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The Matrix Online: Tumbling Down The Rabbit Hole

Company: Monolith

Its no secret that Enter the Matrix was a bomb. What at first seemed like a great idea for a game, especially considering the number of tie-ins it enjoyed with both The Matrix Reloaded and The Animatrix, never fully translated into a good gaming experience. The Matrix Online, which marks the franchise's return to the video game world, takes a completely different form than its ill-fated predecessor. Taking place after the third movie, The Matrix Online invites players to take their own tumble down the rabbit hole and discover the Matrix's secrets for themselves.

Presentation is one of the elements that makes The Matrix Online so different from other MMOs on the market. The setup is quite simple. After Neo's sacrifice, Zion has forged a very uneasy truce with the Machines and is out to awaken as many people as they can. At the same time, the forces of the Merovingian are also looking to regain power. Players take the role of a recently awakened soul in search of answers. After creating their online persona, players are contacted by one of the main characters from the movie. Who you get seems to be completely random. For example, I was contacted by Niobe while a friend of mine got a call from Morpheus himself. Regardless of whom you are contacted by, the choice will be the same; do you take the blue pill or the red one? If you take the blue pill, the game ends (literally) -- you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. Take the red pill -- you stay in Wonderland and learn just how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

I'm sure you know which pill to take.

The Matrix Online adds plenty of references and details found in the movies. Once you enter the Matrix from the login screen, you're greeted by a world being created around you. The screen begins as a mess of Matrix code and slowly forms into your surroundings. Environments are very industrial and have a big city feeling to them. Areas range from low-rent slums to NYC style cityscapes. During your quest, you'll even come across Spanish-style churches and Japanese inspired architecture. It may not be the expansive fantasy worlds of Everquest or Galaxies' multiple planets, but what's here works for the game and gives you a nice area to explore and adventure in.

Another impressive movie tie-in comes in the audio department. Many stars from the movie, including Lawrence Fishburne and Monica Bellucci, lend their voices and likenesses to the game. Don Davies, who composed the movie's soundtrack, provides the score for the game.

Once you're jacked into the Matrix, you're provided with the typical MMO experience. At the start, you're only able to run missions for Zion, the group that freed you. These missions serve as a training ground to get you acquainted with the various mission types available in the game. Missions are based more around story than being sent out to mindlessly kill a nest of enemies.

You begin by contacting an operator via your cell phone, who will then tell you what needs to be done. As with quests in other games, missions all include some kind of backstory. In the case of The Matrix Online, most involve freeing other people. There are, however, some twists to the formula since missions actually require you to play though the story. When you're asked to enter a building and steal a piece of information, you really do have to break into the building and do it. Most jobs are also multi-tiered affairs that require you to change your plans midstream and travel to more than one location.

Eventually your actions will get the attention of the Matrix's other two powers: The Machines and Merovingian, both of which will begin to offer you missions. From here you can choose to align yourself with one of the three factions or go freelance. The benefits that come from your alignment (or lack of) aren't completely clear (at least beyond some special perks), but Monolith has several story arcs planned for the game once it releases, so expect to see factional allegiance become even more important down the line.

In addition to putting a different spin on presentation, The Matrix Online also offers a different perspective on leveling and combat. Character growth is based on something known as Awakened Level. As you gain experience, your character will awaken to more of his/her abilities. You begin with a limited repertoire of attacks, but will soon learn to pull off nearly all of the abilities seen in the movie, including the hyper-jump that lets you go from building to building with ease. Inherent growth through leveling is complemented by special job skills your character can take. Skills are broken up into three general classes; Operatives, Hackers and Coders. Operative skills involve all things combat. Hacker and Coder skills, on the other hand, are more like the magic-wielding skills found in games like Everquest. Coder skills are aimed a little more towards creating and healing while Hacker skills are about messing with the way things work.

Skills are earned by combining code fragments (which are found on fallen enemies) and coding them. Once a skill is created, you can then choose to upload it into your character. The catch of the entire skill system is that you're never limited to choosing just one skill set. If you choose to play as a fighter one day, you can simply upload those skills into your character (provided you have the skills created). It remains to be seen just how the system will hang once it gets out to the mass market, but so far its very flexible and really lends itself well to grouping up with other players. Rather than wasting time searching for a healer-type character, you can simply have someone jack-out and return to the game as a healer.

Memorable fight scenes were what helped to make The Matrix such a fan favorite (and provided inspiration for just about every movie that came after it). Taking a sort of paper-rock-scissors approach, combat is real-time and requires some interaction. Every few seconds in combat, you can choose from four move types: power, fast, throw or block. Each is color-coded and very easy to find. From here, your moves are placed head-to-head with one overtaking the other. Moves come with their own benefits and dictate the tempo of combat. Aside from normal attack moves, you can also pull out special moves like super-kicks and head-butts. Bullet-time also finds its way into mix, paving the way for great looking, movie-style fights.

Beyond the fighting and missions, The Matrix Online offers other community-crafted events. Even during the beta, players were putting on Raves and even teaming up to tackle larger missions.

The MMO market is a tough place to break into, so Monolith has its work cut out for it. Judging from early impressions, The Matrix Online sets up a fun experience that can only get better. We'll just have to wait and see how deep the rabbit hole really goes when the game ships in March.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Related Links:

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