PC REVIEW: THE MATRIX ONLINE

Logging into your PC to play The Matrix Online and jacking in to the Matrix makes perfect metaphoric sense in Monolith's ambitious MMORPG. In a paradox where life imitates art while imitating life imitating art (that makes my head hurt to think about) The Matrix Online succeeds in drawing you in to this world where almost everyone you meet on the street is in on the joke. The joke being the inate God knowledge that the world around you isn't real - it's a fabrication. But unfortunately the gameplay experience also feels fabricated. Glitches and slowdown expose this "matrix" for what it really is: a shoddy attempt at an MMORPG. If Thomas Anderson (Neo) had noticed the lag, clipping and other graphical anomlies rife within this matrix in his own, he wouldn't have needed a pill to figure out that something was really amiss.

When journalists use the word "ambitious" to describe a product, that's usually polite terminology for "the concept was great but the execution less than". Thus the term ambitious perfectly captures the essence of MxO. In some ways Monolith's ambition and dedication to the material succeeds dramatically. While most MMORPG's are set against a medieval backdrop, MxO takes place in MegaCity, a sprawling urbanized center which looks jawdroppingly fantastic, especially if you've got the horsepower under the hood to turn on the details. Both indoor and outdoor environments are equally impressive especially when looking out over MegaCity from the confines of an office building a few stories up and seeing other players running around the streets. Where the game doesn't quite deliver is in terms of character models, which of course can be the bottleneck for online games. If the bandwidth has to start moving around characters made of a plethora of polygons, you're going to take a major hit in performance. So we're left with characters that don't look quite as detailed as one would like, but that's not necessarily Monolith's fault. It's a technological barrier which will eventually be overcome with faster computers and connection speeds.

MxO's gameplay style isn't quite as advanced as the city it takes place in unfortunately and this is where things get dicey. MxO is an online multiplayer role playing game and Monolith has stuck to the confines of the genre to a fault, and unfortunately the lack of innovation in execution is the games biggest detractor overall. Players raised on EverQuest and other popular online rpgs will probably have little to no trouble understanding what to do and how to do it, however since the license has such widespread appeal, MxO will be likely pandering to a crowd that may not have the experience with the interface or the rules of the genre. For newbies, MxO will require a steep learning curve that some - I'm willing to bet - won't bother sticking around and learning to see what the pay off is. And I can't say that I blame them. However, the game's one saving grace, it's one true innovation which ALL MMORPG's should incorporate, just might entice them into learning the ropes. And that innovation happens to be the advent of major Matrix characters jacking in and adding new gameplay scenarios from time to time. Will you be at your job when Morpheus appears to hand down some critical information? Will you be around when Trinity shows up to kick ass? Will you be around when Neo pokes his head in and says "Whoa!"? You won't want to miss that, so jacking into MxO becomes all that more appealing and you've got to admit, that's a pretty damn cool idea that Monolith tossed in. You definitely won't want to hear that the Oracle stopped by to talk to your friends and dropped a new mission in their lap. That would be a very bad thing.

Character enhancement has always been at the root of RPGs and MxO is no different. MxO features an impressive array of various skills that any player can learn and upgrade. At the beginning you'll only be able to "upload" a limited amount of the abilities to yourself (outside the Matrix) such as hacker, martial arts expert, shooter etc. While in theory this sounds great because you'll be able to get your own little online gang of experts and run around solving Matrix crimes like a virtual Scooby Doo and friends, it will rarely work out this way, for the simplest of reasons: Everyone wants to be a fighter, somersaulting around and shooting things. It's the Matrix. Who had more fun in the movies? Neo or the guy who was stuck outside the Matrix hacking the system? Don't even answer that. Monolith allows you to change pretty much on the fly when you need to, but it's doubtful you'll find many players who will bend to your whims and do what you say, in essence treating you like Morpheus. Unless you strong arm your little bro, chances are everyone will be kung fu fighting in MxO whether you like it or not. The kicker is that to truly achieve king fu mastery, you'll need to clock in around 30 hours of experience before you are even given the opportunity.

The fighting engine isn't quite as smooth as I was hoping for, Called the "interlock" system, two players will square off in combat which becomes hinged on a simple roll of the die to gain the upperhand. This system, based on the pen and paper RPGs of old, allows players of varying abilities a chance at least when facing opponents stronger than them, but it doesn't exactly excite. When more than two players are involved, just like you've seen in Hong Kong martial art movies, the others will wait patiently on the sidelines until they get a turn to try and kick your ass. If you're fighting in a team, you'll often come across roving gangs of thugs which means your entire party will be able to go at it - causing some incredible graphical glitches and slowdown that will disappoint as much as it entertains.

