We're on hand at E3 2005, and so is The Matrix: Path of Neo from publisher Atari and developer Shiny. We battled our way through a bunch of guys to get to the game so that we could battle our way through a bunch of other guys in the game in two different levels: a re-creation of the lobby shootout scene from the first motion picture and a training level called "samurai winter." We played both levels in an early PS2 version of the game.
Path of Neo's control layout seemed intuitive enough for a console game; like with most console action games in a post-Halo world, the left analog stick will let you move Neo, while the right stick will move the camera view around him. The left trigger button will let you enter "focus mode," so you can aim at specific targets while holding a gun, and it will also slow time (so that you can dodge bullets as they fly past you, leaving the ripple marks in midair we've seen in the motion pictures.) The right trigger button will fire any equipped guns. The triangle button will act as both an attack button and as a block button if pressed and held. The X button will let you jump, and the circle button will let you grapple with your opponents--if you're successful at catching hold of them, you can perform various follow-up finishing attacks by pressing different button combinations from there, such as hammering on the triangle button to rapidly pummel your target's face. And like Max Payne, the video game hero who was born out of inspiration from The Matrix, Neo will be able to perform leaping "shootdodges" by pressing the X and right-trigger buttons simultaneously.
In the lobby shootout level, we were accompanied by Carrie-Ann Moss' Trinity character who helped pick off a few gunmen, but we were left mainly to fend for ourselves, either by grabbing a fallen weapon and using the left trigger to acquire targets before spraying bullets at them, or by laying into our enemies bare-handed. Path of Neo seemed to have a fairly fluid fighting system that let us get by fairly well by pressing the triangle button repeatedly to perform combination attacks, though when we were surrounded by enemies, we found ourselves having to switch targets. We changed targets in midswing simply by tapping the left analogue stick toward our second opponent. Apparently, the game will automatically switch targets if you attack a different target two or more times, but with a little effort, we were able to provide a fair and equitable stream of punches in the face to three different opponents at once.
The samurai winter level was considerably different. This was a training level that took place in a black-and-white Japanese tea garden--an environment apparently intended to reference such motion pictures as The Seven Samurai and Rashoumon. Neo was dressed not in his usual black leather getup but instead in his white training robes, carrying a Japanese katana sword. After entering the courtyard and crossing several arched bridges, he encountered a few camps of samurai warriors wearing oversized straw hats and carrying swords of their own. These battles were melee only (no shooting), and by carefully dodging and weaving around our enemies, we were able to put them down with little trouble, executing a few graphic grappling kills (such as a behind-the-back thrust that impaled one enemy and a leg strike that forced an enemy to kneel before we beheaded it, similar to the samurai ritual act of seppuku). We're not certain that the more-graphic of these death scenes will even make it past the scrutiny of the ESRB into the game, even though these deaths showed no blood (these samurai, being computer-generated beings, "bled" the swirling green digits of the Matrix instead).
The Matrix: Path of Neo seems like it could very well succeed in re-creating the most exciting scenes from the Matrix motion pictures. Even at this early stage, the game seems to control decently well and doesn't look half bad. We'll have more updates on the game as we near its release on the PS2, the Xbox, and the PC this holiday season.