The first game based off of the Matrix trilogy, Enter the Matrix, was a prime example of how not to make a good movie-to-game conversion. Even with the involvement of many of the cast and crew from the films and inclusion of new footage, Enter the Matrix was a buggy and frustrating experience that left many gamers with a bad taste in their mouths. Thankfully, the development team known as Shiny seems to have learned their lessons and have produced a great game with The Matrix: Path of Neo. It's something that even people who hated the movies will be able to enjoy, as long as they appreciate the fine art of kicking ass and looking good while doing so.
This game follows the story of the trilogy from the perspective of (you guessed it) Neo. You start out as just "Mr. Anderson", a wimpy guy who can only push his enemies, but as you delve further into the Matrix, your powers grow exponentially. Soon, you have the power to make superhuman jumps, run along walls, slow down time and defeat even the dreaded Agents with ease. However, Neo is just one man, and so, he must make sure to save those around him, so they can protect Zion. Path of Neo fills in the gaps between the films by having you participate in these types of missions, as well as jumping into some of the classic confrontations from the movies, from The Matrix's lobby fight to Revolutions' climatic showdown with Agent Smith.
Even though The Matrix has a complicated (some would say too complicated) story, it's handled quite well here. The movie's directors and editor re-cut footage from the trilogy (as well as the anime-inspired spin-off The Animatrix) to make some of the better cutscenes that I've seen in quite some time. Basically, if you're not a huge Matrix nut, you'll actually be able to follow the story this time out. And if you are a fanboy, you'll enjoy seeing some things that weren't presented in the films -- most notably an all-new ending to the trilogy.
For the most part, Path of Neo is presented very well. The character models look, at times, shockingly close to their real-life counterparts, while the backgrounds have a tremendous amount of breakable walls and other enviromental items that Neo can interact with and use to his advantage. As you're using "focus" (slow motion), you can create a lot of movie-worthy moments, especially as you start learning the more powerful moves. Unfortunately, like most third-person games, the camera sometimes gets in the way, and the animation is a bit choppy during some of the more intricate combos. Also, some of the stages are a little blah and there is too much repetition of the enemies. But overall, Path of Neo looks very nice.
Sonically, Path of Neo is solid, if a bit unspectacular. Most of the trilogy's actors do not appear in the game -- Lawrence Fishburne as Morpheus being the only name of note -- and some of the voice actors that the game-makers got to replace them (as well as the generic characters in the game like cops) do a half-ass job. This threatens to veer the dialogue (and story as a whole) into Resident Evil-esque territory at points. Thankfully, the guy they got to do Neo does a good job (though impersonating Keanu Reeves probably isn't the toughest job in the world) and the score is well-done; just don't expect anything along the lines of Grand Theft Auto's swankness in the sound department and you shouldn't be too disappointed.
If you've ever played Max Payne or Dead to Rights, you'll feel right at home here. Thankfully, Shiny has ditched the horrible driving portions that contributed so highly to Enter the Matrix suckitude and has instead concentrated on the brawling and blasting which most Matrix fans want to do in a game. Even though Neo ends up learning a laundry list of cool moves, the control never feels overly complicated. Which is great, because you'll often be taking on several enemies at once.
Path of Neo does an excellent job of unlocking the new moves at a pace where the player can actually learn them before they're presented with the next method to beat machine ass. The game has several lengthy training missions that are actually fun. Usually thrown off as token levels, the designers have shockingly made the tutorials interesting and worth playing, especially for fans of Hong Kong action movies. One segment has you re-enacting the Axe Gang fight from Jackie Chan's Drunken Master II, while another re-creates the teahouse shootout from John Woo's Hard-Boiled.
By the time you enter the actual missions, even if you haven't read a word of the manual and have the short term memory of Cheech and Chong, you'll still be able to pull off some spectacular moves, as the game nicely displays an on-screen prompt to let you know when to unleash Neo's full fury. The frentic gunplay can be a bit problematic at points -- you'll sometimes find yourself holstering your arms or aiming at the wrong target during some of the more manic firefights -- but, on the whole, you'll be pleasantly surprised at just how easy it is to pull off the higher-damage attacks.
The Bottom Line
The Matrix: Path of Neo is really the first game to get Matrix-style action locked down tight. There's no jumping along blood lines during silly dream sequences or inane arm-wrestling contests; Path of Neo is just all about adrenaline-pumping action. It has brawling elements that would put many traditional fighting games to shame and enough shooting shenanigans to keep even the more blood-thirsty of you out there happy. With Path of Neo, Shiny has totally driven over the skid mark that was Enter the Matrix and has made one of the best action games to come out this year. Even if you are not a fan of the movies, as long as you enjoy high-octane action games, Path of Neo deserves a place in your collection.
Developer: Shiny Entertainment
Genre: third-person action
Rated T for violence and language
Version reviewed: Xbox
Available at Amazon.com