You've heard of the Matrix right? That's a question that ranks right up there with "You need to breathe right?" in the Captain Obvious realm of questions. If you've never heard of the matrix then you must have been living the last several years under a rock. And not just any rock, a rock on the dark side of the moon. The Matrix trilogy of movies have caused more of a stir than just about anything released in a long while that didn't have "Episode #" in the title. Whether you loved them or hated them, chances are you've heard of them. Naturally anything that popular lends itself quickly to all sorts of merchandising and spin-offs; the least of which is by no means the video game industry.
What better genre to adapt movies based on people unknowingly living out their lives in a virtual world than a MMORPG, where players take on the roles of characters in a persistent virtual world? All things considered this seems like the perfect setting for a MMORPG. There's a great background story that can easily be continued on from where the trilogy left off in the game. A great set of main characters to base the story around. Mega City is a great world to place the story and characters in; alongside thousands of players. There are diverse factions for the players to choose from and aid throughout the ongoing story. This just screams "Make a MMORPG out of me!" Well apparently Warner Brothers and Monolith Productions Inc heard the call. On March 22nd the Matrix Online launched and players around the world took their red pill and jacked in to answer that one question burning in their brains: How deep does the rabbit hole go?
The graphics for the most part are very well done. The city is beautifully rendered and fits the Matrix theme perfectly. Traffic and pedestrians are present and believable and gives the city an "alive" feel. Advertising throughout the city for real world movies and items gives the city even more depth and realness. You can enter the buildings and explore, which is impossible in most games out there. If you don't have a specific reason to go into a structure then it is closed off. In the Matrix Online though you're free to wander and roam through buildings. The interiors are nicely done for the most part. However, if you do it too often though it will start to get repetitive. Apparently the citizens of the city aren't the most original and creative when it comes to decorating their homes. Fairly often you'll come across a couple apartments that are almost identical in layout and furnishings.
Combat animations are very smooth and due to the interlock system some of the best around. In most games two people fighting are treated as two separate entities and for resource reasons don't interact very well with each other. However due to the use of the interlock system in The Matrix Online the two entities fighting almost become one. They actually strike each other instead of passing through each other. They grab and grapple with each other, flinging and tossing each other around. Victims react to being hit or shot more realistically than in most games. All told the combat animations are easily some of the best on the market today.
And of course what would the Matrix be without Bullet Time. The Matrix and Bullet Time go together like peanut butter and jelly; you just can't have one without the other. During combat you'll often perform a maneuver or do an action which will trigger the bullet time effect. Basically it slows down the action and shows the move in all its glory. Sometimes you can't help but to think to yourself "OUCH that HAD to have hurt!" The bullet time aspect from the movies has been incorporated well into the game and definitely adds a little pizzazz to the combat animations and graphics, spicing it up quite a bit.
NPCs throughout the world are well done and believable. They react well to the player when you interact with them. My only problem with them is I wish they were a bit more interactive with the environment around them when they're not being interacted with. Maybe make use of some of the furniture in the room with them occasionally. It'd be nice to see one randomly walk over to the desk and computer in the room with them, sit down and start "using" the computer.
Character customization is really saved only by the sheer amount of clothing in the game to choose from. The actual character creation process is VERY limited in as far as appearance goes. But due to the insane amount of clothing in the game you're unlikely to run into someone who looks just like you in the game world; well, who looks just like you from the neck down anyway. As long as you don't go for the Neo look that is. I would like to see FAR more options in the character creation aspect of the game. Having enough clothing in the game is one thing, but I'd like my actual character to be unique, not just the clothes he's wearing.
The audio in The Matrix Online is very nicely done. While the music is excellent it is easily overshadowed by the amazing combat sound effects. Fighting sounds very realistic. You get a nice satisfying thump when you hit someone. Guns sound believable and all the oomphs and other groans of pain give you that warm tingly feeling inside (when they're coming from your opponent and not yourself anyway). Even the little trivial noises like a door opening or a car passing on the street are believable and go a long way in adding realism to the world around you. As much realism as can be added to a virtual world in any case. So far this has been one of the few games that I haven't turned off the sound in exchange for my trusty mp3 player.