The original The Matrix was such a compelling piece of science fiction that not even two spectacularly mediocre sequels and one average videogame could keep the franchise down. Now gamers can relive all of the celluloid action (even the yawn-inducing sequels) as superdude Keanu Reeves in The Matrix: Path of Neo.
As opposed to the last Matrix-inspired game, Enter The Matrix, players won't be controlling two fringe characters, but will instead be in charge of Keanu in all his glory as Neo. That means plenty of over the top fighting action as Neo battles his way through the plot of the three Matrix films, exhibiting all of the powerful kung-fu and bullet-time manoeuvres you've seen on the big screen.
But while there's plenty of impressive looking action on offer, Path of Neo (at least in the PC version which we tested) is saddled with some camera and control issues which could turn off some gamers. If you're a fan, though, the extended look at Neo's travels from Thomas Anderson to saviour of the world will be reason enough to buy this game.
If you're the type who became obsessed about all the pseudo-intellectual double speak the Matrix films threw up, then Path of Neo is essentially a new chapter in the Matrix saga for you to explore. While the game does roughly take you through the events of the first few films, there's plenty of new content here which goes farther and deeper into Neo's adventures than the films had time for. So while you'll still get to recreate such iconic scenes as the lobby fight in the first film, or the battle against hundreds of Agent Smiths in a park during The Matrix Reloaded, there's also plenty of never before seen adventures.
The training sequence of the first film, for example, is greatly expanded on in Path of Neo, as is Thomas Anderson's escape from his office building. In fact, nearly all of the key scenes from the films have been extended in some way, adding up to an adventure which will take most gamers at least 12-15 hours to finish. There's even a brand new "ending" to the films tagged on at the conclusion of the game, which was written by the creators of the Matrix universe, Andy and Larry Wachowski.
And just like Neo did in the films, players will gradually see their powers increase until they get to bullet stopping, supersonic flying, Agent butt-kicking level. The game's default controls can be a little fiddly to become used to. Attacks are done via the two mouse buttons while movements are mapped to the WASD keys. Tapping different combinations of the two mouse buttons will result in numerous different combos, all of which look extremely cool in execution. The same goes for the various weapons Neo will be able to use as he progresses in the game - everything from dual hand guns to swords and rifles to staffs. Coming out with 'wow' moves is criminally easy -- in fact, while there are plenty of different combos to uncover and use in Path of Neo, most players can fall back on random button mashing and still come up with impressive combos.
Bullet time, the slow motion effect popularised by the original Matrix film and since taken up by plenty of games, also plays a large part in the game's combat. To enter bullet time (or Focus mode), players need to press and hold down the Shift button. While in focus mode, all of Neo's attacks and evasions take on an even more spectacular tinge, allowing him to perform wall flips, dodge bullets, wall running and more. If you saw it in the films, chances are you'll be able to recreate the move (and better) in this game.
The game's controls, however, can't seem to match the cool moves on screen. Aiming with the mouse is problematic, and some combos can't be cancelled once you've started. This results in plenty of situations where you're taking hits purely because you've inadvertently started a combo at an enemy but couldn't quite get the aim right.
The default controls on PC are also cramp inducing - we suggest some sort of joypad attachment will be ideal for anyone playing this title on a computer.
Graphics in Path of Neo range from awful and blocky to impressive. Some of the facial mapping, for example, is quite well done, with the characters looking eerily like their big screen counterparts. Other characters and backgrounds, however, don't fare as well, with plenty of chunky animations and dull colour palettes to be seen. Sound fares better - while not all of the original cast have lent their voices to their game likenesses, no one stands out as being markedly different from the real thing.
The Matrix: Path of Neo is a generally enjoyable beat-em-up which is unfortunately burdened with some control issues. But its extended look at the Matrix trilogy means it's a must have for fans of the series. If you're a Matrix completist, then rush out and play this game now. But a word of warning for PC gamers - install the patch which is currently available free on-line from Atari. Playing the game without it will result in plenty of lost graphics and other bugs.
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