Reviewed: April 16, 2005
Released: March 22, 2005
Someone once said, “If you build it, they will come.”
Well, the people at Warner Brothers Interactive, Monolith, and Sega built the Mega City of the Matrix trilogy…and we came.
On March 22nd 2005, The Matrix Online was released. After participating in the beta and being impressed by it, I received my copy of the final release and Jacked In, expecting to get a refined experience of what I had already experienced through beta. Boy, was I in for a treat, as will be anyone who is looking for an amazing gaming experience.
The developers have given something to this game that no other game I have ever played has realized. The Matrix Online is perhaps one of the most immersive, constantly evolving, truly interactive, living, breathing games that has ever been created. The game picks up where the Matrix trilogy of movies left off and begins weaving the continuing story of the world that the fans have become familiar with.
Unlike many MMOG’s that I have played, this game and its developers and event staff, through the support and help of the Wachowski Brothers and Paul Chadwick (the author tasked with writing the ongoing meta-story of the game) is not afraid of change. In fact, change is one of the key elements of this game. It is constantly changing, constantly evolving, constantly developing.
MMOG’s, in my experience, are all subject to periodical updates, patches, etc., but the world the game takes place in is relatively static, the meta-story does not change, it is perpetually frozen in time, individual characters develop, local events occur, but nothing really changes. Not true with Matrix Online. Players taking part in the Matrix Online experience will not only be playing an incredibly enjoyable game, but they will also be taking an active role in telling the continuing story of the world of the Matrix.
The gameplay is outstanding. Players that have experience with other MMOG’s will find the control system to be very similar to most others. The interaction with the world is very user-friendly and very in-depth. Find a conference room with a big desk that has a big window that overlooks the city, you can have your crew meet you there and all sit around the table at the chairs and discuss your plans. Every door to every room in every building is in play at all times. Stand inside a room with a window, and you can look outside to the street below and watch other players running by. Climb stairs, drainage pipes or ladders to get to the roofs of buildings, or be lazy and just take the elevators.
Mega City, as it is called, is teeming with life. Not only PC’s (Player Characters) but NPC’s (Non-Player Characters) line the streets, and cars drive in the roads following traffic patterns. The wind blows newspapers that didn’t make it into garbage cans and flocks of pigeons will burst into flight if you sprint by them. The weather constantly shifts, as well as the day-night cycles.
Players begin by creating a character from scratch. This character creation program is very inspired. You define your characters parameters to help your operator locate him or her using a trace program. Once your character’s features, real name (bluepill name) and handle (redpill alias) are chosen, you then go through an experience of awakening, much like the one we see Neo experience in the first movie.
You then proceed through a detailed and very enjoyable tutorial that gives you the basic understanding of the most important game mechanics. The tutorial, like the character creation is seamlessly integrated into the world of the Matrix, using the Construct and the idea of loading training programs as the basis for the tutorial. After all, everything in the Matrix is code.
One of the first things you get to do in the tutorial, of course, is fight. The game uses a revolutionary fighting program called “Interlock” which adds a level of skill to an otherwise luck based gaming system. In most RPG's, you click on the enemy you want to attack, then click what type of attack you want to use and then the computer figures out whether or not your attack hit. Well, in Matrix Online, once you enter Interlock combat with another character (NPC or PC), you choose from four different fighting options, quick, power, grapple, or block. The other player does the same. The two chosen options are then “rolled” to give a number that shows how well your character performed at that selected action. Whoever’s number is higher, wins that round of fighting and successfully strikes the opponent. Sound complicated? Well, at first, it is, but after a few times of getting your ass handed to you, you start to learn a few tricks.
At first, I found this slightly frustrating, but then I began to love it. It definitely makes you feel like you are actually defeating your opponent because you are a better fighter, and not just because your character is better. Also, because of this element of skill, it is also possible for a lower level character to defeat a higher level one, though it is very difficult.
A wealth of different guns are available in the game to be used by players. These guns can also be used in the interlock system. This adds a new level of excitement when you watch as your character jumps over your opponent, wraps his or her leg around the other’s neck, slams him to the ground and then fires a burst from his machine gun into him as he falls.
The coolest thing about the Interlock system, is that the two fighting characters actually react accurately to what the other is doing. Say I kick your opponent in the leg, your character’s leg will buckle. Say I then reach out and grab your character’s arm, put it into a lock, and slam him to the ground. All this will be shown in amazingly painful detail.
