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Game Over Online ~ The Matrix Online (c) Sega

The Matrix Online (c) Sega

Published: Tuesday, March 1st, 2005 at 08:21 PM
Written By: Roger Fingas

What is The Matrix Online?

Sorry, I couldnít help myself. Itís plain to most people what it is: itís Monolithís MMORPG set in the universe of Warner Brothersí Matrix films.

Specifically, it deals with the aftermath of The Matrix Revolutions. Without spoiling anything directly, the setting makes a chaotic world full of Neo-wannabes halfway plausible, and gives players the option to ally with any of the major factions, or no faction at all.

So how does it play? Character creation is promising. To determine basic stats, you choose one of ten archetypes for characters lured out of the Matrix; I chose Suspicious Cynic. This resulted in a character with high values in Reason and Perception, but low Belief. As an example of how stats work in MxO, Belief is significant in that itís a prerequisite for the physics-bending moves that define The Matrix.

All stats feed into what are called Abilities, grouped under three Disciplines labelled Coder, Hacker, and Operative. Coders are MxOís equivalent of crafters, able to make things like Abilities as well as the standard weapons and clothing. Hackers are essentially spellcasters: they can heal (patch) or harm (infect with virii) depending on what Abilities they invest in. Operatives can concentrate on combat, armed or unarmed, or espionage-related skills.

The trick is that while youíre not limited to a single Discipline, it just makes sense to stay narrow. Abilities have costs in the form of prerequisites and money (i.e. ďinformationĒ). So to become proficient in any area, itís best to follow a Discipline tree to the end. Even at this stage of the beta, players are clearly specializing.

Customization seems to be a watchword for MxO. Not only can you specialize Abilities, or choose from a host of faces, races, hairstyles and body types, but thereís a grotesque amount of attention paid to fashion. There are literally dozens of different shades, hats, shirts, coats, gloves, and shoes - and they all appear to be popular. Iíve never seen two players look alike. It wouldnít be a Matrix game, I suppose, if you couldnít deliver spin-kicks in impeccable leather outfits.

Combat is where MxO separates its gameplay from that of other MMORPGís. Ranged fighting is the usual double-click affair. In close combat though, players can select from Speed, Power, Grab, and Block tactics. A combination of stats gives you a rating in each, and you match them against the selections of your opponent in a quasi-turn-based manner. The player with the higher rating successfully defends or attacks.

Depth comes from the interconnectedness of Abilities, enemies, and tactics. Some tactics are more effective with certain opponents; use the same tactic more than once and your opponent becomes resistant. Some Abilities need to be ďset upĒ to work, like Machine-Gun Punch, which requires an enemy to be dazed by the likes of a Speed attack.

For me at least, this resolves one of the major problems Iíve had with MMORPGís. Iíve long thought that combat should be the most exciting and involved aspect of them, rather than a boring procedure, where you click once and wait for stats to resolve. With luck this game mechanic will spread to other titles.

At this stage in its development however, MxO is suffering from flaws thatíll keep it from being a World of Warcraft-killer. Bugs, for example. I and other players have had missions cancelled midway through, forcing restarts that were almost painful if they involved long travel times or high-level enemies. The entire program crashed once. Graphically, the game is superb at conveying the look of the films - its urban sprawl is choked with detail, from cars and pedestrians to pigeons and garbage - but there are problems with clipping, pop-up, and blurred textures.

Hopefully these glitches will be eliminated by the March release. I have less confidence that theyíll deal with design issues like NPC behaviour. Even when standing in groups, you see, enemies tend to attack one or two at a time, demolishing any suspension of disbelief. Civilians meanwhile are oblivious to fighting or your superpowers. Given what happened in Revolutions though, perhaps that makes sense.

Monolith also needs to spend some time diversifying their missions and levels. Mission objectives Iíve received have nearly always been placed in apartment buildings, and I could swear there are only three or four different, sparsely-decorated apartment layouts. It could be that Iím too early in to have witnessed the good stuff; but then, thatís hardly an incentive to play through the first month of a subscription. World of Warcraft has shown that exploring cool environments is basic to the fun of an MMORPG.

I, personally, will probably skip the final version of MxO. Donít be frightened off though, because Iíve yet to find a massively-multiplayer game that I thought was worth subscription fees, even WoW. I suspect that if youíre a Matrix fan, or just searching for an MMORPG with better combat, there might be something worth investigating here. Public beta anyone?

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