[GAME MASTER]The Matrix: The Path of Neo“The Matrix” as a franchise could be called damaged goods. Neither the movie sequels or the first two video games they inspired could live up to the greatness of the first film, which provoked a cyberpunk renaissance with its combination of Western sci fi and Eastern kung fu. The action scenes in “The Matrix” were awe-inspiring and the story raised existential questions that should be part of science fiction more often. The film even had two talented actors, Gloria Foster and Hugo Weaving, alongside the stone-faced heroes.
However, the two Matrix sequels fell flat. They were supposed to answer questions posed by the first movie, and did. But the answers weren’t very original, or even interesting. The first two Matrix-inspired video games, “Enter the Matrix” and “The Matrix Online,” were also disappointments. The former suffered from extremely limited martial arts options, terrible bugs and a weak storyline, while the latter swung in the opposite direction, overcomplicating everything. So it’s really ironic that just when the franchise seems finally and forever yesterday’s news, an actually fun “Matrix” games hits stores.
“The Matrix: The Path of Neo” finally puts the player where he’s wanted to be all along: behind the eyeballs of Thomas Anderson, a.k.a. Neo, the hero of the films. And it lays out a wide range of fighting options. Guns are available for certain situations, but in most fights you’ll be going hand to hand. The melee system is nearly flawless, with combo moves galore, many of which use the surroundings as weapons or shields. Melee weapons, from flaming torches to brooms, are also lying around for the taking. As Neo progresses through his story, he’ll learn more moves and you’ll get the chance to apply special upgrades, albeit from a limited selection.
The biggest combo moves come from use of Neo's "focus," the game's way of working in bullet time. Focus slows down time while rendering Neo capable of bigger and better punches, kicks and throws as well as all the incredible feats from the film, such as levitation, wall-walking and, of course, dodging bullets. One of the game's biggest pleasures is steering the character into a spectacular quadruple kick straight out of the movie.
Many of the levels are also lifted directly from the films, but there are also some great new ones. Even the tutorials are constantly changing thanks to the virtually limitless setting. It's also nice to finally see an action game with some length. "Path of Neo" just keeps chugging along, filling in gaps in the films. At one point Neo has to bust out several new potentials in succession, providing a nice side story.
However, the main plot is still weak. The video is mostly montage-style clips from the movies that vaguely set up the next scene. Also, the promise of a radical new ending created by the Wachowski Brothers is a misrepresentation. But you won't play this game for the plot. In the latter two films excessive fight scenes were a weakness, but here they provide excellent fodder for game play. It’s almost as if the movies were made with a video game in mind.
It may seem sad that a great game arrives just as everyone has forgotten about “The Matrix,” but maybe it can endear our memories of the film. Either way, fans of fighting games have an action-packed reason to re-enter “The Matrix” one last time.
by Ben Applegate