When Larry Met Andy
If you’re still secretly harboring notions that the Wachowski brothers are true creative geniuses and the original Matrix wasn’t just a fluke, the video game The Matrix: Path of Neo should put an end to all your delusions.
This isn’t to say that PoN is total crap—though when it comes to graphics, it does look, well, excremental. Sure, the game has nifty effects and at its best does make you feel like you’re in the Matrix universe. Considering that a topnotch company like Shiny Entertainment developed this and that it’s been years since the last Matrix movie (so, it’s not like they were rushing things, right?), the character models are disappointing, even downright ugly. And I’m playing this on the Xbox, okay, which has me wondering why sometimes it looks like a game on the original PlayStation.
Of course, looks aren’t everything, so I was willing to forgive the graphical shortcomings. What’s unforgivable, however, is how PoN sadistically kills any enthusiasm you might originally have for the game by making the first few levels the most boring tutorials ever. This is after an adrenaline-pumping opening sequence that has you squaring off against hordes of foes to gauge what difficulty setting suits your playing abilities. But just when you’re pumped up to kick ass as The One, Shiny inexplicably decides to go poor man’s Splinter Cell on us and stretches (and I mean s-t-r-e-e-e-t-c-h-e-s) out that sequence in the movie where Neo, who is still Mr. Anderson, is in his office trying to hide and escape from the Agents and their minions. This escape sequence, complete with Mr. Anderson climbing out the office window and following Morpheus’ instructions on the cell phone, believe it or not, is a whole tutorial level in this game.
Honestly, I don’t think many players will bother to muddle through the tediousness of the first few levels of PoN. But those who do persevere will be rewarded, sort of, when the game picks up the pace as you get to the events in Reloaded and Neo gains more and more cool kung fu moves. Yup, this game is a retelling of the movies, except these are the side adventures of Neo.
It’s really Neo’s kung fu that prevents PoN from being a complete dead end, and even though the fighting is crude, you do get a thrill out of beating up hordes of enemies and having fun with bullet time—oops, I mean using Neo’s “focus” ability to dodge bullets and unleash devastating special moves. Though it gets old after a while, I do have to say being able to reenact the brawl from Reloaded and laying the smackdown on hundreds of Agent Smiths was very enjoyable.
In concept, PoN could have been a really great game, as it gives us what we’ve been wanting to do in a video game since we saw the first movie—which is to play as Neo. The Wachowskis and Shiny Entertainment dropped the ball with Enter the Matrix, which was not only a crappy game, but didn’t even let you play as Neo.
Thankfully, here you’re Neo. Unfortunately, this game is still crap—just not as awful as the first one.
I wanted to really like PoN, just as I’m sure many of us were telling ourselves that Reloaded and Revolutions couldn’t be that bad since they sprang from the same brilliant minds that brought us the first movie. Animatrix salvaged their reputations somewhat—I love those shorts more than the last two movies combined. In denial, a lot of us became apologists for The Matrix trilogy, saying that the decision to shoot the last two movies together simply killed the cast and the creative minds with sheer exhaustion.
Well, Larry and Andy Wachowski have had plenty of time to rest, yet this game was the best they could come up with.
I do admire the ambition that led the Wachowskis to create The Matrix saga. I love the idea of spiraling content, where the storyline in a movie would be continued in a video game or another medium, which would then have an impact on the next installment of the film. But while this kind of content cross-pollination is great in theory, the Wachowskis have time and again shown that they can’t pull it off. Worse, you get the feeling that, at the end of the day, just like all the high-brow metaphysical dialogue of the movies themselves, all their talk rings hollow. You feel that it is all about form rather than substance. After all, what’s The Matrix but the West’s appropriation of the kung fu and wire stunt work of Hong Kong movies?
The PoN game would have us believe that it’s also a satire on the state of the video game industry and pop culture, complete with lame references while Neo is undergoing the kung fu training computer program, like, “This is like the tutorial stage of a video game.” Wow, this game is sure breaking the fourth wall—this must be intellectual stuff like that infamous conversation between Neo and The Architect.
The Wachowski brothers can’t even leave well enough alone, and in the guise of breaking the fourth wall make a cameo appearance, of sorts, justifying the need to change the ending of the video game from the one shown in Revolutions. That they’re doing this to give us gamers the kind of action we want. I won’t spoil it for you—though the slow death this game calls a final boss battle makes it hard, really, to make things any worse.
This is the thanks we get for believing in The Matrix and giving the Wachowskis a second chance. It’s hard not to feel that they are cynically telling themselves that they can screw the public all over again, because after all’s said and done, The Matrix still has name recognition. Because if, as the Wachowski brothers claim, they’re gamers at heart and made the movie only because they wanted to create a Matrix video game, how could they even think of springing something like this on their fellow gamers?
Adding insult to injury is one of the worst video game endings of all time, complete with the inexplicable decision to use a rock song that has become unbearably cheesy for being overused as a sports anthem. Everyone who’s bothered to finish this game must be wondering if PoN isn’t the digital equivalent of the Wachowskis flipping us the bird.
Next time Larry and Andy promise to show what The Matrix is really about, do yourself a favor: just take the blue pill.