Saturday, 10 December 2005

Archive Review: The Matrix: Path of Neo

(Xbox, PC review)

Playing games with your mind

History repeats itself. We hear it all the time from well paid academics. This fundamental truth certainly applies with computer games. A few years ago a game called Enter the Matrix came out. Many of us were eager to play it, loving the Matrix Universe, only to discover the game was, in a nutshell, shite. I tried hard to give it a chance but ultimately concluded it was a very poor title and one I really "cba" with.

Now we have a new game and one that has taken at least three years to complete. It has had more money hurled towards it, more expertise aimed at polishing it, and more marketing hoping to seal it as a Christmas 2005 top seller across the world.

History repeats itself. I fell for the glossy box and fancy screenshots. I fell for the snappy tag lines promising "over 600 martial arts moves." I basically had faith in Atari and in the fact that this title should have been, in effect, the game Enter the Matrix had promised to be.

It isn't. It's a trainwreck. It's the biggest waste of £29.99 ($50) since I was convinced the letters I kept receiving from Switzerland were genuine and it was worth me sending £30 deposit across Europe in order to gain access to the £1,000,000 I had won in a fictitious yet seemingly plausible "Euro Lottery." I could tell, perhaps within the first 20 mins of playtime, that this was a completely bugged, linear, unpolished, ugly, and uninspired piece of gaming bile.

We have a menu screen that looks like it should be from 1997 on a Sony Playstation. It is literally a lame excuse for an initial interface. We have an options menu that "does not let you" change "any" options. It pretends to let you, hoping perhaps you will fall for it. I don't know much about programming but yet I feel an "interaction" with software implies an ability to "customise" that said software?

Let me discuss the PC version of this product for a second. The default control scheme is just wrong. It feels wrong because it is wrong. Don't be fooled... you are right! However the options menu won't let you change the controls! Well actually you can re-map them... only for it to revert back to default every time you restart the game! Even Enter the Matrix covered this "gaming standard."

Where am I going with this review? Well, I don't know. I hate this game so much I was tempted to send my copy back to Atari with a list of bugs, issues, and things that offended me enclosed in the box. I guess this would have solved nothing. The receptionist at the Atari Ivory Towers would probably not even be aware of the fact that on the 13th floor a team of renegade employees were actually publishing computer games.

Another issue with the "options menu" is that you may find you can't change resolution, playing in 800by600 like you were still in the old days. I could go on, and on, about how screwed up much of the options menu really is here. Basically there are not half as menu options as there should be. The official forum tells us how to "solve" their mistakes. We simply go into the core root folders of the game in Program Files/ and uncheck "Read Only" in the properties of a config file. Not acceptable... telling the customer how to fix a f*ck up like this!

I want to stress I have been referring to the PC version here, and can only imagine this was primarily a console game ported to PC to make more paper. This is particularly apparent when in-game messages tell you to "press x" to continue. Well I did press x, on my keyboard, but nothing happened? But now let's talk about the game! Finally I hear you yell. It starts with a level straight out of the generic template of gameplay principles. You sneak around the office from The Matrix as Neo trying to dodge agents. Frankly, I wanted to get caught so it could proceed to the fights.

You realise, on all formats, that this is an ugly title. The graphics are a real weakness. With the inevitable PC patch the improvements here are minimal. It supports more cards and, once you fiddle in root directories, enables you to up the effects and resolution to levels that are much better than the default, but hardly impressive. There are many particle effects here but they seem less impressive than previous games, namely Max Payne 2. The sound is really average. The guns sound way too quiet without the punch you would expect or bass heavy thud you crave for. The music is not from the movies (wow no surprise) and instead we get very generic techno that is designed to come in with the action but often fails and means that where you are eager for fast paced beats you often get zilch.

If you can get beyond the controls (even on consoles), the ugly visuals, pathetic menu screens, and dull first stage you are into the meat of the game. The martial arts system is actually very neat. It is way better than Enter the Matrix. It's complex, multi-faceted, and takes a good few hours to truly get on top of. Suddenly I found something I loved here. The initial levels are a training system that jacks you into scenarios simply designed to be fun to play in. You get the Enter the Dragon underground base to fight countless black belt guards to train your Kung-Fu. You have winter gardens surrounded by low walls to perfect your Samurai sword fighting, and mafia infested backstreets to discover visceral gunplay.

My favourite part of this was the sword and weapon fighting. It is so much fun. The animation is fluid and has a life like feel to it. Many of the moves Neo pulls off are straight from Kill Bill, which in turn means they come from all your classic martial arts flicks.

The problem is I loved all this to begin but ultimately realised that this aspect I liked is only a small part of the game - one or two levels. Most of the later levels consist of scenes straight from the movies and they play pretty weakly. For example the "infamous" burly brawl mission plays so badly I considered it a punishment to complete. The martial arts system is great but fails to implement itself into the game - you just end up using the guns... but not lots of guns. (Neo take note.)

The gun fights here are really dull. The death animations of the countless guard/cop/swat/soldier complex minions are annoyingly uncinematic. The targeting system is much better than Enter the Matrix but the reticule is overly large and prominent. If a targeting reticule is ever to be described as thespian then this is that reticule. This gives it an arcade quality. It tries to be Splinter Cell and fails.

The bottom line here is that Path of Neo was meant to be an improvement over Enter the Matrix. I am going to be controversial and say it's actually even "worse" than that former offense to the gaming community. Yeah the martial arts is deeper, but the control system soon screws that aspect up. Yeah you can be Neo but so what? At the end of the day he looks like Ghost from ETM anyway, the MIB look is all you as gamer care about. This game is a wash of badly edited, confusing movie clips that cannot be skipped, bugged and linear gameplay, and an overall interface that gives knew meaning to the phrase "bodge job". I just wish the "stick fighting" element had been put into use in a superior game.


+ Good Martial arts system

+ Can be fun

- Bugged, Linear

- Reminds you of ETM!

5.0 / 10

There's a glitch in the Matrix

by The Critical Alien
© 2005

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