Digital Review

Enter the Matrix

All Systems (Atari; Teen)

Audiences who sat through the interminable end credits of ''The Matrix Reloaded'' were rewarded with a short teaser trailer for ''Matrix Revolutions,'' the final chapter in the ''Matrix'' trilogy. Similarly, fans who fight through the final mission in Enter the Matrix, the videogame that expands the ''Reloaded'' universe, are also treated to a ''Revolutions'' sneak peek -- one far more exciting and revealing than what's unspooling at multiplexes.

Not surprisingly, a bootleg of that one-minute trailer has been multiplying online faster than Agent Smith in a schoolyard, but there are plenty of other reasons to muscle into this best-selling game. For starters, ''Enter'''s plot is intertwined with the story in ''Reloaded'' and even clarifies a few of the movie's head-scratching twists. Gamers can choose to play as one of the film's supporting characters, either Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) or Ghost (Anthony Wong). While I preferred commandeering Ghost, Niobe shares one scene with Persephone (Monica Bellucci) that every warm-blooded joystick operator will be gibbering about for months.

That interlude is part of the hour's worth of DVD-quality video scripted and shot expressly for ''Enter the Matrix'' by the film's directors, Andy and Larry Wachowski. These aren't outtakes but original sequences featuring Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), a new kung-fu fight with teahouse guardian Seraph (Collin Chou), and a first glimpse of the actress who will replace the late Gloria Foster as the Oracle in ''Revolutions.''

Taking all that manna from ''The Matrix'' and jacking it into ''Enter the Matrix'' has likely made this the most ambitious (and costly) movie-based videogame to date. The task of conforming ''Enter'''s universe to the film's construct required the game designers to devise several play modes: gunning down SWAT teams, flying through ''tunnels of the real,'' and driving clear of ''Reloaded'''s dreadlocked goon twins, not to mention some gorgeously choreographed martial-arts combat, notably a playable duel against Seraph. The bullet-time power-up, which slows down your opponents, is an elegant effect that comes close to capturing the movie's feel. And the agents, who seem to appear around every corner, are appropriately invincible.

But ''Enter the Matrix'' wants to be so many different games that it doesn't excel at any one of them. And though the action is intuitive and fast-paced, longtime gamers will feel as if they've already lived the same experience -- six times over. Worse, there are some bugs in the code -- particularly in Niobe's final flight level -- that are so glaring they could only be the work of a vengeful Merovingian.

To be fair, ''Enter the Matrix'' shouldn't be judged simply as a videogame. In addition to being another tentacle of the marketing sentinel unleashed by EW parent AOL Time Warner, it was conceived as a companion to the film. But by hewing so close to it, ''Enter the Matrix'' ends up sharing some of ''Reloaded'''s flaws, too. The first half stretches on too long, and the video sequences are laced with enough pop philosophy to fill a sophomore term paper. On the other hand, the game explains much of Niobe's motivation in ''Reloaded'' and, in an ending different from the film's, helps set up her leading role in ''Revolutions.'' For fans who believe the rabbit hole can never be too deep, ''Enter the Matrix'' is a worthy addition to the Zion mainframe archive. For everyone else, it's more like a wild-goose chase.

Originally posted Jun 13, 2003 Published in issue #714 Jun 13, 2003 Order article reprints
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