Jacked by the Matrix.
Whenever someone jacks into The Matrix, it seems like they're always clad in Versace leathers and stylish sunglasses. I suppose one explanation is that appearance is a physical manifestation of the id. Either that or everyone is just tired of wearing ratty cotton sweaters.
The same rules apply in the game Enter the Matrix. Underneath the glamorous surface and the ability to have some bullet time combat fun is just one ratty sweater of a game.
The story of Enter the Matrix runs parallel to the events in the second Matrix movie, The Matrix Reloaded. Captain Niobe, played by Jada Pinkett-Smith, and First Mate Ghost, played by Anthony Wong, must embark on various missions, such as recovering covert information, protecting other ship captains in the sewers, and helping out Neo by blowing up a nuclear reactor.
Jada and Anthony ham it up during small FMV vignettes. While it's interesting to see an event referenced in the movie take place in the game, the manner in which it is done is relatively slipshod. Enter the Matrix lacks a cogent narrative and feels very pieced together.
The gameplay shares that same erratic quality with its fusion of third-person perspective meandering maze stages with some very undercooked driving and rail shooting sequences.
The gameplay pits your choice of Niobe or Ghost against armies of Swat Teams, Vampires and Agents in two different individualized quests. Thankfully, Niobe and Ghost aren't completely hopeless. They know kung fu. Both characters have basic punches, kicks, and blocks, as well as simple combos. The fighting is generally loose and at times borders on button mashing.
Besides martial arts, Niobe and Ghost can arm themselves with a host of different guns, from shotguns to machine guns to sniper rifles, as well as a few types of grenades. The grenades are most effective in specific scenarios; otherwise, there's a tendency for them to bounce off objects right back at you, perhaps because your characters have such a weenie throw.
The defining element of The Matrix, bullet-time slow motion, is incorporated through an ability called "Focus." Your character has a limited yet rechargeable meter that lets you deftly slow down, as well as granting additional flips and dives. Your character will usually take less damage in Focus mode. Obviously, this bears a striking resemblance to Max Payne, and comparisons are sort of inevitable.
In Max Payne, the slow motion had a more noticeable advantage because aiming could still be done in relative real time via the mouse. Enter the Matrix has auto aiming, so to a limited degree, you can try pointing the gun at as many enemies as possible while in a cartwheel. It does have its moments, like leaping into a room, popping the officer to your left full of lead while readying a kick to the head off a wall at the policeman in front of you.
But in the end, Focus is style before substance, as it mainly comes in handy only when faced by a gang of enemies. It's neat, but you can largely do just as well kicking and punching and shooting the bad guys in real-time.
Once you look past the Focus mode, Enter the Matrix starts to show its seams. Behold the poorly done driving game with a wonked out, buggy arrow that's supposed to point out the way, Crazy Taxi style, but never seems to get it right. Then there are the fixed-rail shooting stages, some of which feel like Sewer Shark all over again, just making you aim at things with a cursor. Gameplay freedom? Who needs it.
What I'd liked to be freed from are the irritating load times, particularly in the PS2 and Gamecube versions. When the game asks me posthumously whether or not I want to jack back in the Matrix, I think it should really be whether or not I want to be jacked by the Matrix again.
To give you a better feel for the movie, there's a "hacking" option which is essentially just a DOS emulator. There are no instructions to help you out, so much of this area is touch and go. Jog your memory and try to remember some of those old commands to access FMVs, view images and input some cheats. It's a cute, quirky flashback for those of us old enough to remember fumbling through DOS, but younger gamers might want to look up some of those commands.
The game also suffers from a lack of immersion, just yanking you back and forth from gameplay to loading. Finish off all the enemies and wham, its back to the loading screen of green characters scrolling downwards.
That familiar scroll of code permeates every inch of the game, but the visuals also include some good environmental texture work and the neato bullet time effects. But there are many graphical flaws here, such as rigid and unconvincing character animation as well as frequent visual bugs and tearing. The PS2 version is the ugliest, with the Gamecube a close second and the Xbox looking the best, but even the green machine version won't be winning any awards.
At times, the music can be outright atrocious. Throughout the sewers, the audio is tuned to the action - the moment you get into a firefight, this clashing disharmony of sound just starts banging away. It's as if it's urging you to kill as quickly as possible just to stop the aural suffering. Other moments in the game feature musical selections from the movie with no sense of mood, pace or environment. Well, at least the gunshots and plinks of empty ammo cartridge sound just right.
Enter the Matrix is an unrealized dream that tries to bring movies and games together and comes up far short. It's blatantly obvious that this game isn't quite finished. Unfortunately, that tends to happen when you tie in the release of the game with the film. While it does have its moments and diehard Matrix fans will drool over the extra videos, this game receives the blue pill.
*all screenshots from PS2 version