Shiny
Atari/Infogrames
Action
1
05.14.03

Enter the Matrix


I was very happy to be asked to join the team at Xbox Exclusive, and look forward to writing more reviews for this awesome site. When I was first asked to write for the site, I contemplated what game I wanted to review. I told the editor I was going to review Enter the Matrix. Since the game was scheduled to launch May 15, 2003 the same date as the movie, I figured this review would not be done until a few days after. Well, something happened that brought you this review before the game hits the street, and that was the advanced shipping of the title to retail. The game has shipped to stores already, and is sitting in their stockrooms with explicit instructions not to sell until May 15th. This didn't stop me from playing the game. I went to go visit my pre-purchased copy. Being good friends with a Store Manager (Name and Store location Withheld), he was nice enough to set me up a TV and Xbox. He let me open my copy of the Matrix to play, though I cannot take it home until May 15th. I started at around 8am and I played this title for 12 hours nonstop in the stockroom until close, and have made frequent visits back over the past 4 days. Since the title never left the store, and being that hundreds of other locations are using the full game in their in-store interactive displays to promote pre-sales of the game, letting customers play it, I don't think we broke any rules. It is just that I played it till games end and beyond.

Now on to the review...

Gameplay

In order to understand how and where this is going you must understand the idea behind the game. The game itself is truly not a game, but an interactive movie. This is the first time I have ever played a game that has a non-alterable story line. The game is designed to start off where the CG animated short, Final Flight of the Osirus ended. If you have not seen this animated short you need to go and buy or rent the ANIMATRIX DVD or go see the movie Dreamcatcher, it is shown before the main feature. To give you an overview, the Osirus, a Ship that its crew discovers what the machines' plans are in the war against Xion. They record a distress message that divulges the information about what the machines are planning. They jack into the matrix, while on the run from sentinels, and deliver the warning to a drop point. The game basically starts from where this ended. All in all, this game has a definitive beginning and a definitive end. There are some things in-between that will lengthen or shorten the full game experience, though you will always reach the same end.

First off, you have a choice of which character to play. You can choose between Ghost or Niobe. Each character has its own path in the game, it is different depending on which character you choose. After choosing and getting introduced to the starting plot, stage one begins. There are several stages in this game, which are cut into mini stages each giving you an objective to achieve. Based on the type of stage played you might have to explore and fight, or you might have to drive, or you might have to fight a boss. There are a few other types of stages, but I cannot describe them without giving away a major part of the plot.

Control, depending on what type of stage you are playing is different. The adventure and boss fighting stages play the same. The driving stages play differently, though they control like your typical car driving games. There is gas, brake and emergency brake, 3rd person and in car perspectives as well as the ability to move the camera to either the right, left or front of the car. This is helpful for seeing where the bad guys are. There is one twist though, the ability for your shotgun passenger to sit outside the car on the window ledge and fire at your chaser. He auto aims and you have a metered limit on how long he can stay outside before he needs to come back in and replenish before you can use him again. In the adventure stages the controls are quite complicated. You need to know what buttons do what and how much you have at your disposal in terms of items and abilities. During the game little windows will pop up saying "NEW TIP." These are in-game hints on how to perform moves. To access it, pause the game and select tips from the pause menu and read what the tip is.