Missions in MxO start off exciting and you'll find yourselves bursting with enthusiasm as you are instructed to make your way to a particular destination, deal with resistance and retreive the artifact you're looking for. After awhile this enthusiasm will give way to boredom, even after you're leaping between building roofs to get there. Players who manage to stick with the game and overlook the various cracks in the foundation will find various other places to spend their time such as dance clubs where you can dance (???) and other areas where you can engage in combat with others outside of MegaCity. While that may entice others to continue fighting the good fight as some of you can't resist a "special area" others will have hung up their trenchcoats long before this point.

Unless daddy just dropped scads of cash on the latest Alien Ware PC system - and I'm talking as early as yesterday - fully expect MxO to perform semi-adequately on your Pentium 4, 2.5 Ghz with 512 RAM over your broadband connection. This game demands perfection in your PC and you had better pray to whomever that yours will run this game. Perhaps, better to ask The Oracle if you see her. It's a RAM hog and the more you can throw down its throat, the better. Even then you'll probably need to dumb down the details.

If you've been waiting since the moment you heard of the The Matrix Online, you'll either be incredibly happy with the result or suicidal at the execution. There is absolutely no way I can predict how you will interpret the sum of all the parts in MxO. I can tell you that the I found the concept fantastic, the gameplay mildly entertaining, the interface unintuitive, the visuals hit and miss and the combat system somewhat uninspiring. There are some viable concepts at work here, but they will ultimately require a heap of technological advances in terms of hardware and connection speed to be fully realized. Aside from a couple of hooks, such as the random appearances of major characters playing in realtime, you might find once you jack out of the Matrix, you suck down a big blue pill and go back to playing City Of Heroes.

Preview by Vaughn

We received info regarding the combat configuration of TMO and knew that you'd want to see it. Also included below are new screens.

PLAYER VS. PLAYER DUELING
The Dueling System allows individual characters to challenge other players to one-on-one combat inside of the game.

Characters inside of the Matrix will have access to a duel ability! Players will be allowed to challenge each other to mortal combat nearly anywhere inside of the game. This functionality is currently scheduled to go live in the beta very soon! Read below to find out more details about how the duel functionality will operate.

THE DUEL AS CONFLICT RESOLUTION
"You have stained my honor, I demand satisfaction!"

The duel is a tradition as old as humankind itself. In basic terms, a duel is a directed or accepted combat challenge that is used to redress or answer a given or implied insult to one's faction or individual honor. Duels are most commonly fought out between members of the same faction. While the practice of dueling is often romanticized in literature, a duel is, in truth, very dangerous - and often ends in death.

THE CHALLENGE PROCESS
"Morpheus Challenges You to a Duel to the Death! Do you Accept?"

A player can begin a duel by simply targeting an ally and typing "/duel" in the chat window. The target will then receive a special dialog window informing him or her that they have been publicly challenged to a duel. At that point they will have a brief period of time (in seconds) to accept, refuse, or simply ignore the duel challenge. If the player accepts the Challenge, then combat begins immediately.

THE COMBAT PROCESS OF THE DUEL
"Prepare to Die!"

Once combat begins, and the two foes are dueling, both duelers are forced to target each other. The duel will continue until:

  • A dueler surrenders, by typing "/duel stop" in their chat.
  • A dueler is killed in the match by their challenger.
  • A dueler is killed by another, or outside forces.
  • A dueler runs away and gets out of the designated duel range.
  • If a dueler surrenders, or is killed by his or her opponent, a chat message is broadcast to all others in the area describing the shameful defeat!

DUEL RESTRICTIONS AND REQUIREMENTS
"The duelist is disciplined but also unpredictable"

To begin a duel:

  • Both parties must be players.
  • Players must be allies.
  • Players cannot be on a mission team (even a team of 1).
  • Players cannot be in combat.
  • Players must be able to "see" each other on their clients. They must both be in each other's relevancy set.
  • Players cannot be involved in an ongoing duel or be considering another challenge to a duel.

During the duel:

Players may only target each other.
Players cannot be invited onto a mission team.
Stay tuned for future PVP revelations as the beta test continues!

TEAM VS. TEAM DUELING
The second type of PvP action inside The Matrix Online is a variation of the single character Dueling System: the team vs. team Dueling System. The team vs. team Dueling System allows groups of up to eight players to challenge an opposing group of players to team vs. team combat.

The Team vs. Team system will closely resemble the player vs. player PvP dueling system.

