[Retro-Review] The Matrix: Path of Neo (2005)
In Path of Neo, developed by Shiny Entertainment and distributed by Atari, you assume the role of the hero of the Matrix trilogy, Neo, and play through the events of the movies from Neo’s point of view, playing out expanded and alternate scenarios from the trilogy, as well as new missions, written by the Wachowski Brothers.
Path of Neo is sure to please fans of the Matrix trilogy. When the Enter the Matrix was released, it was met with lukewarm reactions, due to the fact that you did not play as the main characters we knew and loved from the movies- Neo in particular. Also, that game suffered from gameplay and graphics issues on the PC side of things, which were subsequently patched. I enjoyed Enter the Matrix very much, but I also purchased the game and installed the 1.52 patch immediately, so I did not experience the “growing pains” that others had.
Path of Neo has some very good ideas, like an introductory level that allows you to fight your way through some enemies, and your subsequent performance judges what difficulty setting you should use for the rest of the game. Also, the combat system is an improvement over Enter the Matrix, with an impressive array of combos and abilities that can be discovered or gained as your progress through the game. The combat is faster and more engaging than in Enter the Matrix (or The Matrix Online for that matter, but I digress), and will pull players immediately into the virtual world created here. Controls were responsive and fluid. I must note that I used the mouse/keyboard setup, and did not change any of the default keys. I have heard that there is a bug where changes to key bindings are not saved, so keep that in mind while playing. Also, the environments are destructible, which is a plus and adds to the immersion factor.
The Wachowski Brothers have expanded most of the scenarios presented here from the movie trilogy. The famous Lobby scene now includes several waves of SWAT and police. Neo, Trinity, Apoc, and Switch’s escape after Morpheus’ capture is a new mission where they escape through the sewers. After Neo battles the Merovingian’s men in the Chateau, his escape is greatly extended into a three-part mission, complete with a gorgeously designed M.C. Escher-style maze. These are just a few of the additions the Wachowski Brothers have written into the game, and while some may complain that the new material strays too far into the surreal (fighting red ants, anybody?), it really is in context with the material and the Brothers’ humor. They have also provided five missions that take place in between the first and second movies, presented in Animatrix-style episodes (you can pick what order you want to run the missions). While they may not add a terrible amount of insight to the Matrix world, these stories are fun and occasionally provide some nice touches of humor and irony.
While Lawrence Fishbourne was the only actor from the movies to lend his voice for new material in Path of Neo, Shiny has done a great job of finding sound-a-like replacements, particularly with Agent Smith’s voice. The voice acting is above average, and one can easily believe that these are the same actors from the movies.
The graphics are good, if uneven. The first level, where Neo (as Thomas Anderson) attempts to escape his place of employment, is designed plainly and looks dull. The sewer levels appear right out of Enter the Matrix, which is not necessarily a problem but will not wow anyone graphically. Later levels, however, such as the Chateau, Distorted Dimension/Maze, and “Ministry of Smiths”, are impressive in the design and details. I experienced a few graphical glitches as well. Occassionally, Neo would become a solid black character, and Morpheous would as well. Usually after some movement, this would clear up, but it was distracting nonetheless. Other times, Neo would talk on a cellphone that wasn’t there, or a helicopter would be pilotless. I would have installed the patch, but the Atari Community forums are filled with horror stories of people installing the patch for the PC. I never did, and the game ran smoothly at Level 6 detail. I experienced only two crashes during the game, and this was running on an Athlon XP 2400 box with 1GB of RAM. If I pushed the detail level up to 8, I experienced slow-down and audio problems, but I was happy with level 6. It looked good, if not mind-blowing.
Path of Neo‘s missions are occasionally interspersed with scenes from the trilogy, re-cut by the Wachowski Brothers for the game. These are often quick, MTV-style edits, jumping around to add irony and detail to the current mission, although not necessarily in chronological order. The problem with presenting movie scenes in this fashion is that somebody who has never seen the movies would have difficulty grasping the overall story. I found them to be of little value when used in this fashion. Of course, most of the people who are going to play the game have seen the movie, so it won’t matter. Also, the first time you reach these scenes during a game, you can’t skip past them. You have to wait for them to finish playing before continuing on. But, if you die and need to reload the level, then you can skip past them. This was a poor design choice.
Overall, Path of Neo is a decent adventure game for regular gamers. For Matrix completests, it is a must-have. My experience with the game appears to be rare, however, since I have had few crashes or issues playing the game. If you want to relive your favorite moments from the trilogy, this is the way to do it. My expectations were at a mid-level when I played the game, and I found myself enjoying it more and more as I delved deeper. If you own a console, rent it first. For PC owners, try to find it online for a decent price. I loved the game, but many others may not.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10