As the game begins, you will notice a meter called FOCUS. Focus is also known as bullet time. This is the slow motion camera work used in the films to show how a character can manipulate the Matrix to achieve extraordinary feats. Remember Trinity running on walls and cartwheel flipping while shooting guns, the kicks off the wall and all the unbelievable stunts done in the construct Dojo of the first film? Well I would have to say that the game has faithfully reconstructed all those moves for you to use in-game, but they can only be done in FOCUS (Bullet time). The longer you hold the focus button to perform bullet time moves the quicker your meter empties. The meter will eventually replenish itself, but only after a time of not using it. On a side note, your health also comes back after a time, even though there are instant 100% health packs hidden around the game. As the health and Focus meters fill up they get slower and slower nearing 100%. A good playing tip is to find an area where you can sit unmolested and replenish. Now we have to deal with the rest of the controller. Everything on the pad does something. The D pad lets you switch weapons. The left thumbs control movement in 3rd person mode and aim in 1st person perspective, though you cannot move in 1st person. Right thumb triggers 1st person view. Then you have your Action button, Kick, Punch and Jump buttons. The top trigger buttons control Focus and strafe. The black button controls the confirmation of the firearm you chose with the D pad. The Black Button also fires the weapon until you run out of ammo or use the action button to put it away. There is a matrix green type window that shows the weapon you have chosen on the top right of the screen. The matrix type window box on the top left has specialty item and is controlled with the white button on the pad. On some stages there will be no special item, on others it is given to you and is part of your fighting style and not useable with the press of the small white button. To be honest it will probably take you a long time to get the buttons and controls down, in my case it took me the whole game, now that I am playing all over with another character I am just starting to feel comfortable with the controls. Like Metal Gear Solid 2 and Splinter Cell, both characters have situational special movies. These special situations come up once or twice in the game. They are the ability to shimmy along narrow ledges, and to move hand over hand on pipes as well as wrap your legs around them and use it as a perch to fire guns from a unique perspective. The developers were very complete in the other abilities of the characters. They can look around corners, lean up against the wall for movie style ambience during game play as well as duck down behind boxes and tables to shield yourself from gun fire.

The AI is quite intelligent. NPC and enemies are quite perceptive of what you are doing and can react to the situation. They can also hide behind walls, roll away from gunfire, and chase you on multi-platform arenas. The police represent a large number of your enemies during the game, though agents will eventually show up. At first they are easy to avoid and/or fend off, but later on in the game they become very annoying and very hard. There might be an AI bug here later in the game. If agents surround you, unless you have full focus and a lot of ammo, most likely you will die and have to start the stage over. Later stages this becomes really hard and killing an agent is near impossible in the game.

In the beginning of the game, stages are quite easy and there is a lot to help you out in each, as you would expect. An individual would figure as the game progresses that levels would become harder and more complex. Quite the contrary, the larger or more complex stages become the more they help you out. There is always an arrow telling you which direction to go in which makes it quite hard to get lost. Now I know you are saying, "Why would I want to get lost?" In a lot of adventure games the fun is finding your own way. If you make the wrong turn how does that affect game play? Will I have enough ammo or energy? In ETM the answer is yes, even if you make the wrong turn, you won't get too far before you realize you are off track. That can take away from the experience sometimes. Even if you deliberately try to explore every nook and cranny you will be able to success in the objective quite easily. Also on certain levels there are a lot of doors. All the doors that are not necessary to the level are locked. They are there obviously for show only. That is no fun, sometimes you want to explore and get lost. The only doors unlocked are the necessary ones. Do you think that makes this game kind of easy? This is a title where if you are persistent anyone can beat the WHOLE game.

Graphics

ETM supports Progressive Scan modes on HDTV all the way up to 1080I resolution. In my opinion this is the only way to play this game. It also supports wide screen and full screen aspect ratios. When I first turned the game the TV flickered assuring me that this game was switching to a high definition resolution. Sure enough the title screen was on with four options staring me in the face. Those four options were LOAD, NEW GAME, OPTIONS and HACKING. I will cover each option throughout this review. I went into options to find subtitle and brightness options, though nothing more. Selecting new game, the introduction FMV started the game off to introduce you to the characters and the idea of the story. Some cut scenes are rendered in the games engine, but I have to admit look phenomenal. The FMV clips are decent looking and are expertly filmed. The game consists of 4 different types of game play, so the engine used for the game has varying results for the type of stage played. The 3rd person adventure style fighting stages are beautifully rendered. The textures are top notch and use many of the abilities of the Xbox rendering engine. From the fur shading used for hair on that characters to the use of depth of view rendering, plus bump-mapped textures giving definition to clothing and architecture. The adventure fighting stages are pleasing on every level graphically. On the driving stages the game engine really shines. All the textures are very crisp and clear, the depth of field has very minimal fogging and pop-up, though I did find remnants of the PC version on the driving stages which lead me to wonder if this game is just ported from the PC's code. Proof of this was finding Creative Labs EAX audio billboards on the driving stage. The third type of stage for game play was strict one- room fighting levels, kind of an extension to the adventure fighting stages but focus on the BOSS FIGHT. Since this area is very small and enclosed the graphics really shine giving great detail to the walls and the characters (especially the bosses).

