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The Matrix Path of Neo review

Forget the rubbish third film, says PSM2, Atari's beautiful mess is the game you'll hate to love

"Bok, bok. BOK!" Hear that Mr Smith? That's the sound of inevitability as we smash you up like a jelly baby. It could be "Paf, paf. PAF!", but either way, it's hard not to cheer every time you unleash a cheesy, yet ludicrously indulgent, seven hit combo in Path of Neo.

Atari's latest Matrix 'experience' - at times, you'd be hard-pushed to call it a game - might be flawed, broken, sludgy and almost stupidly easy, but it's also one of the most ambitious, empowering, technically innovative and coolest games on PS2.

Ignore the joyless puritans who berate its imprecision, button-mashing and woolly collisions - few games make you feel so much like the man.

Controls? An evolution of Enter the Matrix. Press L1 to focus - ie slow down time allowing the developers to get away with all sorts of fudged animations - then mash triangle (attack), square (dodge) and circle (grab) to unleash a poetic rain of pain.

It's higher-level button mashing. You can plough through with basic punches and kicks, but to really enjoy the game - and finish in style - you've got to master the deceptively structured controls.

Press circle when surrounded by enemies to build your attack combo - so, for example, instead of punching one guy, then the other, Neo will subtly, yet automatically, position himself between the two and perform a deadly split kick. The game reads your intentions, and flatters them with absurd acrobatics.

In the pole-wielding sections, Neo will balance it between foe's shoulders, and kick it squarely in their faces.

At the end of the game, you're literally flying around effortlessly dispatching agents using every signature move from the films - including code vision, bullet stops, bullet dodges, and that 360 degree pole sweep thing from the burly brawl.

Your mastery is hard-earned. Neo begins the game with a solitary 'push' attack and has to avoid agents in a clumsy stealth section. You unlock new abilities as you progress (via a neat multi-layered skills circle) creating a compelling sense of progress, attachment and empowerment.

The best moves require complex button presses, but the game helps you out with God of War-style on-screen prompts if you're a button-press short of something spectacular.

Visuals are infuriating - for every glorious animation, there's a glaring flaw. Legs poke through walls, polygons tear, the (normally excellent) camera throws a wobbly or punches barely connect as your foe goes flying.

The jumping bits are imprecise - if undemanding - and you'll get stuck looking for unmarked 'collision' zones. The weapon throwing animations look rubbish, the early levels are depressingly green and the ugly dripping-code loading screens brutally interrupt the (confusing and initially impossible to skip) cutscenes, destroying the illusion of (un)reality.

Conversely, in other sections, like when you fight Seraph at the cinema and the movie is projected in real time across your body, it's an achingly beautiful experience.

Level design is equally patchy. The opening stealth level borders on comedy, with baby-friendly 'stealth' zones and clumsy collision. The 500-agent burly brawl is technically impressive, until you realise that about 490 of them just circle around watching the 10 or so agents you can actually fight.

In contrast, the subway battle with Agent Smith is as epic as the film, and the first time you glimpse - and revel - in Neo's comically deific higher abilities.

The best - and worst - bits are those invented for the game. There's an astounding 'Red Pill' Healer mission, with jaw-dropping neon lights and reflections, plus a train level that requires cute lateral thought.

A climactic scene in the White House outshines the burly brawl, with laugh-out-loud levels of pole-wielding expertise. And yes, you do fly in a rain-soaked showdown with Smith.

It's a glorious mess - a patchy, yet thrilling, scrapper with a last boss that can be beaten using, ooh, two buttons, a soundtrack heavy on pan pipes but missing the Propellerheads tune from the lobby scene, and several levels that devolve into tedious screen-clearing slogs - but still a staggering glimpse of the future, with unparalleled animation and imagination.

In full flow, Neo makes DMC3 look like a 1930s Belgian cartoon - and oddly, Path of Neo's greatest strengths, and weaknesses, are almost exactly the opposite of Dante's adventures.

What it lacks in precision and design, it makes up for in bombast, fluidity and accessibility. Path of Neo might not be The One, but short of actually becoming Neo, it's an admirable second choice.

The Matrix The Path of Neo is out for PS2, Xbox and PC now

More Info

DescriptionFrenzied action, powered equally by stylish kung fu moves and a near-endless supply of machine gun ammunition, is what makes Path of Neo so satisfying.
Franchise nameThe Matrix
UK franchise nameThe Matrix
PlatformXbox, PC, PS2
US censor ratingTeen
Release date8 November 2005 (US), 1 January 1970 (UK)