Enter The Matrix is a 3D action game in third person; at the beginning of the adventure, you have to choose if you want to play as Niobe or Ghost. Each character follows a different route, so you basically have two different games to play, and two different perspectives on the game events. With roughly five-six hours of gameplay, Ghost's game is longer than Niobe's, but the difficulty level seems almost the same.
The level design is probably the weakest part of the gameplay. Enter The Matrix is made of relatively big levels, divided in subsections to fit the limited memory capacity of the Playstation 2, made of repetitive environments and empty rooms where your only task is killing hordes of enemies. Throughout the whole game you are given objectives of the type "find access to [put a room name here]"; what you have to do is running randomly through the indistinguishable rooms of the level until you find the door you're supposed to find. Don't expect stealth elements, puzzles, or moments where strategy of any kind is required.
So, the levels are there just to be run through - but what about the combat system? First of all, the controls are pretty intuitive, and the game manual is hardly useful if you have ever played at least one 3D action adventure in the latest four years. Anyhow, after ten hours into the game I still have the feel that Enter The Matrix is just a confusing button masher. It's true that Niobe and Ghost can perform moves that will make your jaws drop, but it's often sufficient to randomly press the Dual Shock buttons to pull out amazing combos. This doesn't mean that dedicated players will not be able to make a better, more punctual use of the special moves - performing the right move at the right time, in slow motion, looks incredibly cool in Enter The Matrix - but overall, it all feels relatively useless, thanks to the poor balance of the experience. The left stick is used to move the character, the right stick lets you look around in first person view, and the shoulder buttons (L2 and R2) are used for sidestepping. The characters' default moves are punches (triangle), kicks (circle), jumps (X), and throws (circle + triangle), while other context-sensitive actions are handled by the Square button.
The core of the combat system is the aforementioned Focus ability; on the right of the screen, a meter shows the amount of Focus you have at your disposal: by holding the R1 button, you enter the "Focus mode". Like the Health bar, the Focus meter slowly replenish when you are not in Focus mode. The system is basically a revamp of Max Payne's bullet time, but in Enter The Matrix it recreates the feel of the best action sequences in the movie. The Focus mode not only lets you perform various special moves, but it makes possible to dodge bullets and attacks Neo-style. While there are many combos that you can perform without using the Focus ability, to pull out the most impressive special moves you have to use the normal attack buttons while in Focus mode, and combine them with the jump and context-sensitive buttons: for example, if you want to shoot while wall running, you have to run along a wall, enter in Focus mode (hold L1), press the context-sensitive action button (Square) to start wall running, and shot using the fire button (R1).
Sounds cool, uh? It is, in fact, and pulling out cool moves is also more intuitive than it might sound at first. Anyhow, after your first hour into the game, you will discover that the combat system, like the rest of the game, sorely lacks substance and balance, and that the best choice is often hitting randomly the buttons with the hope of pulling out some deadly combo. The biggest issue here is the faulty auto-targeting function that should help you, but that makes things just confusing when you have to face three, four, five enemies at once. Instead of giving players a classic lock-on button, the developers decided to let playable characters target automatically the closest enemy. In this way, the main character moves from one enemy to the other performing random movements to chain the attacks entered by the player. For example, surrounded by three enemies, you might press punch, kick, and again punch: the combat system will choose for you which is the right enemy to start the attack, and will then move from one enemy to the other to complete the sequence you've entered. The problem is that sometimes the auto-targeting function fails miserably, resulting in Ghost (or Niobe) waving his hands into thin air like a slapstick hero, while the bad guys hit him in the back. Probably, the best solution here would have been a combat system able to mix the intuitiveness, the speed and the efficacy of Mark Of Kri's miraculous combat engine with context-sensitive actions and jumps. Enter The Matrix feels inaccurate, imprecise, and too random in creating the chain of attacks to be considered a game designed with gamers in mind: it's way too clear this is a game designed for millions of casual players in search of an easy access into the world of The Matrix.
To make things more varied, the developers had the idea of adding driving and shooting sections. While they are a small part of the overall experience, the driving sections can be, with my surprise, quite fun to play. According to the character you've chosen at the beginning of the game, you might find yourself in the role of the driver or of the passenger-gunner. For example, in one of the first levels, you have to escape from the police across the city streets; if you are playing as Niobe, you'll drive the car - the same cool one seen in the movie - while Ghost will assist you as a gunner; if you are playing as Ghost, you'll stay in the passenger's seat and you'll have to shoot at incoming enemies, while Niobe drives the car. Anyhow, it's worth mentioning that one of the driving sections in Enter The Matrix is also one of the worst gaming experiences I've ever witnessed in my gaming life, and sadly, it happens to be the conclusive level of the game, where you must control the Logos into the "real" world, across small tunnels, trying to destroy the deadly Sentinels. The rough graphics and the bad controls make of this section a fine example of dreadful, almost insulting gameplay.
Another addition to the overall traditional formula behind Enter The Matrix is the Hacking interface. It's available from the main menu, and it gives you access to a simulated DOS environment where you can execute programs and commands to hack into the system and find hidden extras, activate dozens of cheats, and unlock a rushed out multiplayer mode (well, I guess it's not by chance that it's just an "extra"). The multiplayer mode means really little more than ten minutes of additional fun, but at least it gives you the chance of controlling many characters from the movies, including Agent Smith, Morpheus, and Trinity - no, Neo is not in the list. You are not given the option of choosing a character; instead, you can select a stage, and in each stage there is a preset couple of characters to control. The fighting engine is very simplistic, with just two-three basic moves available and the possibility to dodge the attacks of the opponent. So - don't even remotely think to buy this game just for this multiplayer mode!
Overall, Enter The Matrix can be fun, especially in the first levels and especially if you are a great fan of Neo & company, and, in some way, it successfully mimics the style of the movies; but from a gamer's point of view, it's just a pretty rough, repetitive, unbalanced gaming experience.