaphor which is the backbone of the whole franchise. However, Enter The Matrix seems to have been designed with only the vaguest awareness of this and shows a general failure to realize how its transmedia aspects could (or should) have been used to make the persistence of the Matrix universe stronger rather than weaker. This can be seen again in their use of cut-scenes. The idea of film footage shot with real actors might have been a nice way to differentiate between the real world and the world of the Matrix, but no. If the Matrix is a videogame and the real world isn't, doesn't it completely muck up the metaphor to have there be no rhyme or reason as to which portions of the game are portrayed on film and which are portrayed with computer graphics? What sense does it make for us to see events going on in the real world seen in graphics, let alone play arcade-style sequences set in the real world? Where does the "game" stop and reality begin? A game designed by people with even the slightest curiosity as to how the potent metaphors and themes of the films might play out in a virtual space could have been a fascinating piece of work, a videogame that was about videogames which might have used the excellent lead of the films to explore ideas inherent to digital media. Unfortunately, there is nothing even remotely this interesting going on in Enter The Matrix.

So Enter The Matrix obviously isn't the game I would have made with the Matrix license. That much is clear. At this point I suppose I should ask myself if this is even fair criticism. I know that I sometimes read reviews and get annoyed with critics who seem to be reviewing the game they wanted to play, rather than the game they did play. If we leave aside for a moment the fact that Enter The Matrix doesn't make good on any of the metaphors from the films, what does it accomplish? I'd say that in terms of "giving the players the experience of the films" it does deliver in one—and only one—area: combat. If nothing else, it does allow the player the opportunity to dodge bullets in slow-motion, run on walls, do flips, and take apart opponents with the Hong Kong/anime-inspired finesse of the films. However, this mostly works on an aesthetic level, since both the control scheme and difficulty balance is rather sloppy. I cannot deny that—even for the 50th time—running up a wall and kicking a cop in the face was a thrill. However, the fact that I rarely did so exactly how I intended to made the experience ultimately superficial. It's true that there are dozens of moves available to the player, but the controls, while seemingly intuitive, just don't allow for the kind of mastery that better action games have. Players can count on doing cool movies successfully and often, but they can forget pulling off a complete strategy with any kind of consistent precision. So even on a more modest level of simply comparing Enter The Matrix to other games of its genre, it still does not stand out (although it does provide some entertainment). Ironically, it is not as good as the action games that were inspired by the aesthetics of original Matrix. Games like Max Payne and Devil May Cry did a much better job of mixing intuitive controls, cool looks, and gratuitous gunplay.

I suppose I shouldn't be so hard on Shiny. I do realize they weren't exactly given free reign to do whatever they wanted with this game. The incorporation of film footage alone probably dictated a lot of the design, much of which they were depending on the filmmakers for. Enter The Matrix no doubt is an experiment, the third prong of the ambitious transmedia "synergy" of which The Matrix Reloaded and The Animatrix are also a part. In truth, this is much of the appeal of playing the game. Although it is clearly a much uninspired adaptation of The Matrix and only a slightly better-than-average action game, I do admit that its continuation (or, I should say, complementation) of Reloaded's plot was well worth the rental. Even with all its flaws, I can't say it's a game I wouldn't recommend under any circumstances. If you're a fan of the films and merely want the chance to don the studly clothes and kick butt, Enter The Matrix does that much if unevenly. However, I can't help but be genuinely depressed at the apparent lack of thought, creativity, or inspiration that went into the long awaited videogame adaptation of the most videogame-friendly film in the short history of the medium. Rating: 6 out of 10.

Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.