The Matrix: Path of Neo
Shiny Entertainment
Xbox, PS2, Windows XP
Rated T

When you’re The One, your perspective changes in oh so many ways.

Time slows down — you can do that, you know — giving you the opportunity to dodge bullets, maybe check your grocery list, and contemplate the fate of your video-game franchise.

That last one’s a painful proposition. Maybe not as painful as the beatdown you took at the end of The Matrix Reloaded, but still pretty bad. Consider Enter the Matrix, Shiny Entertainment’s 2003 crack at capturing Keanu Reeves’ trip down the rabbit hole: for ridiculously buggy code, and for casting Niobe and Ghost as the starring players instead of Neo, that game already holds a hallowed place in the Hall of Lame. In the intervening years, not only did The Matrix slide several slots down the pop-culture firmament, but other games swiped all its cool moves (2000’s Max Payne, for instance, made slowing down time cliché for every game that followed.)

It’s unusual for the same development team to get the chance to atone for past sins, but Shiny has mostly pulled it off: The Matrix: Path of Neo is the game we actually wanted — two years too late.

Fans of the Wachowski Brothers almost-opus are going to love finally getting to unleash all of Neo’s whoa, dude! kung-fu combos, using focus to slow time and chop, kick, and punch phalanxes of bald baddies into stop-motion submission. Mastering moves basically boils down to button mashing — pound the “B” and “Y” buttons consistently and you’ll be fine — but things really get confusing when the number of on-screen enemies multiplies. A schizoid game camera (and a frame rate that occasionally collapses when the action heats up) sometimes creates the feeling you’re chopping haphazardly through people soup. Expect to experience equal measures of how’d I do that? moments, and bits where you’re performing lightning kicks on dead air. The copious shooting sequences aren’t nearly as fun — well, unless you make a point of using a non-stop wall-jump strategy.

Expecting a highlight-reel ride through the Matrix trilogy? You’ll be only mildly disappointed. Film clips are scatter-edited throughout the mission sets, offering a strobe-light tour of the story line. While you’ll hit some familiar spots — like the million-Agent Smith melee, the throwdown with Morpheus, and the battle royale at the end of Matrix: Revolutions — most of what’s here, as perhaps befits a world in which the hero can remake reality into whatever the hell he wants, is all over the place. Missions range from cubicle-dogging it as the weak-ass Mr. Anderson to combat training (including inspired riffs on Mortal Kombat and martial arts flicks) and protecting Potentials from agent capture. Along the way, the deadpan and the satirical bump heads in a way that might have made even Keanu crack a smile.

Aaron R. Conklin chased the red pill with a 16 oz. Mountain Dew, and now reality’s looking awfully weird. Conklin writes about games frequently for the City Paper.