The Matrix Online Preview

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Warner Bros.
Developer:Monolith Productions
Release Date:2005-03-22
  • Massively Multiplayer,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
The Matrix has cemented itself in the pop culture hall of fame, and has made the phrase 'bullet time' a household name. However, the popularity of the Matrix universe has declined of late, after a mediocre video game in Enter the Matrix, and two lesser appealing movies. Warner Brothers is hoping that their foray into the competitive world of MMORPGs will reignite interest in the franchise.

In the Matrix Online you play as an awakened human, a neophyte (pun not intended) amongst the rest, but ready to take on the virtual world. The game aims to immerse you in its fantasy as soon as possible, when installing and launching the game you select commands in a pseudo-DOS window, which has a happily sinful hacking feel. Even the character creation process is sprinkled liberally with voice-overs from the operator Link. Once you have finalized the Hot Topic shopping spree uber-vinyl look of your digital alter ego, the familiar green scrolling text appears, and you hop into the tutorial program.

The tutorial walks you through the most basic of game controls, such as movement and interaction. You begin by exploring a room and small hallway reminiscent of a deserted office, and make your way down to the Combat Training area. Combat is slightly different than what many people may be used to, as while obviously your character's stats directly affect your success, combat also has a bit of rock-scissor-papers built in. You are given the option of choosing a light attack, a heavy attack, or a throw, and you can queue a few different moves. These attacks are then resolved against what your opponent has chosen, and damage dealt accordingly. While you do have the option to switch between hand to hand or firearms, and while you will learn more advanced techniques as the game progresses, these are the fundamental mechanics behind all of the Matrix's combat.

After defeating your tutorial opponents, you get to jack in to a 'hardline', and enter the Matrix itself. Much like the movies, you can only enter and exit the Matrix through certain phone lines, and if you are cut off from an exit, you have to find a different one, or face the music. Once in the Matrix itself you can wander around at will, and missions may be offered to you by other red pills (or sometimes just stumbled upon). The tutorial teaches only the basics, so this is where it quickly becomes interesting as you try to discover what you can and can't do in the Matrix. For instance, a fan of the first film, I headed directly to a rooftop to discover how jumping works. For those of you that may be wondering, I did not, in fact, make it on my first try.

The control and action base of the game is the same idea behind most successful MMORPGs, consisting largely of your character walking around, taking missions, and hitting things. But instead of the same old orcs and battle axes, the Matrix offers plenty of unique possibilities new to the online roleplaying world. Need a better weapon for a tough battle? Forget that town portal, just have your operator upload you a weapon with a little more kick. As your character grows more proficient in abusing the laws of the Matrix, you begin learning rather impressive wire-fu moves to dispatch your attackers. Another refreshing factor for the hack and slashers out there is may be that there are no silly first level animals (snakes, beetles and the like) that you must defeat in order to improve. Even the weakest foes you face, such as street thugs, can still be fairly dangerous if not handled correctly.

This is by no means, however, a game reliant solely on combat. The Matrix Online is rife with intermingling plotlines, as your character will soon discover upon reading various papers placed around the areas that function as in-game newsletters unraveling the various story arcs permeating the game. For as much as can be accomplished through good old brawling, there is a precarious political balance amongst the various factions of the game that can be directly affected by your actions (or non-actions) in certain critical missions. As different online players will ally themselves with different groups (gangs, the Merovingian, even the Machines), it opens the field to accommodate all the back-stabbing, double-crossing, and sabotaging tactics that are often overlooked or nonexistent options in less complex games.

Of course, as is the trouble with all PC games, those with more powerful processors or graphics cards are sure to enjoy the intricacies of the game more. However, the detail of the game is stunning, even when on a low detail level. The various areas around the city have that same feeling the cityscapes in the movies seem to have, where it almost looks familiar but something seems a little wrong. (This is a feeling I particularly carry over from the films, as I live near Chicago and the films all use Chicago street names and landmarks, but they were filmed in Australia). The Slums look appropriately scummy, and the International district (essentially Chinatown) looks like it was dragged straight out of a Hong Kong kung-fu flick. While the game is suitably beautiful on the minimum settings, the high-end detail is incredible. While it obviously benefits from better lighting effects and finer shading, my personal favorite is the bits of newspaper floating around, which give the perfect feel of urban tumbleweed before a tough fight.

While the release of the Matrix Online has been pushed back to the beginning of '05, it is sure to be worth the wait. It stays true to the feel of the first film, which should appease fans that feel betrayed by the franchise's offerings as of late. As an MMORPG it is not necessarily re-inventing the wheel, but it offers enough new twists and innovations to entice the avid online gamer into giving it a look. Whether you are a hardcore Matrix-o-phile, or merely a casual fan, the Matrix Online seems it will be an easy red pill to swallow.