Enter the Matrix Preview

We take an exclusive look at the PlayStation 2 version of Shiny's highly anticipated action game.

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You'd be hard-pressed to find a more anticipated game than Shiny's upcoming Enter the Matrix. As the next film in the franchise, The Matrix Reloaded, nears its May 15 release, Shiny's game is becoming a must-have item for fans eager for more of a Matrix fix. Rather than just offering a "greatest hits" collection of moments from the upcoming film, Enter the Matrix uses the film as the basis for an original adventure that weaves in and out of the action in the movie. To capture the film's varied action, Shiny has attempted to create a game that mixes a number of different gameplay styles with the film's distinct cinematic flair. We recently got an exclusive look at a previewable build of the PlayStation 2 version of Enter the Matrix to see how everything is coming together.

Niobe certainly kicks some ass.
Niobe certainly kicks some ass.

Enter the Matrix's story focuses on one of the major plot threads in the upcoming movie. The game's narrative will actually complement the film, as many of the events in the game are only touched on in the movie. The story will follow three crewmembers on the Logos, a hovercraft like Morpheus' Nebuchadnezzar, who are tapped to help Neo and company in their fight to bring down the matrix. You'll assume the role of either Niobe, the Logos' captain, or Ghost, the ship's weapons specialist, as they're dispatched to retrieve an important package. The third member of the crew, Sparks, is a computer whiz who'll offer hints and a helping hand on your journey via cell phone. While both characters share the same main goal, you'll notice that the game plays out a bit differently depending on who you choose to play as. The story will unfold via a mix of real-time cutscenes, scripted events, and an hour of live-action footage shot exclusively for the game by Matrix masterminds Larry and Andy Wachowski. Unfortunately, to ensure that no spoilers for the game's story were revealed, our build lacked this live-action footage.

When you first start the game, you'll find four choices: load, new game, options, and hacking. Loading an existing save will let you pick up from the plentiful save points you'll come across as you play the game. When you start a new game, you'll choose one of three difficulty settings--easy, normal, or hard--and whether you want to play as Ghost or Niobe. The options menu will let you tweak various settings in the game and save them to your memory card. The hacking option is a clever minigame in which you'll be challenged to "hack" into the matrix, using a simple text-based interface and DOS commands to unlock a number of secrets in the game.

Ghost is no slouch in the ass-kicking department, either.
Ghost is no slouch in the ass-kicking department, either.

The game's structure follows a pretty standard mission-based model that breaks down into three distinct types of gameplay: 3D action, driving, and flying. The 3D action sequences are a mix of exploration, combat, and puzzle solving. You'll start out each level with a mission briefing from Sparks, who will clue you in to what your main goal will be. Each level will be broken up into smaller sections that will often have their own unique objectives. The missions will require you to engage in a variety of activities, ranging from combat to finding switches or specific items. A 3D arrow, similar to the one used in Crazy Taxi, will pop up onscreen and point you in the right direction if you have trouble getting to your goal.

Of the three gameplay elements you'll find in Enter the Matrix, the most scrutinized will likely be the combat, given the jaw-dropping fight sequences that the film franchise is known for. The game's combat engine manages to offer a fairly successful mix of style and substance that captures some key elements from the films. Niobe and Ghost will both have a decent selection of combat moves that are suitably flashy and easy to pull off. The pair will also be able to access an enhanced move set by using the "focus" feature, which re-creates the "bullet time" effect seen in the films. In addition to martial arts, both characters will rely on an assortment of firearms, some of which can be used in tandem, like in a John Woo film, when the action gets hectic. You'll also be able to use the focus effect when firing a gun, which makes firefights against large groups a bit easier. Anyone hoping to focus their way past bullets will be in for a letdown, though, as Niobe and Ghost don't appear to be able to dodge gunfire.

Even somersaults are deadly in Enter the Matrix (provided you're packing heat).
Even somersaults are deadly in Enter the Matrix (provided you're packing heat).

