After the success of the first film, it is hard not to get excited about anything that rains green letters down the screen, but looking through the franchise, what does Enter the Matrix offer? I start with a note of caution - this is Haig-style full frontal assault on Matrix action in 2003 - two films, two soundtracks and the game, oh, and the Animatrix thing, which is being thrust at us with the message that you need to experience all parts to understand the whole picture.
Apparently the game weaves in and out of the Matrix films, completing the background and foreground. Also, it leaps out with the Atari badge on it. Someone wants this game to sell in massive numbers, and that's the point - is the game worthy of all this attention? Or are they just trying to hype a spin-off?
From the outset, the game is totally Matrix-ified, and oozes the sights and sound that were so popular in the film, and it even has its own exclusive film cutscenes, just for the game. A nice touch, but having watched the film clip, the character models that then appear look a little cubic when they do their own cutscenes. The two characters you can choose from are Niobe and Ghost - Niobe is the driver, so if you pick her, you'll end up driving. If you pick Ghost, you'll be the passenger on any car journeys. Apart from that, I couldn't see any discernable differences between how the two characters played, except that Niobe walks like a man. The blend of action on foot and in vehicle makes an interesting combination, providing a bit of variety to the game.
So, down to the action, the first-person shooter action. Control is simple, and makes full use of the analogue features of the PS2 controller. Movement is fairly smooth in the game and you are provided with two buttons to control the fighting. Hand-to-hand combat is easy, and you defeat normal enemies with consummate ease. So much so, that fighting multiple opponents is a pleasure. At the start, this might seem like it is all too easy, sending baddies flying across the room, but as you get into the game, you need to be able to quickly deal with people. The basic moves are a kick and a punch, but they have been choreographed into a range of Kung Fu moves, beautifully executed sequential attacks, as in the film - "I know Kung Fu", you certainly do. And then there are guns, lots of guns. The guns are not so accurate (perhaps realistically so), but are incredible fun, and sound fantastic.
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Now to the piece de resistance. Yes, there is "bullet time", the most memorable feature of the film, and replicated excellently in the game. Bullet Time is basically the slow-motion bit that allows you to dodge bullets, leap into the air and hover like Trinity and so on. The ability to use bullet time adds a totally new dimension to the game, jumping round corners, running up walls, doing back flips and so on. You can now jump over people, and attack them from behind. You can also spiral towards people through the air with all guns blazing, no guarantee that you'll hit anything, but it certainly is fun. Of course, you can't do it all the time, it is limited by 'Focus' a sort of energy bar. Both Focus and Health will recharge themselves with time to 100%. You might think that this would make the game easy, but there are still plenty of opportunities to die.
The action works, with the visuals and the sound being complimentary in bringing a good game forward. But there is something else, that addiction that gamers crave is here: I want to jack in repeatedly and I really want watch the original film again. Bullet time is easily the best and most unique feature. In fact, if it did not have bullet time, then you'd be tempted to say that this is a game like any other, and nothing too special.
In light of that (and the sales of three million on a wave of hype), I think the final conclusion is that it is fun and action packed, with some excellent features, but it is still a film spin-off. If you are a fan of The Matrix, you'll love all the action, if not, perhaps Tron 2.0 is what you are after on PC, or the new Tomb Raider on consoles for something comfy and familiar. Will it add to your understanding of the Matrix universe? We'll have to wait and see - but whilst you are waiting, you can join in the action and quite literally, enter the Matrix.