The Matrix turned twenty this past March. Although I was a fan of the first film, I never much cared for the two sequels. So I went back and watched the original trilogy to see how they held up all of these years later. Surprisingly, I found the original to be just as good and its immediate follow-up – The Matrix Reloaded – to be even better than I remember.
We first meet Neo (Keanu Reeves), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in the original Matrix movie, which is set in a dystopian future where humans are trapped inside of a digital world known as the Matrix while their bodies are harvested as an energy resource for a conscious artificial intelligence.
The film is as brilliant now as it was then, mixing cyberpunk with martial arts and cutting-edge visual effects. The Wachowskis clearly found inspiration from Japanese anime and Asian cinema while using advanced wire techniques during fight sequences to allow for gravity-defying stunts before . Mind you, this was released before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
The story resonates even better in 2019 than it did in 1999 as a rebellion of once closed-minded and disparate individuals uncover the truth of their dire situation and work to destroy a system that enslaves all of humanity. The world that most people know inside the Matrix is nothing more than a carefully constructed illusion to keep them satisfied enough so that they will not realize that their bodies are literally being exploited for resources.
Sadly, the video games never lived up to the greatness of the films, despite having big budgets behind them. Released in 2003 alongside The Matrix Reloaded, Atari’s Enter the Matrix combined over an hour of live-action original footage featuring some of the film’s stars with third-person action-adventure gameplay where players play as either Niobe or Ghost.
Most of your time is spent combating opponents in Max Payne-style fights and completing menial tasks. The game suffers from an evident lack of polish and can be quite lifeless with often-empty rooms leading to at times a confusing maze of similar-looking environments. The developers clearly were rushed to put out a product in time for the release of The Matrix Reloaded film, so you really have to blame management for a lot of the game’s flaws more so than the development team.
To the developer’s credit, the game does feature the series’ signature “bullet time” slow-motion effect so that players can more accurately shoot and dodge bullets. There are also some one-on-one fighting scenes. Over all, though, it’s an average game even for its time, which makes it a rough game to play all these years later. Worse yet, you don’t even get to play as three of the main characters in the franchise: Neo, Morpheus, or Trinity.
Two years later, The Matrix Online and The Matrix: Path of Neo came out for PC and for PC, PS2, and Xbox, respectively. (Sorry, GameCube.) Neither revolutionized gaming in the way that the films left their mark on cinema.
The Matrix Online, an MMORPG based in The Matrix universe, was something of a mess from the beginning with Ubisoft pulling out as co-publisher of the game and Sony Online Entertainment inheriting ongoing development and maintenance after launch. The game reportedly only had a few hundred active users by the time the servers were shut down for good in 2009.
The Matrix: Path of Neo is a more technically-impressive game than Enter the Matrix with particle effects and more enemy characters than you would expect to find in a PS2 game. It’s also more fun to play as Neo. As the title suggests, you take control of the series’ main protagonist. The game starts you off as the hacker Thomas Anderson without any of Neo’s powers and has you work your way toward a showdown with Agent Smith, meeting characters like Morpheus and Trinity along the way.
While The Matrix: Path of Neo is undoubtedly an improvement over Enter the Matrix, hardware limitations unfortunately still hold it back from greatness. Just as I suggested a few months with Game of Thrones, it’s a real shame that we do not have a proper video game for The Matrix, especially considering that so much of The Matrix universe resides in the digital realm. It only makes sense for there to be a video game adaptation that holds its own to the films. Alas, there is not.
With today’s hardware and the advances expected with PS5 and the Xbox’s Project Scarlett, the potential is there for a groundbreaking Matrix video game. The series just needs a creative studio with a passion for sci-fi, a robust budget, and the willingness to take the red pill. Twenty years after the original film, let’s hope that someone is up for the challenge.