Sometimes, the game will even switch into the now-famous Bullet Time and you will witness your ass-kicking action in a temporary slow-motion shot. Don’t ask me how they do it, but somehow they figured out how to be able to slow down time for you while not slowing down time for the entire game world every time someone somewhere does something in bullet time.
Don’t want to just be an Operative and fill people with lead and whoop up on ‘em with karate, aikido, or kung-fu? You can also pursue skills in Hacking (the casting skill set) or Coding (the crafting skill set). Hackers are the ones that will infect their opponent with a virus, causing serious damage to their RSI (Residual Self Image), or will help their buddies by repairing their RSI and healing them. Coders are the ones who create items in the game. Learn what code fragments go together to make that cool hat you wanted (like a recipe) and then make it for yourself, or sell it in the Marketplace for a hefty amount of Information (the currency in the Matrix, since actual money means nothing to redpills).
Start working on a skill set and decide you want to try your hand at something else? No problem. Unlike most other MMOG’s, where once you start down a certain path, your character becomes more and more specialized, in Matrix Online, you can have all the ability code you want (the code that allows you to perform skills) as long as you can afford it. The only limit is that you have a finite amount of memory and can only load up so many skills at one time. So, say you’re working with a team of people and they are all Operatives, highly skilled in kicking butt. They’re not really going to benefit all that much from another butt-kicker, so maybe you unload your Operative skills and load up your Hacker skills to help the team out in another way.
Communication in the game is done through a chat program that is run using AOL Instant Messenger technology. It is very intuitive and easy to use. Also, a cool side-effect is that all players automatically get an AIM screen name that is their character email@example.com, so while outside the game, say at another computer where you can’t jack in, you can open up an AIM program, log on as your character and check up on what’s going on in the Matrix with your buddies that are on the inside.
It's all about the community and this is where the game truly shines. The community, starting with the people behind the game (The Wachowski Brothers, Paul Chadwick, the developers and the event staff) to the players, are all so devoted and excited about the game that their passion alone will carry this game very far.
The event staff is perhaps one of the most interesting things about this game. Whereas most games have a static world with important NPC’s set up that players may end up running into and “communicating with” (meaning the NPC gives them a scripted speech of some kind, the same that they give every other person that manages to find them), in Matrix Online, the main characters (ie Morpheus, Niobe, the Oracle, the Merovingian, Persephone, and Agents Gray and Skinner) are played by a staff of real people who will, and do, interact on a daily basis with various players in the game.
For example, I am a member of a Machinist faction who’s leader is often contacted directly by Agent Gray (the main contact for all Machinists) and given instructions as developments occur within the game.
Everything that happens in the game becomes official Matrix history in the continuing saga. Say your character manages to kill one of the main characters (highly unlikely, but I guess it could happen if you had a lot of backup), well, your character will be chronicled as the one who killed the Merovingian, for example. If they write a book about the events, your characters name will be in it. If they make another movie, they’ll have to find someone to play your part.
World changing events are constantly happening in the game. Sometimes it seems everything is stable and then all of a sudden craziness erupts and people are united in trying to figure out what exactly happened and how to stabilize it again.
The Matrix Online website along with independent groups, like the above mentioned Radio Free Zion and Mega City Times keep players constantly informed of the new developments and events in the game. Factions (much like guilds in other MMOG’s) also allow players to join up with other like-minded players in their quest to have an effect on the future of the Matrix.
Finally, the game is about choice. There are three organizations in the game, the Zionists, the Machinists, and the Exiles. Depending on your views, you can choose to ally yourself with any of the three. Of course, political agendas cause many problems, but at the moment there is a tenuous truce between the three organizations.
Zionists, lead by Morpheus, are fighting for the freedom of mankind from the shackles of the Machines. Machinists, led by Agent Gray, are people who have realized that there needs to be a balance between man and machine. The Exiles, led by the Merovingian, are a manipulative, rule-breaking bunch that require the Matrix to continue in order for them to survive.
It is up to each player to choose which side they support the most, or none at all. These choices will have a direct effect on the overall outcome of the game.
The graphics in this game are phenomenal. Fans of the movies will be pleased to find many of the landmarks from the movies in the game (Neo’s office building, Metacortex is a building in the Downtown area of the game, for example). Also, the outfits that players wear are very in-tune with the style that was popularized by the movies.
