If there is one thing we know about movies crossing over to the gaming arena, it is that for the majority of cases, the game is lacking. So, simply put, it is rather uncommon to see a good game come out of a movie. However this stereotype may very well change thanks to the guys at Shiny Entertainment and Atari, who have taken on the gaming rights for the Wachowski Brother's Matrix Trilogy. The first in the gaming series is Enter The Matrix, and with such features as exclusive video footage and trademark Matrix style gameplay on hand, it could very well prove to be an all time favorite for time to come.
Gameplay - 8.5/10:
After taking the hefty ~3.5GB install from 4 CD's, not to mention the very slow install time, I was extremely thankful for recently picking up a 200GB harddrive. For me, 4 CD's seems too much, and I think it is about time we saw the DVD format come into play for the PC gaming market. However that is a topic that soon escaped my mind, as I finally had the game loaded and ready for action.
Previous to installing ETM I had not really known about all the game modes, so I was quite intrigued when I saw the "Hacking" game mode on the main menu. However since "Hacking" requires a saved game to operate, I headed straight to the story mode ready for some action, so we will get into the Hacking game mode later.
One huge let down for me was the absence of a PC multiplayer mode. I understand the gameplay in this really only calls for button mashing in most instances, which is not really ideal for multiplayer, but that is no excuse. I would imagine an 8 player deathmatch in an enclosed arena of some sort would work out to be quite a lot of fun, but atleast for now, it is not to be.
Although I will admit ETM does a good job in getting you straight into the action no matter which player you chose, it would have been nice to see an indepth training mode to get your skills up to scratch before you go into the real thing. Some gamers probably feel comfortable with learning as they go, but I personally prefer to have a good understanding of the game functions before starting off. Perhaps, in the style of the original Matrix movie, you could have chosen to load certain training programs, where each programs adds to your player's skill, however it seems ETM picks up from the 'Reloaded' story line rather than from the original.
Right from the first mission it is easy to see what all the fuss was about as far as the gameplay goes. Right from the very first punch or bullet you experience the same awesome feeling as you do from watching the fighting scenes in the movies. Both Niobe and Ghost are highly skilled fighters with both hand-to-hand and gun combat, and it sure shows when you effortlessly stream together a 6 hit combo while taking out someone else behind you. However if you really want to deal some punishment, you will want to use the 'focus' feature.
Like Bullet-time in Max Payne, Focus mode allows you to slow down time effectively giving you the edge as far as reaction times go. While in focus you can perform special moves, ranging from the trademark Matrix bullet dodges to the infamous 'run up the wall and kick' move. There are a huge amount of new moves while in focus, so you can spend plenty of time finding the right moves for certain situations. Focus also improves your aiming drastically, so it is really an essential part to the game, if not the most essential part. With this in mind, I thought it was a little strange to make focus a limited resource, because the impression you get from the movies is that a highly trained rebel captain like Niobe would really have no trouble staying 'in focus' for much longer periods of time.
On top of focus, you are also given a broad range of environment interactions, which can also change depending on whether you're in focus or not. One such environmental interaction is using objects for cover, which then allows you to lean out and shoot while leaving a very small window for enemy bullets, or jump out in a flip while spraying the area with lead. These remain the same in focus, but your ability to aim and dodge is improved allowing for much more effective moves.
If there is one thing that stands out as annoying in ETM, it is the lack of in-game saves. On many occasions the save points are in weird locations leaving you repeating the same mission multiple times. For example, you may spend all your ammo and/or health dealing with a boss style enemy, only to find the next save point is still a few kills away, and these kills are usually just your average enemy who happen to kill you due to your state of health. After that, you must restart the level again and face the boss again, which gets old quick.
As an attempt to offer that little extra something, ETM also features the ability to drive cars and operate your ship. These are missions designed specifically for vehicle use, so it isn't like you can hope in a car at any time. Unfortunately, the engine really struggles to provide a realistic feel while driving, and controlling your ship is, well, pretty boring really. Luckily the game does not focus too much on these aspects, because it is much better when your on foot, but I will say the game has a reasonably disappointing ending as a result of the boredom found in controlling your ship.
Between missions you will be occasionally presented with footage and cutscenes featuring the real life counterparts of the characters. This is a nice touch, especially considering some of this footage is exclusive for the game. Perhaps this is the secret for a successful movie to game transition, because with features like this it really feels like just another saga to the Matrix story. On top of this, the great truck scene featuring Morpheus and the key keeper is featured, which is handy to have on file whenever you want to view its visual excellence.
After saving a game, as mentioned above, you can now access the hacking mode. Basically, the hacking mode is an in-built command prompt, giving you access to such features as media viewing, feature unlocking and cheat enabling. The purpose of the hacking feature is really little more than a cool addon, but it does a really good job as a side game, trying to crack and decipher passwords and find hidden messages from comrades like Neo and Trinity. You get the feeling the hacking mode always has more hidden features to find no matter how deep you've gone into it, which does wonders for the game's replay value.
Visuals - 8.0/10:
ETM has mixed results in the visual department. The player models themselves look very nice, the characters look like their real life counterparts which means transitions between ingame rendering and real footage contrast well, although no matter how nice the ingame graphics are, there is no such technology available to make game graphics and real footage seamlessly work together unnoticeably, so the game should rely less on these transitions.
The only real issue I have with the visuals are the sometimes disjointed animations, and the occasional low quality texture. Since you are given a lot of moves and interaction abilities, the animations which represent these can sometimes come off disjointed in certain situations. On top of this, some textures throughout the game appear extremely dated in quality, specifically in closer view. Despite these minor glitches though, the visuals are certainly a strong point of the game.
Controls - 8.0/10:
If the gameplay isn't challenging enough for you, mastering the control system most certainly will be. Besides the basic WASD control system, every other button map choice is relatively new to PC gaming, except for previous titles sharing similar style gameplay like Oni. However unlike Oni, ETM has too many functions to fit on a mouse forcing the player to focus quite a lot of their initial time getting used to the default button maps. For example, to do a side cartwheel while shooting, you will need to hold down the shift button, hold down A or D to move sidewards, press jump, while aiming and shooting with your mouse. Fortunately it doesn't get much harder than that, but you can clearly see there is quite a lot of getting use to when starting the game for the first time. It is a shame there is no training mode, which I always find handy in these type of games.
Enter The Matrix has the potential to be a classic, it offers a unique gameplay experience while further involving the fans of the Matrix Trilogy beyond the big screen, however there are just too many bugs and limitations to give it that status. If you can put the glitches aside then there is no doubting ETM is a must buy, however the hype that surrounded it before launch is not entirely fulfilled which will leave a few gamers possibly a little disappointed. Nevertheless, Enter The Matrix is a very, very cool game, and it does manage to capture the essence that made the Matrix so popular, it is just a shame a few features didn't manage to find its way to the retail version. One thing that is for sure though, since the third installment to the movie series will be out before the year's end, we should be seeing news on new Enter The Matrix games very shortly. It can only get bigger and better from here folks.