While the combat in Enter the Matrix captures the choreographed look the films' action sequences, the game doesn't require you to master an arcane control scheme. You'll move your character with the left analog stick, use the triangle button to punch, and use the circle button to kick. Holding triangle and circle together will let you throw an enemy. The L1 button will initiate the focus effect, and R1 will draw and fire your weapons. The square button will serve as a context-sensitive action button that is normally used to interact with the environment but can also be used to disarm foes and perform flashy gymnastics when the focus effect is engaged. The X button will let you jump. These core controls are supplemented by the ability to strafe left and right with the R2 and L2 buttons and a first-person look mode you can switch to using the right analog stick. On the whole, the control layout works well and is easy to pick up.

The driving sequences in the game are similar to its combat in that they feature nice bits of flash and accessible controls. The car levels will follow the same mission-based structure as the 3D action sequences, with Sparks filling you in on what you have to do. Mostly, you'll be racing around, completing objectives and taking out the police. In addition to being able to drive like a maniac, you can have Ghost hang out of the passenger-side window and shoot at the police at any time.

Walking on walls is fun.
Walking on walls is fun.

Although you'll have to focus on completing your objectives, the car sequences have a very arcade-like feel and are easy to control. You'll move the car with the left analog stick or D pad. You can accelerate with the X button and brake with the square button, or you can push up or down on the right analog stick for greater control. The triangle button will switch between different camera angles, and the circle button or R1 will serve as the emergency brake. Holding down L1 will send Ghost out of the passenger-side window, guns blazing. He'll auto-target any enemies that are nearby. The R2 and L2 buttons will let you look right and left on the fly, while holding the two together will let you look behind you.

The last gameplay type, the flying stages in the Logos, are accessible rail-shooting sequences that are fast and fun to play. You'll just have to worry about avoiding obstacles by steering with the left analog stick and accelerating and braking with X and square or the right analog stick. You'll use the R1 button to fire the Logos' blasters at the packs of sentinels intent on ripping your craft to shreds. The segments are fast and offer a nice change of pace from the more-structured mission-based levels.

The hacking minigame is a cool extra.
The hacking minigame is a cool extra.

The graphics in the game are pretty solid, and they feature a fair amount of detail, although there are a few rough spots. The character models look good and do a fine job of re-creating their real-life counterparts, but the animation is a bit weaker due to some stiff movement and the modest number of frames used for some actions, like running and disarming enemies. The environments are massive and detailed, although the amount of interactivity is pretty limited, which is a bit disappointing during gunfights. The game's camera can be problematic during combat, in part because of the speed at which most fights unfold. However, you'll find a nice assortment of special effects--most notably when using the focus feature--that help pull you into the game. Little touches such as 16:9 support and the cinematic approach taken in the cutscenes go a long way toward pulling everything together. Ultimately, the game's graphics wind up working as a cohesive whole, despite the rough edges, thanks to the game's overall presentation, which nails the spirit of the films.

The game's audio works well, thanks to a mix of tunes from the film's soundtrack and some original tunes that punch up the action in the game. Voice acting from the movie cast also adds a welcome touch of authenticity that should please fans. The game's sound effects are well done and quite satisfying, and it seems that extra care has been taken to give the gunfire the extra punch you'd expect it to have.

Kung fu is nice, but sometimes lead is better.
Kung fu is nice, but sometimes lead is better.

Enter the Matrix seems to be shaping up to be a solid game overall, with only a few shortcomings. The game's graphics are nicely done, and the frame rate is respectably smooth on the PlayStation 2. The gameplay is varied and generally engaging, although the quirky camera issues can bog things down. The original footage in the game, plus some cool surprises such as the hackable secrets and the appearances by Neo and Trinity, give the game definite appeal. Fans of the movies and action games in general will want to keep an eye out for Enter the Matrix when it ships on the PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, and PC on May 15.

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