The Matrix Online

With its powerful parents and Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment overseeing the development process, The Matrix Online has been through a divorce with Ubisoft, a recent marriage with Sega, a tight-lipped beta program and a slipped launch date in its journey to store shelves. So what can you expect now that we know the game is on its way, sometime mid-2005?

Well, it truly is MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) in every sense of the word. In fact, what developer Monolith is attempting makes the word "massive" seem quite small. In this game, Monolith creates one of the largest non-loading worlds yet seen in an online title, redefines the traditional classes and abilities seen in other RPGs with loadable programs and breaks new ground in online combat.

If a persistent world was to carry on the Matrix fable, the game creators knew how important the authenticity of the experience would be. This begins with character creation, where even a super hottie avatar with a shaved head, face piercing and chest tattoos, that's dressed up in a cropped leather tank and low-rider cargo pants, can be produced.

Once you finally jack into the Matrix, the green lines of code eventually melt into Matrix MegaCity, an amazingly detailed urban sprawl that was created using "Rich World" technology, where the environment will supposedly adjust to your system requirements. There is, however, no instancing in this city. While the game boasts that "every room of every floor of every building is accessible to the gamer," you will find many buildings with the same exact floor plan, which unfortunately takes away from the excitement of exploration.

Now that you are in this new place, you must align with one of either Zion, the Machines, or the Exiles, and master the basics of in-game combat. Your character's abilities are much more flexible than those in traditional RPGs, as you're able to install programs into your character's memory. A character can "jack out" during combat, install a hacker program, and re-enter with new skills for the current mission.

Someone had to do it eventually, right? That is, to create point-and-click-combat animations that actually simulate what a real fight would be like. We're not asking for Soul Calibur here, but it would be nice for once to click the mouse on the Attack hot key and see the avatar at least aim in the general direction of the big bad NPC (non-player character).

From the beta build we previewed, this was done - Monolith's energy seems to be focused on bringing the Matrix-style "Wire Fu" combat, along with various styles of Asian fighting, to the PC. Unfortunately, this attention to combat animations seems to have been at the cost of developing actual interesting gameplay. Monolith has a chance to redeem this if the promise of a gamer-driven storyline with frequent updates is as captivating as the creators seem to think it will be.

The Matrix Online takes traditional RPG rules and attempts to redefine them, in a way only the story of the Matrix would allow. The concepts are easily digestible, given the well-known plot line of the movie trilogy, and there is plenty of potential here for either a real snoozer or an immersive continuing storyline. We'll have to wait and see.

Score Card

Visuals: Amazing detail for environments and character models Audio: Nice and immersive, adding to the multiplayer feel Gameplay: Combat controls could do with some work Score: Preview version, not rated Publisher: Sega Developer: Monolith URL: http://thematrixonline.warnerbros.com

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