The last stages of the game introduces a type of game play not seen anywhere else in the game except at the end. I honestly don't think ETM engine does these levels any justice. Without giving away any spoilers all I will say is that graphically they remind me of Sewershark on the Sega CD. The game didn't need to include these levels to the end of the game they just don't fit.

Sound

Just like any movie the score of the flick is important. Also most major filmmakers will go out of the way to get the necessary sounds for their masterpiece. ETM is just that, another movie with a great score and set of effects. Each level has all the unique sounds it needs to make you believe you are where you are. In dungeons and pipes things have reverb, when outside or up high gunshots ring out in shorter duration. The effects of humming from industrial equipment is present when it is silent. Background city noise accompanies outdoor levels. On the driving levels the car sounds better when "in-car" rather than the 3rd person perspective. The music is both original and from the soundtrack. There were some tracks I recognized that had a definitive artist sound to them and there were original scores that were produced for the game and the Matrix reloaded. They all seem to fit for the situation in which they are used. Most of the tracks are hardcore heavy metal or hard rock scores used in situation of the game that bring the stage to it's apex or at a crucial point. The music used during boss fights is just crunching and raw, it really heightens the experience of the fight. High anxiety situations use that annoying demonic symphony music, the string section scales up from low to high holding that flat sounding note that reminds you of scraping your fingernails on the blackboard. When you hear music like that you are either in trouble or about to get surprised.

ETM does take use of a full surround format. I did not have a 5.1 system while playing this game, but I did hook the Xbox up to a surround system and play 1 full level using 5.1 surround. I was very impressed with the specialization of objects and refraction of sound. Surround audio gaming effects are becoming more common in games now and ETM uses them especially well.

Replay Value

ETM has a very unique feature I mentioned at the very beginning of the review. This feature is called Hacking. Hacking is an extra feature that allows you do some unique things. The feature is set up like an old DOS PC. You have a full onscreen keyboard that allows you to enter commands and explore the Matrix subsystem. It's a neat extra with a kick. When you finish the game it gives you a HACKING code. You can then enter this code for Extra's and cheats. Certain codes allow unlimited ammo or Life or even Focus. Other codes unlock secret levels and items. I have yet to fully explore this feature, though some of the imbedded batch files included are fun to play with. There is a batch file to vibrate your controller. Even a archaic beeping music system. This is quite cute because it lets you run the batch command BEEP.exe then enter numbers 1 - 8 each representing a sound. So you can type Beep.exe 1368324 and press enter and it will play a musical beep sequence for you. It's quite the time killer. I am sure the developers have hidden stuff in this function that will give you tons of extras over the next few months. Each code has the same amount of letters and numbers. I believe a combination of eight make up a correct hacking code. Just a guess, but keep an eye on the Matrix Reloaded, I'll bet that there are codes hidden in the movie. I guess those are high hopes that the movie and game title are tied that close together.

Aside from the hacking feature, there are two characters (who knows if there are other playable characters to be unlocked). The Resident Evil series defined replay value with giving you two unique characters to play with, two characters that participate in the same levels but have different agenda's. I just started playing with Ghost and it is a whole new game to me. I have to say that until I finish the game with ghost and learn his unique story, in-between the unchanged beginning, and end I will not put down this game.

Bottom Line:

Right off the bat, looking at the box the disk comes in will help you understand this is a must have game for any Matrix fan. The box is a full hologram, and even the screenshots on the box are in reflective foil. As you move the box around in the light it looks as if the letters are moving up and down as if they were flowing on a monitor showing the code of the Matrix. The game was designed to give you insight into the series. If you plan on understanding the Matrix trilogy you must play the game to completion with at least one character. Failure to play the game will result in not understanding side stories in the next matrix movies. This game is as important to the series as the short animations (Animatrix) are to the series. Final Flight of the Osirus is a necessary stepping-stone to understanding the plot, though after finishing it you can figure out the missing information if you did not see it. ETM is a revolution in terms of graphics, and a superb idea on how to mix up the genre of games out there. ETM will have its effects on how movie licensed titles are made. ETM has some AI shortcomings as well as game play weaknesses, though they are heavily overshadowed. There are so many other qualities that make this title shine. I would recommend trading in some really bad movie licensed titles like Batman Forever amongst others, or just shelling out $50 for this game.

-Demon




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