Review: Follow the white rabbit away from the Path of Neo
Near the beginning of the PSone era Bruce Willis "starred" in a game known as Apocalypse. Except, it wasn't always that way. The game was your basic Mad Max/Blade Runner adventure of burned out cities and futuristic weaponry after the end of the world and originally Bruce Willis would have been the player's sidekick throughout the game. But Activision came to realize that people wanted to play as the man who was John McClane themselves and not have him around as some sidekick. So the game was retooled with the former Mr. Demi Moore now in the starring role.
This is not unlike Atari's creation of the first Matrix game, Enter the Matrix. Created more as a side story to the movies, as everyone remembers, Enter the Matrix followed the adventures of two minor members of the Resistance, Niobe and Ghost. Fans were disappointed, to say the least. They wanted to be The One. They wanted the lobby shootout. They wanted to fight those freaky ghost twins they saw in every Matrix: Reloaded trailer. But alas it was not to be, at least not until Atari's second go-around in The Matrix universe, The Matrix: Path of Neo.
Since this is The Matrix, I could get all deep and philosophical and start referencing weird Bible passages and Eastern (with a capital E!) religions for all sorts of strange Matrix-y context. Instead, I'm just going to tell you that The Matrix: Path of Neo is not a good game and is just the latest in a long line of disappointments for Matrix fans.
Every Matrix fan knows that the meat of the Matrix trilogy involves three things: bullet-time, huge gun battles and kung-fu. Now, these three ingredients have been used in video games for a very long time. In fact, two other games released this fall, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks and Total Overdose, use some of these same conventions. And, surprise, surprise, they do them a lot better than Path of Neo.
Consider the kung-fu. Path of Neo uses a two button system that maps all attacks to the Triangle button and O. Tapping these buttons in different combinations and in connection with the Bullet-Time button (L1) creates tons of different attack styles. Except, it doesn't work. The combos quickly degenerate into pure button mashing and any battle that's not turned to crap by the poor combat system will be turned to crap by the game's poor camera. When it's not getting stuck behind walls and pillars, it's pulling itself back to a "cinematic angle" that makes all of the characters look tiny. Trying to move the camera will just place it in a different bad angle. Compare this to Total Overdose and Shaolin Monks, which have an excellent third person camera (TO) and an excellent cinematic camera (SM). It's very plain to see that there's more to the melee combat than meets the eye, but getting it to work without mashing buttons requires more work than should be needed.
Then look at those huge gun battles. You'll see that they are set up very poorly with the camera again swinging wildly in every direction and an aiming system that's a joke. Drawing your gun creates an aiming reticule that can be moved to different enemies with a flick of the right stick. Except, it doesn't work. Trying to move the reticule to different enemies just results in bullets flying every which way but loose. It's hard to hit anything and all the while the cops/Agents/bad programs all have perfect aim and are pelting you with bullets.
And then there's the game design itself. Shiny has attempted to create a Matrix-like feel to the game through some decent voice acting (including Laurence Fishburne) and lots of footage from the movies (which appear out of order and out of context). It works to a point, but it's, how shall I say this, boring. The Matrix is boring. You never want to hear those words about what is supposed to be a high-octane sci-fi adventure.
That boredom is compounded by the almost never ending feel of training levels that Neo must partake in. In the movie, his training is spread out over a few sentences including "I know kung-fu" and "Hey Mikey, I think he likes it." In the case of Path of Neo, Mikey, definitely, does not like it.
And to top it all off, the guys at Shiny didn't even realize that adding tons of jokes to Path of Neo would ruin any attempt at "authenticity" the game made. Take, for example, the training levels. Making jokey references to lame video game conventions doesn't make them any less lame here. Telling me that I should "pretend the first level is like a video game tutorial" when that's exactly what it is is stupid. And later a heckler is actually inserted into the story. Read that again, someone heckles The One in a Matrix game? Did anybody at Shiny even rewatch the movies before development on Path of Neo began?