Preview by Vaughn

Players having experienced Enter The Matrix were at odds - some thought the game captured the essence of the series while others thought it lacked vision and inspiration. The Matrix Online, a PC only online game in which everyone will be jacked into this incredible "universe"is set for release in 2004. When compared to what online role playing games have been offereing gamers over the last few years, MxO is an attempt to shake up traditional beliefs. MxO won't be a slow paced RPG complete with turn based combat, but will attempt to enhance interaction during battle with the Interlock System.

Interlock Battle System

[The following explanation is courtesy of Ubisoft] Interlock is a system of choreographed animations that are created together as a pair. Interlock allows characters in the Matrix game to enact intricate combat scenes. As characters battle, they can block, punch, kick, dodge, and shoot. Combinations and other more complicated "bullet time" maneuvers are all possible.

Interlock allows us to depict visually interesting and dynamic combat encounters without needing complex inputs from the player. Every very few seconds, the player may provide inputs including target selection and tactical setting. This is important because typical "twitch" style fighting games are simply not possible over typical Internet connections.

The tactical setting is a three-button interface that enables a player to choose one of three settings: power, speed or defense. The setting determines what kind of maneuvers a character will perform, based on the list available to that character. For example, when set to Power, the character will perform high-risk but very lethal maneuvers. On Defense, the character will try to block or dodge, waiting until attacked and only then strike with reversals and other aikido-like maneuvers. There are scores of different maneuvers characters can perform and some are only unlocked when certain ability levels are achieved.

When the Interlock system has selected which maneuvers each character will perform, the combat exchange takes place. Several values are compared, and a final outcome for that combat exchange is determined. Specific values will include the characters' respective ability levels and the tactical settings selected. Keep in mind that all of this computation happens instantly and does not stop the flow of the action. Players see a smooth, continuous exchange of attacks and counterattacks, not stilted turn-based gameplay.

Ability Codes

Another inlcusion into the mythology of the Mx0 are the ability codes. These are the programs that Neo or others could download into their brains and instantly learn martial arts or other interests.

Player characters are initially limited in their capacity for abilities. Characters start out only able to contain a limited number of beginner abilities. But as your character advances, so does their capacity for abilities!

Not all abilities are created equal. Some abilities require several prerequisite abilities before they can be loaded into your character's memory. The more difficult and specialized the ability, the more requirements the Ability Code will have.

Acquiring and mastering abilities will be a key activity in the game, but it's just one small part of what will make The Matrix Online a unique gaming experience. So please visit the forums and contribute your thoughts and opinions on this and any other subject you have questions about.

The Story:

In 2004, the Matrix will become a reality as gamers everywhere log into The Matrix Online to continue the saga of the Matrix movie trilogy.

Players of The Matrix Online (Mx0) will inhabit an enormous urban sprawl, which spreads for miles in all directions. There are subways, nightclubs, skyscrapers, and dark alleys that all seem normal on the surface, but beneath this pedestrian exterior, a secret war is being waged for the survival of humanity and machine alike. Here, you and many operatives like yourself, will determine who shall inherit the earth.

Gameplay Highlights

  • Dozens of weapons and dramatic martial arts maneuvers that capture the "wire fu" Matrix experience. Use devastating special moves and sneak attacks including breath-taking bullet-time effects that are intelligently generated based on player moves and tactics.
  • Plot lines by the creators of The Matrix continue the Matrix story where the movie trilogy leaves off and provide you with deep insight into the world of the Matrix.
  • The Matrix Online will engage you with special events, missions, and monthly story cinematics, all of which effect the action in the game.
  • A full Rich World cityscape environment with traffic, living neighborhoods and breathtaking skylines that immerse players in the most authentic Matrix MegaCity ever created (Using RichWorld technology™).
  • A robust mission system designed for maximum re-playability and depth. Players receive missions from familiar organizations in the Matrix, such as Zion and the Machines.
  • Authentic "Matrix style" clothing and character customization options allow players to live a virtual life that reflects the fashion of the Matrix movies.
  • Find, create, or trade Matrix "ability code" that provides incredible knowledge and skill to your character. Unlike other massively multiplayer games, ability code can be swapped out and exchanged like trading cards, providing unprecedented flexibility in the development of a character.
  • Players can tap into sources of "information" in the game to create or steal code fragments. Code can be used to create both special Matrix items and special abilities.
System: PC/Windows
Dev: Monolith Ent.
Pub: Sega
Release: Mar 2005
Players: 1- 8 (net)
Review by Vaughn
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
3.0
GRAPHICS
3.5
CONTROL
3.5
MUSIC/FX
3.5
VALUE
2.5