The Matrix: Path of Neo Hands-On
Shiny takes us further down the rabbit hole for a lengthier look at its theatrically influenced Matrix game.
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Somehow, it has taken six years since the release of The Matrix before we'll be able to play as the sci-fi action trilogy's celebrated hero, Neo. But Shiny is finally making millions of gamers' wishes come true with The Matrix: Path of Neo, a single action game that'll let you take control of the One himself as you fight through nearly 50 levels recounting almost every major action sequence from the Wachowski brothers' seminal film series. Whoa.
The game's controls are easy to pick up and let you pull off all kinds of flashy, Neo-style special moves and attacks with ease. Yet, it seems like they'll offer plenty of depth beyond the typical button mashing if you want to master the more-complex techniques. In melee combat, you've got a regular strike button and a special attack button that you can use in tandem to perform punch-and-kick combos, grabs, flips, aerial attacks...you know, typical Neo stuff. You can also hold down the shoulder button to draw your guns and fire at faraway enemies, and this will enable an auto-target that makes it easy to hit whoever you're aiming at. From what we saw, the game does a surprisingly good job of emulating the presentation of the films, from the camera work to Neo's own acrobatic maneuvers. We got a good sense that, after sampling only a few levels, we were able to do all of that cool stuff Neo does in the movies, which is of course what the game is aiming for.
Path of Neo will introduce you to its mechanics through a number of training levels called "programs," similar to the jump program Morpheus uses to acquaint Neo with his newfound abilities in the first film. Since these operator programs exist in a construct and not within the Matrix itself, they can resemble just about anything, and we got to see several of them in action. The simpler ones will instruct you in basic movement, such as the ability to run vertically and diagonally up walls. We got to see a later training level set inside a two-story dojo that pitted us against several waves of enemies, scoring us based on our technique. Still another training level was set inside a busy restaurant and showed us the ins and outs of firearms, including the targeting system.
Of course, Neo's advanced abilities are what the real Matrix fan will be looking forward to, and those are all present and accounted for. You can enter focus mode to slow down time and also make your own attacks faster, stronger, and more impressive. Focus is governed by a meter that runs down as you use it; you can generate more focus by engaging in further melee combat. Later in the game, you'll be able to use focus to dodge bullets just like Neo does in the movies, which will come in handy for obvious reasons. Finally, you've got code vision, which turns the world of the Matrix into the characteristic green code it's made from. This will highlight power-ups and interactive background elements, not to mention enemies and hidden secrets, making it easier for you to figure out what's what.
The Wachowskis themselves have been deeply involved in the game's design, suggesting such interesting ideas as a playable difficulty selector at the beginning of the game. Essentially, you'll play a dreamlike version of the lobby sequence from the first film, in which wave after wave of enemies will rush into the room, requiring you to use a flurried combination of gunplay and kung fu to take them all out. Once you've cleared the level, the game will rate your performance and unlock the difficulty levels it thinks you'll be able to handle. If you want a harder difficulty than what you're given, you'll have to replay the level and turn in a better performance.
So all of Neo's moves and weapons are in here, but what everyone really wants is to play through the most exciting action scenes of all three Matrix movies. Luckily, it looks like all of those are in here, too. We got to see excerpts from such memorable sequences as the lobby shoot-out and rooftop agent battle from the first movie, and the "burly brawl" (the one with Neo fighting scores of Agent Smiths) and the chateau fight from The Matrix Reloaded.
Shiny impresario Dave Perry gave us a guided tour of these scenes, and pointed out that during the rooftop battle the designers are treating the Matrix's nefarious agents more consistently with the movies this time around. In this scene, the agent was extremely hard to damage, to the point that killing it through conventional combat was nearly impossible. The solution: to get the agent to shoot at you and dodge its bullets long enough for Trinity to appear and deliver a bullet to the agent's head. Like in the movies, though, an agent can possess any regular person nearby, so if you kill it once and there are more enemies incoming, prepare to fight it again.
In the chateau fight, we were pleased to see that you can run up to any of the displays of weapons on the walls and actually grab each one to fight the mass of skilled artificial intelligence fighters with. Finally, we got a brief, early look at the burly brawl, which had us fighting at least eight or 10 Smiths at once, while scores more teemed just in the background, ready to jump in. The game's combat system is fluid enough that we didn't actually have a serious problem contending with all of these enemies at once (though it was quite hectic keeping up with the fight). We were even able to grab a signpost, just like in the movie, and start swinging it to knock Smiths around like baseballs.
There will be what looks like a significant character upgrade system present in Path of Neo. During the major level breaks, you'll get access to a series of concentric rings, each of which will contain a number of upgraded or new moves and abilities for Neo to use. After choosing from a certain number on the current ring, you'll have to move on to the next, so you'll have to pick and choose which ones you want while giving up others. You'll end up with a customized Neo at the end of the game based on which abilities you've chosen, so you'll have some incentive to go back and play again to check out new moves and so on.
Speaking of the end of the game, the Wachowskis apparently felt that the ending of The Matrix Revolutions wouldn't translate well to a video game--so they stepped right in and wrote a new one for Path of Neo. For obvious reasons, Perry didn't give us any hints as to what this new ending will entail, other than to say that the brothers themselves would be dropping players a clue toward the end to help explain what's going on. Development continues apace, and fans won't have much longer to wait to see the new ending and everything else the game has to offer--Shiny and Atari are now targeting November for its release. We'll bring you more on The Matrix: Path of Neo in the coming months.