Despite the fact 2003's Enter the Matrix has since been largely sneered at, it still managed to shift over three million copies, something not to be sniffed at. Yet Shiny and Atari are all too aware of the fact that the game played and looked like it was rushed out just so its release could coincide with the equally disappointing The Matrix Reloaded.
The most damning aspect of Enter the Matrix was a simple one - you couldn't play as the film's hero, Neo. Now, two years later, Shiny has returned to the world of gravity-defying combat and bullet ballet with Path of Neo. From the outset it becomes apparent that someone's attempting to exorcise demons from the past. Presentation is top-notch, menu screens are inventive, and the sound will make your ears bleed. The key cast from the film handed over their likenesses, so there's no fear of having an entirely new Matrix gang comprised of complete unknowns parading around either.
Narrating the story by splicing scenes from the film, you're presented with the option of taking either the blue pill or the red pill at the game's outset. Oddly enough, you can opt to take the blue pill, whereby Neo wakes up at his computer and the game simply ends. Certainly the shortest gaming experience we've ever had.
Alternatively, choosing the red pill catapults you into the game and the first mission, a dream sequence played out in Neo's head whereby you brawl against wave after wave of enemies in order to gauge your difficulty level and showcase some of the moves Neo will eventually be able to execute. From here the action shifts to the office sequence from the first film, with Agents in pursuit of a sneaking Neo. It's stealthy, but without too much emphasis on remaining invisible all the time. You can easily make a break for doors here, unlike say, Splinter Cell, where you'd be spotted straight away.
Once the real fighting kicks in, things start to get really juicy. That said, be prepared to persevere with the sheer level of combat techniques and initially confusing button combinations required to pull off some of the flashier moves. Scrapping with multiple enemies involves lots of flicking the Left stick towards an enemy followed by endless series of button hits. Get the hang of that and you can start adding Focus power by way of the Left trigger to ramp up the ferocity of the attacks and allow for some very cool moves indeed. Best of these is the one where Neo runs up an enemy and follows through with a wrecking ball kick to the head. However, we did find moments where the buttons we hit seemed to have no bearing on the moves happening on screen.
What works in the game's favour are the meaty RPG elements - the further you progress, the more moves and abilities you unlock for future battles with the hard-as-nails Agents. The temptation to just button-bash is removed, and you're encouraged to hone your skills to the point where enemies don't even get a chance to raise a fist. It's all been painstakingly planned down to the last detail to ensure the best possible Matrix experience to date.
One frustrating aspect is the camera. Fights can get furious, especially if you're surrounded by a number of enemies, and it's not unknown for the camera to jar, leaving you open to an attack from an off-screen enemy. But it does the job most of the time. If anything we're more disappointed about the slightly basic character models.
But anyway. Fans of the first game won't believe the treat Atari's dished up, and anyone looking for a hugely impressive brawler fused with a great story and lots of guns will find everything they want. If nothing else, this is a vast improvement - it undoubtedly is The One.
The Matrix game we should have had back in 2003, and probably the most in-depth use of a film licence in years.