It’s wild to think that the original the Matrix film made its debut 22 years ago. The landmark film acted as an introduction to cyberpunk and science fiction for an entire generation. Maybe it was its irresistible concept, or the highly-stylized production; maybe it was the pitch-perfect cast. Whatever the magic ingredient was, it turned the Matrix into a lucrative franchise, with two sequels releasing in 2003.
The fourth film, the Matrix Resurrections, is set to hit theaters just in time for the holidays, on December 22nd, 2021.
Like any popular franchise, merchandising is also a big component of the Matrix, with everything from action figures to soundtracks. And yes, this includes video games! The franchise currently boasts three games, all of them in varying states of being forgotten.
Should they be remembered? Let's find out!
Enter the Matrix (2003)
By the time the Matrix blew up, it was too late for game publishers to take part in the popularity. That changed with the sequel, the Matrix: Reloaded.
Enter the Matrix was developed on both consoles (this was the era of the PlayStation 2, original Xbox, and Nintendo Gamecube) and PC to coincide with the film’s release. The game was developed by Shiny Entertainment, a California-based company founded by David Perry, the creator of Earthworm Jim.
The game follows two of the supporting characters rather than allowing for players to play as Neo or Trinity. In Enter the Matrix, players choose from Niobe and Ghost in a third-person action-scene-focused game. Niobe is the captain of Logos and is tasked with retrieving a package left in the Matrix. Agents are hot on their tail, which leads players to assume that there’s more to this package than initially conceived.
Players use a mixture of gun fu and slow-motion gameplay reminiscent of Max Payne to battle through a modest narrative campaign that admittedly felt too much like Shiny was trying to chase their idea of “Matrix cool.” Enter the Matrix was notable in its ability to aim for cinematic gold, but the game fell short of polished where it needed it the most: gameplay.
Still, the game was a commercial success, selling upwards of 4 million copies. Enter the Matrix was designed to be akin to the animated film, The Animatrix, in that it expands the Matrix universe to add depth and produce more of a holistic effect.
The Matrix, as a concept, was just too cool not to explore across different creative mediums. The game’s full-motion video sequences consist of an hour of live-action movie footage. Shiny Entertainment took the license seriously, but perhaps it was the short two-year development cycle that inevitably caused hiccups in the gameplay itself.
The Matrix: Path of Neo (2005)
Shiny Entertainment learned from their mistakes. Give players what they want: Neo, Keanu Reeves, Matrix-breaking moves, and all-things cool.
This time around, the Wachowskis directed the game’s story, opting to make it more of a feature-set-piece rather than a brand-new story in the Matrix universe. The game was released on consoles and PC in 2005.
Players begin the game as Thomas Anderson, before he learns about the Matrix and forges his path as Neo. The game incorporates a skills system that tracks players’ growth, learning new skills and abilities, building Anderson into the Matrix-bending mastermind they want to be. The game confidently leans on fan service, with titular characters like Trinity, Morpheus, and antagonist Agent Smith all making appearances.
Instead of original footage, Path of Neo repurposes scenes from the films to string together Anderson’s story. The game fared better critically than Enter the Matrix, with reviewers praising its fan service and action despite also deriding its horrible camera and clunky controls.
However, Path of Neo came out long after the peak hype of the trilogy, which may have had something to do with the sales failing to meet, much less surpass, the original game's.
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The Matrix Online (2005)
MMORPGs, or massively multiplayer online role-playing games, were huge in the early 2000s. Be it World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XI, or any number of generic clones, people ate up these all-encompassing worlds and their seemingly endless quests and tasks.
Developed by Monolith Productions and published by Sony Online Entertainment, the Matrix Online acted as a continuation of the films. The Wachowskis believed that the game could allow players to 'live' in the Matrix, thereby inheriting the storyline. Matrix Online was released in March 2005 and its servers remained up until July 2009.
Players were redpills, people trapped in the Matrix but who had since been freed. They learned the truth of the Matrix and humanity’s imprisonment by AI. Impressively, players were able to choose between the red or blue pill. Choosing blue, players went back to their former life, which translated to quitting the game. Choosing the redpill dropped players in “Mega City,” the game’s main hub, to explore and interact.
Perhaps what’s most interesting about the Matrix Online was how it advocated its direct connection to the films with its main campaign, The Continuing Story. This was considered the official continuation of the Matrix universe, with the game’s events working in concert with both the trilogy and The Animatrix, the original game Enter the Matrix, and all of the lore featured in comic books and other tie-in reading material.
The game’s writer, Paul Chadwick, received the blessings of the Wachowskis, who verified and offered guidance in the creation of the game’s storyline. Different than most MMOs, Matrix Online’s main campaign was broken into nine “critical” missions that happened in real-time. Missions were released every six weeks, including big organizational meetings for players.
This is something that is far more common in modern day 2021 with games like Fortnite and Overwatch, but the Matrix Online was ahead of its time in 2005.
The Official Matrix Website: Arcade
The film’s official website featured a slew of Adobe Flash-based webgames, including A Girl Named Trinity, where players could play as Trinity in a 2D handheld game where they aided in escaping a building; Government Lobby, an unmemorable shooter where players played as either Neo or Trinity as they shot their way through the famous lobby scene; and Pill Game, a simple points-based game in which players shot red pills.
The Arcade and its webgames existed primarily to entertain people already invested in the series and keep them on the site longer than a few clicks, but none of the games added to the universe.
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Bonus: The Matrix Awakens (2021)
Little is known about this new game for next-generation consoles, except that it was developed in part by Lana Wachowski and Epic Games, and pre-loading is available now.
Offical description has described The Matrix Awakens as “a wild ride into the reality-bending universe of The Matrix that features performances by Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss" and gives “a glimpse into the future of interactive storytelling and entertainment.”