Was 1999 that long ago? Is the childlike joy that the movie-going public everywhere experienced upon seeing Keanu Reeves stop those bullets with his mind truly over half a decade old? Time works strangely in the real world, and much like in the actual plane of existence, time in the Matrix can exhibit strange properties. People can dodge bullets, climb sheer walls, and even release a sequel to a movie tie-in game with the same problems that plagued the first installment back in 2003. Sadly so, even though players can play as â€˜The Man in Blackâ€™ (Shades) himself this go-round, The Matrix: Path of Neo exhibits the same fundamental flaws that developer Shiny failed to acknowledge after the troubled release of Enter the Matrix.
Much like the previous game, Path of Neo focuses on third-person melee and gun combat; thankfully jettisoning the vehicular missions prevalent in Enter the Matrix. As Neo, youâ€™ll have access to a healthy amount of combos and moves, with the more devastating options unlocked as you progress. The actual combat system is somewhat of a contradiction. Although simplified into just three buttons, â€˜Squareâ€™ for evade, â€˜Triangleâ€™ for strike/break attack, and â€˜R1â€™ for throw/hold, the gameâ€™s numerous tutorials present the material awkwardly and inconsistently, making Neoâ€™s moves appear more complex than they actually are. Path of Neo also utilizes the â€˜Focusâ€™ meter held over from the first game, which slows down the action and gives the player access to a higher tier of martial arts moves.
The most complete fighting mechanic is the Link-Up system, allowing you to chain attacks together when surrounded, eventually performing an acrobatic attack that damages every enemy youâ€™ve tagged. In a strange design decision, combo prompts will appear onscreen when youâ€™re smack in the middle of giving some nameless thug a beat down. This attempt to appease the mass market has mixed effectsâ€”sure, more gamers will get a chance to see the more wicked motion-captured choreography, but hand-to-hand combat ends up feeling cheapened by the endeavor. Still, considering all the exotic, scripted fighting, eventually Neoâ€™s mastery of the fighting arts descends into button-mashing fury; an unavoidable fate when considering the primary combo is just â€˜Triangleâ€™ pressed six times.
And, as odd as melee combat is, gun fighting is handled even worse. Auto-targeting is sketchy at best, with Neo rarely catching the closest enemy in his crosshairs. The system will also keep dead enemies in the target cycle, as well as environmental objects like fire extinguishers and explosive objects, making it frustrating to cycle successfully to a live target. Most likely players in the gameâ€™s later stages will completely skip the shooting component, since it only detracts from the overall experience.
The movie The Matrix is all about controlâ€”so why canâ€™t the game get it right? Moving Neo around the environment is at best awkward, and at worst like trying to guide a drunken chicken through an obstacle course. A poor game camera doesnâ€™t help matters much, as your point of view is constantly obscured by enemies, walls, and random environmental obstacles; and resetting it by clicking the left thumbstick only works half the time. Compounding matters is the cameraâ€™s occasional switch to a fixed position for no apparent reason, thus throwing off your sense of control and, most likely, the battle at hand.
There are many puzzling choices in Path of Neoâ€”sadly, all of which were made by the designers. For example, why is the level select/upgrade screen/menu presented in such an unintuitive way? When starting or continuing a game youâ€™re spirited to a series of four floating rings with a Matrix-inspired green-code color scheme. Not only is it hard to make out the details on the screen because everythingâ€™s saturated with shades of green, but the only thing you can do is upgrade your abilities one at a time, with no clue of what the next mission will be, or whatâ€™s going on with the story.
Another incomprehensible decision is the use of footage from the movies. Since Path of Neo follows Neoâ€™s travels throughout the trilogy, the Wachowskiâ€™s utilized existing footage to communicate the story. Cut-scenes are composed of newly edited sequences culled from the three movies, only out of place contextually and chronologically. Watching the re-cut footage only makes sense if youâ€™re familiar with the overarching story or have seen the movies, but even so, the rehash is ill-conceived and somehow boring. Interestingly, the bulk of the game concerns the first movie, with about a third less missions taking place during the second film, and only two missions during the third. Overall, players new to The Matrix will have no clue whatsoever regarding the story, yet still the cut-scenes drag on for minutes at a time.
Even when gameplay resumes after a lengthy loading screen, there are a great many gameplay elements that evidently needed further developmental tweaking. Collision detection is nominal for most of the time, and itâ€™s common to throw a security guard through an immovably solid wall, or run into clipping irregularities when trying to climb a ladder. NPCs get stuck behind doors or portals, causing problems when the rest of the levelâ€™s scripting relies on said NPC walking through the open door. The framerate constantly dips, leading to stuttering bursts of actionâ€”although this is probably due to the Havok physics engine pumping out realistic object movements. Enemies ragdoll effectively when beaten into submission, although the physics tricks are less impressive and more expected nowadays. At least the environmental deformation is done well, with exploding walls, floors, and columns susceptible to the rage of a fierce fight.
Path of Neoâ€™s graphics offer yet another contradiction (sense a pattern forming?). Character models are low-grade and nasty, with ugly faces and oddly angular bodies soon becoming the norm; yet Neoâ€™s coat is, well, coated with a nigh-metallic sheen, as are most cloth surfaces. Environments fare slightly better, but again this is due to their visceral destructibility more than anything else. So although the basic graphical structure is poor, characters are bathed in what appears to be the effects of normal mapping, a strange compromise that offers odd results.
Character voices are largely performed by no-name impersonators, with Laurence Fishburne the sole Matrix cast member reprising a lead role. Background music consists of selected pieces from the movies, as well as a few peculiar original compositions that, on the whole, donâ€™t fit the onscreen action especially well. Annoyingly, sound effects randomly disappear, especially when continuing after losing a level, and for some reason the audio volume during film footage is noticeably lower than the gameplay. All of these elements compound the unfinished feeling that emanates from the game as a whole.
To cap the experience off, the brothers Wachowski have rewritten the ending of the last film to better fit the game mediumâ€”or, as most gamers will say, they completely lost their minds. All that the new ending accomplishes, complete with its annoying final boss, is the complete and utter end to any relevancy that the Matrix saga once had in popular culture.
Roughly six years ago, the man known as Morpheus once said that to know the path is different from walking the path. To all Matrix fans, gamers, and fellow human beings, please take the following advice: steer clear of the Path of Neo.