* * * * MATRIX: PATH OF NEO (Playstation 2)     
    There is an almost universal constant in gaming:  Movie-based video games stink if they are released with the Movie.  Developers rush whatever they can get out the door and gamers are left with a coaster.   The same thing happened with the first Matrix game.  It stunk and is now in for-sale bins all over the world marked down to, what, $3-$5?  And thus, we had very little hope for the Path of Neo.  We heard some good things about it, but hey, it IS a movie game.  It had so stink.  We'll we were pleasantly wrong.

    Path of Neo is engaging, well designed and well executed.  As soon as you pop the disc in, this looks like something special.  Matrix-green logos from THX, WB and Atari all come to life, making you wish their was a 4th movie on the horizon.  You are Neo.  You are the One.  And you are taken through the Matrix trilogy, watching Neo grow his powers.

    When the game begins, you are thrown into a famous Hallway-column scene right from the movie and without warning security guards come for you.  And frankly, they beat the living force out of you.  At this point our first thought was, whoa this game is pretty hard.  So we tried the stage again and again.  OK, pretty much 12 times until we finally reached an AGENT and then someone who liked to shoot from the ceiling.  Suffice to say, it was a no win situation.  Then you realize you're not supposed to win at all.  This is a test to see what your skill level in the game is.  We suggest you play it several times, like we did.  Its a good way to get to know the controls.  And frankly, it humbles you.  You feel the strength of the agents and what is to come. Neo has a long way to go and so do you.

    Luckily, this beginning is just a dream and you haven't really even entered the game yet, where you will proceed through many training levels to learn your skills.  OK, maybe we weren't that bad after all.

    Although the game follows the path of Neo throughout the movie trilogy, it doesn't do it directly.  This is one of the things we were concerned about.  Would this game be boring, because you know the story?  Well, the story has changed.  What if Mr. Anderson didn't get caught on the ledge of his office building?  What if he escaped?  It was cool to find out.

    In your quest, you'll quickly discover that the game designers had a comical edge too.  They poke fun at common, overused game elements while using them themselves.  For instance, Neo is told that hidden items may await him is he destroys crates and he replies "Hidden crates, how original."  Cute.  Neo even makes fun of the outfits he wears in relation to the various stages.

    The combat engine is NOT just mash and go.  There is a 3 and 4 triangle combo which is your basic move which provides for plenty of mashing, however, this is just an intro.  You combine stuns, throws, jumps and a FOCUS power which allows you to use the Matrix against your enemies to gain an edge.  You can even attack multiple enemies at the same time by selecting them one by one and then going into your MASHING.  Pretty cool.  It isn't the best engine ever made, but it does relay the feeling of having Neo's powers.

    There is a bit of frame-rate slowdown during the game, however, it is not known whether this is a function of Matrix-like-bullet-time or an error in game design.  It doesn't affect gameplay, so it feels like bullet-time.  In any event, what a great tool for developers to have.  Hey, if we can't fix lag we'll just make it appear like the Matrix is slowing things down.  Who's to know?  We can't tell.  It's even fun. Any other game and you wouldn't get away with it.

    Voice acting is great, with most of the original cast adding their talents or CLIPS from the movie.  Level design is pretty basic and linear.   Point A to point B with lots of enemies along the way.  And most importantly, levels depart from the Matrix movies.  You will be in new places, doing new things.  Artistically, the game is either stunning or ordinary.  You see very detailed look Morpheus and a lovely reflecting hallway (stretching Ps2 to the limit) and then see polygon-city on the next level.  Its just enough detail to make the game good.

    Major complaint: The default mode which makes you hold down R2 to draw a weapon.  This makes it virtually impossible to point the camera with the left analog control and fire with R1.  You are literally doing 3-4 things with the same hand at the same time.  Fortunately, you can go into the options menu and change this option to toggle instead of hold down.  Do it!  It would have been nice to get a pop-up screen telling you that this change was available instead of searching it out.

    Oh and YES you get to choose the red or blue pill.  And I dare anyone to not choose the Blue once to see what happens. Unfortunately nothing much (we wish they did something more with that option).

    All in all, a great game worthy of carrying the Matrix title.  You'll really feel like Neo without feeling like you're just replaying the movies directly.  Recommended!

    (-William J Piniarski-)

    | copyright, 2005 |