Perhaps the most incredible thing is how well the graphics are optimized for maximum performance. I have a gaming laptop that was top-of-the-line a little less than a year ago and I am able to run the game at 1024x768 with the “Highest detail” option selected and still play the game with an acceptable framerate. Only during events where hundreds of players are around me all doing things at the same time am I forced to tweak the graphics down to a lower setting to increase framerate.
The visuals are tinged with green adding to the overall effect of making you feel like you are in one of the movies. The lighting is amazing and weather effects like rain are astonishingly realistic.
The sounds are also incredibly reminiscent of the movies. The music is straight off the soundtrack and is event generated, so if you enter a fight, the music will shift to a faster paced style, while if you enter a solemn church, the music becomes surreal and soft. The in-game music, however, stops playing a factor once players begin using the built-in Media Player function that allows them to listen to radio stations, like player-run Radio Free Zion while playing.
The sound effects are right on. Everything from gunshots to thunder, to cars driving by, to the crack of bone striking bone is just how you would expect it to sound.
At a standard $50 bucks for the game and $15 a month for the subscription (after the first month included with purchase), a player who is a fan of the movies will not hesitate to fork over the money. Any MMOG these days is charging the same price for their games and, as I said before, I don’t think any of them are offering the same services that Matrix Online is. The people behind the game are so completely devoted to the success of the game, you will get your money’s worth just on the fact that you can be sure that if you ever have a problem and report it, it will be taken care of almost immediately.
That’s not to mention the ridiculous amount of enjoyment and limitless replayability of the game. The nearly infinite quantity of things that can possibly occur in this game can guarantee that every time you “jack in” will be a unique experience. You will never find yourself sitting there thinking that all you’re doing is level grinding and wishing for something more, as many MMOG’s tend to leave players feeling once the novelty wears off.
In a recent interview between the Wachowski Brothers and Paul Chadwick, the brothers expressed their excitement at seeing what happens with the game and their absolute support of it. “…it now makes perfect sense to us that they [the fans of the movies] should inherit the storyline.”
And that they have, with open arms. Every day I “jack in” I see the different factions attempting to further their goals and try to shape the Matrix in their image. It will be fascinating to see where the game heads in the future. That reason alone will keep me coming back to this game for a long time to come, as I’m sure it will for thousands of other players. Not only is this an amazing game, as far as games and MMOG’s go, but it is also a unique storytelling experiment. One that has never been attempted before and one that I am extremely excited to be taking part in.
Check back in the future for more articles on the further development of the game and the world of the Matrix. Also, check out www.thematrixonline.com, www.radiofreezion.com, and www.megacitytimes, for more information about the game and its ongoing events.
Here's another opinion
I too had the chance to explore the gritty cyber-punk world of Matrix Online, and while I may not be so high in praise as Brice was, I still give credit where credit is due. The most enjoyable and innovative aspects of the game were the fighting system and continually updating storyline, with a monthly schedule for events and updates that continually add to the game. The latter seems very active and unlike many MMOs, the fan base seems to really dig the new storyline arch’s being introduced each week; you have to constantly keep up with the current events to really appreciate the game.
Now, fighting system wise, MxO has one of the most unique in recent memory with interlocking combat that truly does capture the spirit of the Matrix universe of overly sexy “wire-fu” combat. Perhaps the most “natural” looking fighting system in any MMO today, despite the loss of some control.
Now, on to some of my complaints. The game is fairly replete with bugs, as are most MMOs, but some of these were pretty major. Often I had trouble completing missions on certain floors and I would have to start over again. Leading a VIP to a certain area also proved troublesome, as they would often get stuck or run smack-dab into aggressive bad guys. The graphics themselves were pretty drab, but they do fit the style of the movie. Even with all the clothing options, people still looked very similar, looked like a bunch of Morpheus and Niobe clones running around. Sound wise, pretty good stuff here, and very fitting to the theme yet again. You can even listen to online radio stations, which is a sharp integration of media I would love to see more of in future games.
Ultimately, if you are a big fan of the Matrix, you should really dig this title, despite the bugs, repetition and general lack of variety. I highly recommend you get in with a faction (guild) and delve deeper into the storyline and see if you can make an impact in the world. Frankly, I just didn’t have that much fun. Who knows, maybe if I had sunk my teeth in deeper myself, I would have liked the game better overall.
- Tyler Whitney (My Scores: 7 / 8 / 8 / 7 / 7.5