Enter The Matrix was hyped way too much for its own good. Concerning the inner workings of the hype machine, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly whose fault it is that the game fails to live up to expectations, fair or not. Maybe it was public relations, doing a bang up job in securing a million pre-orders for the game. Maybe it was advertising, liberally using fanciful conundrums like Morpheus, the spiritual leader of the Matrix films. Maybe it was Shiny, bragging about gameplay and graphical innovations that simply are not there. Maybe it was the Wachowski brothers, tapping into the curious nerve of our brains, wondering how they might make a videogame of a videogame fantasy film.
Whoever it was, Enter The Matrix is as average a game can get, with plenty of things going wrong for it, as enjoyable as it might be at times. The game follows the exploits of Niobe and Ghost, two small characters in the new film. The main draw of the game is that it fills in the blanks that The Matrix Reloaded intentionally left empty. The story is told through gameplay, in-game cutscenes and live action full-motion video. The ship Osiris left an important transmission in the Matrix itself, containing information that is vital to the human colony's survival. It's up to Niobe and Ghost to retrieve that package and use the information for the war against machines.
One of the biggest problems in third-person shooter/beat-em-up hybrid games is the melding of the two disparate genres into an experience as seamless as a John Woo flick. Games like Dead To Rights and Oni have failed where Enter The Matrix might've succeeded. However certain issues rear their ugly head, revealing a far from intuitive system. Shooting alone is hard enough with the awkward button-holding strafe system. Oddly enough, the right analog stick, usually used for strafing, is instead use entirely for the first-person look mode while strafe is assigned to a mere button. It could've very easily been the other way around, and it wouldn't be a smarter decision just because most games utilize a similar button layout. Right analog sticks have been creatively used for many games like The Mark Of Kri. Instead, its potential is wasted on an essentially useless function.
Once you decide to take it to fisticuffs, the camera, which usually obediently stays behind the player, switches to the side for a pseudo-fighting game feel. This actually works pretty well, giving a nice view of both combatants and anyone else that might be surrounding them. Once the fight is done, however, things go awry. The game eschews any player control over the targeting system (even while shooting), so once you knockdown an enemy, you're expected to wiggle the right analog stick to "unlock" yourself from the enemy. It's a definite step back from Z-targeting system The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time pioneered years ago. Both trigger buttons are occupied by the strafe and "focus" function (which triggers the now-famous "Bullet Time" mode, slowing everything down to a snail's pace), so there's no other intuitive button for a targeting system. Yet this is precisely why the controls for the game needed to be more thoughtfully planned out. For assigning the black button for firing weapons, it tells me that it was the last button that was empty, and decided to go ahead with it instead of rethinking their button layout.
This kind of apathy isn't only present in the controls however. While Shiny may have been touting the ability to motion capture the actual actors and actresses from the films as a great thing, the results are less than spectacular. All they needed were some good animators, and nobody would have to laugh at the ridiculous climbing or fighting animations. Granted, some of the animations are fluid and smooth, but they're all pre-programmed movements activated when you throw or counter somebody. The music is ripped right off the score of the films, yet even its usage is as misplaced as the animations. During moments of nothing, the score would blast really loud. And with the lazy level designs (hallways, power plants, underground sewers) and unclear goals for each one, there is often a lot of nothing going on.
The Focus feature works fairly well, and unlike other games that feature a "Bullet Time" mode, it's hardly a gimmick here. Fights become considerably easier in Focus mode, and most firefights are impossible to survive without it. However it makes some battles way too easy. All you need to do is a Focus dodge (a flip that will make you impervious to any bullet, even if it passes through your character model), flip towards the enemy and disarm him. Once you disarm, make sure to keep an eye on the enemy, for they have a tendency to respawn weapons right in their hands once they get backup.
All these negative points are here to make a point, which isn't that Enter The Matrix is a terrible game. There's just more bad than good to warrant the hype, or a purchase. There's a lot of excitement that comes with a Matrix game, especially if it comes with exclusive footage from the filmmakers themselves, or a neat cheat system which mimics hacking with DOS. However, what I'm reviewing here is the game content itself, not the extra bells and whistles, and whatever game is here isn't sufficient. What should've been a revolutionary collaboration between the games and film industry turned out to be another piece of advertisement for the film, even though it was marketed vice versa. If there's anything the Matrix films teach us, it's to free our minds and know the difference between illusion and reality, and that definitely applies to the illusion of hype.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.