The Wachowskis – perhaps the best-known trans artists in media – had such grand transmedia ambitions for The Matrix.
At one time there was a Wachowski-directed single-player game that ran parallel to The Matrix Reloaded, siphoning off important story beats to make gamers feel special. Then there was an MMO that functioned as the official continuation of the trilogy. And also, there was whatever The Animatrix was.
Alas, The Matrix Online has long since shut down, which, depending on the way you look at it, might mean that the humans finally claimed victory over the machines and their giant evil server. But it also means the series hasn’t left the gaming legacy the Wachowski sisters might have hoped for.
Yet, standing here in the original film’s 20th anniversary year, I see a bright sci-fi gaming future with Keanu in Cyberpunk 2077. And behind us, plenty of games that capture something of The Matrix, even if they don’t wear its branding or tight leather trousers. There may be no spoon, but there have been a bunch of forking good Matrix adaptations over the past couple of decades.
The most obvious candidate for inclusion, Remedy’s debut was the first action game to convincingly nail bullet time – just two years after the movie, no less. This marked a huge technical step forward for shooters, which through the ‘90s had relied on ‘hitscan’ weapon fire; think of the way the bullets from your Doom shotgun leap instantaneously to a distant imp.
Instead, Max Payne’s bullets – and those of his enemies – were real projectiles that followed their own trajectory in the world. This meant, with judicious use of slo-mo, they could be dodged.
“Einstein was right,” explains Max in the sequel. “Time is relative to the observer. When you’re looking down the barrel of a gun, time slows down. Your whole life flashes by, heartbreak and scars. Stay with it, and you can live a lifetime in that split second.”
S’just physics, innit.
The opening scene of The Matrix is nothing short of a design doc for Mirror’s Edge. First, a quartet of cops are treated to a high kick, evasive wall-run and disarm kill courtesy of Trinity. That’s the combat sorted. Then our heroine sprints across undulating rooftops, dives over gaps at impossible heights, and lands smoothly with a forward roll. Suddenly, DICE has its moveset.
It may have followed the film by nearly a decade, but Faith Connor’s run through The City is unmistakable. SWAT teams smash through doors, their radios chattering as you sprint for the exit point in each level. Helicopter-mounted machine guns fire through the sheer glass windows of skyscrapers. There’s even an underground sequence that paints the world in a slick, artificial green. The only thing missing is the Agents – replaced by parkour pursuit cops in the campaign’s latter stages.
Driver: San Francisco
Were you looking at the woman in the red dress? She was Morpheus’ way of teaching Neo that other humans will protect the prison that holds them, like antibodies attacking a virus. Sometimes that’s out of a desire to protect the status quo; at others it’s because they’ve been possessed by an Agent, who will use their virtual body to whatever end they need before disposing of it.
Driver: San Francisco is perhaps the only game to let you do the same so brazenly – stealing the bodies of fellow road-users even as they’re in mid-conversation with their passengers, so that you can ram a competitor’s vehicle off the road. As an undercover cop you’re nominally doing this for good, but it’s tricky to justify the collateral when commandeering a truck to collide with an enemy, just as Agent Smith did in 1999. Lots of fun, mind.
All Walls Must Fall
In order to convince Warner Bros they could pull off their wild idea for a movie about an office worker who wakes up in a world ruled by machines, the Wachowskis hired artist Steve Skroce to draw almost 600 storyboards, breaking down the film shot by shot.
That’s sort of what you do in All Walls Must Wall, too. This is an isometric tactics game set in Berlin 2089, and once combat starts, it plays a bit like wibbly wobbly, timey wimey XCOM – your special abilities tied to rewinding the action a pace, either for you or your enemies. But once the fight’s finished it plays back in real-time, and you see what you’ve achieved – choreographing moves in a bullet-dodging club shootout sequence. The handsome, flat character art in a 3D world only adds to the sense of a living storyboard.
The Matrix: Path of Neo
I don’t expect you to play The Matrix: Path of Neo. Not in the year of our architect 2019. What I would suggest is that you see out this article by watching the cutscene that precedes the final boss fight in The Matrix: Path of Neo. Take it away, Wachowskis.