Reviewed: November 21, 2005
Released: November 7, 2005
Anyone here play Enter the Matrix back in 2003? Go ahead…admit it…nobody is watching, and it wasn’t as bad as everyone made it out to be. If nothing else it was one of a very few handful of Xbox games that supported 1080i so you could justify that $5,000 plasma TV.
In that game you got to play as either Niobe or Ghost in a story that was meant to fill the gaps between the first and second movies. It also offered you two very distinct paths through the game essentially giving you two games in one. The only thing it didn’t give you was the chance to play as savior, Neo.
The Matrix: Path of Neo takes us on an all-inclusive tour of all three Matrix movies through the eyes (or path) of Neo in what the hype would have you believe is the most authentic Matrix game ever. Mmm…okay.
Path of Neo is an impressive effort, at least on paper, with more than 600 martial arts fighting moves, the ability to battle hundreds of Agent Smiths, and the introduction of new places and characters into a series that is far past its prime. I suppose there are a few diehard Matrix fans out there who live and breathe all things Matrix and sleep with a picture of the Wachowski Brothers under their pillow – this game is for you.
Path of Neo basically recreates the events of the movie starting with Neo’s daring escape from his office cubicle as dozens of Agents are trying to capture him. The gameplay segments are highlighted by bits and pieces of movie footage, reedited to serve the games diabolical purposes of sucking you in to this mess.
Path of Neo can’t seem to settle on any one particular genre, but rather tries to blend multiple genres into something that just doesn’t work. It all starts with an opening fight sequence that mirrors the famous lobby fight from the first movie. Here, Neo must battle an endless stream of heavily armored guards. You are destined to fail but how long you manage to survive will setup the game’s arbitrary difficulty level. Sadly, this is probably the most visually impressive part of the game. It all goes downhill from here.
From here you go on to what seems like an endless tutorial that runs the course of the next four or five levels. It is these levels where you will perfect your combat, weapons, and shooting skills, or at least try to. Path of Neo opts for the popular flick targeting system which worked so well in Advent Rising. It works here too but fails to switch targets when you actually kill somebody, so if you aren’t careful you will be pumping extra rounds into a corpse while other live enemies are beating you down.
Thankfully, this game is more about the martial arts than gunplay, and with more than 600 moves to learn, the potential for violence is unrivaled. And to its credit, the hand-to-hand combat works most of the time. With so many fight moves and potential combos the game could have collapsed under its own ambition, but it actually gets a bit addictive about halfway through.
The gameplay is surprisingly balanced, and I can only assume that the game is tailoring the number and difficulty of the enemies based on your current skill set and proficiency. While challenging, the game never proved impossible to overcome and matched my playing ability level for level.
Even more evil than a thousand Agent Smiths, the camera in Path of Neo is surely out to get you. It will get hung up on just about anything it can and never manages to show you what you want or need to be seeing. On more than one occasion I was forced to fight very near the edge of the screen and twice, even off camera. This is not good for a game that is focused on combat.
The story follows the plot of the movie with a few branches into new territory to keep you guessing. A lot of these unseen plot elements focus on events that were happening during the movies but were not depicted on the big screen. In that way, the game really helps to flesh out the overall story.
And without giving anything away, those who manage to make it to the end of the game will come to a final boss fight and credit sequence that will not only defy logic, it will probably make you second-guess your chosen hobby of playing video games. I’m not sure who the Wachowski Brothers were trying to screw; Atari or their customers, but when they came onscreen to introduce the final level I just had a sense of impending doom.
Arguably, the best part of the game are the Reloaded-inspired missions in the middle, but those are sandwiched between an oppressive and endless opening tutorial and a sucker ending that will incite rage unlike anything seen since the Blair Witch Project.
The graphics in Path of Neo range from substandard to downright pathetic. While Enter the Matrix shined at 1080i, this game only manages 480p and for some inexplicable reason does not support widescreen – although the inferior PS2 version does. Go figure. So you either have to play with black bars on the sides of your widescreen TV or stretch the image, which only highlights the jaggies that are already prevalent throughout this game.
Textures are realistic enough but their application to the models is clumsy and seems detached at times. There are also noticeable tear lines and seams in many of the models. The mo-capped animation is also awkward and robotic. There might be 600 combat moves but none of them flow together and you end up controlling a malfunctioning puppet.
The framerate also suffers, even on the Xbox. Obviously, all those special effects add up to something the Xbox cannot handle, and you will often have gameplay that falls drastically behind the commands you are entering. Not good in a combat-intensive game.
The movies are standard FMV quality; a bit pixilated at times and there is no way to skip them, at least the first time through. If you die you can, but if you restart a level you have to watch them over and some can get pretty long. The cutscenes and the game for that matter are so jumbled up that it almost hurts the experience if you have any knowledge of the material before playing. You can jumble the story for artistic purposes (Pulp Fiction), but you can’t rearrange an established story and keep the fans interested.
The game manages to blend movie footage with real actors and gameplay with sound-alikes fairly well. The sound effects are all unmistakably “Matrix” and the Dolby Digital mix keeps things lively and immersive.
The music is also authentic with familiar themes from the film and a nice underlying score that complements the gameplay. Oddly enough, there are periods where the sound drops out entirely creating awkward moments of silence.
Completing the Path of Neo can take you anywhere from 15-20 hours, but at the end of the day when you have fallen victim to what can only be described as a cruel practical joke of a boss fight and game ending, you will want reimbursement for your time spent playing this game.
There are a few unlockable bonuses like movies, cheats, and photo galleries, but with no multiplayer, branching story, and no real reason to play it again, this is a rental at best and only for diehard fans of the movies or those who enjoying mastering complex fighting games and a mix of other genres that really don’t make any sense.
I am probably one of the few people who actually enjoyed Enter the Matrix. Sure it wasn’t perfect but at least it was fun and playable and easy on the eyes. I have to admit I did miss playing as Neo, which only makes it that much more painful to be the bearer of bad news.
The Matrix: Path of Neo just isn’t that great – certainly not as good as all the pre-release hype would have you believe. Even I was suckered in by a fantastic E3 playable demo and megabytes of pre-release footage, but the end result is a far cry from anything that Matrix fans expect or deserve.