Rumor has it that Atari was so horrified by the response to their 1982 E.T. game that they ended up performing a secret midnight burial, bulldozing over 5 million unsold copies in the New Mexico desert. Myth or not, you couldn't ask for a better illustration of the extreme gulf between cinematic success and joystick enjoyment. For every bright spot (such as the recent, ridiculously faithful The Warriors), a legion of quick synergistic knockoffs exists only to hurt. In particular, mass erasure by backhoe seemed far too kind for Enter the Matrix, a mega-clunky shamble that ended up pissing off both devoted fans and casual gamers. Hyped as a necessary link between films, the buggy, incoherent results set records in both sales and attempted returns.
Three years later, the new, somewhat less-hyped Path of Neo attempts to rectify these sins, delivering a glitch-ridden, markedly inconsistent button masher that somehow manages to be pretty fun to play. Beginning with an unpromising stealth office escape (THRILL as you hide behind a copier!), the game proceeds to cherry pick the most memorable set pieces of the trilogy, from lobby shootouts to rooftop beat downs to, um, whatever happened in the third one. As things progress, new moves and abilities are rapidly unlocked to the point where your character eventually becomes the bullet-deflecting, high-swooping Goth Jesus of legend. The good news is that the new powers are an absolute blast to use, particularly when combined with the impressively varied combat system, which allows you to take on as many as a dozen dudes at one time.
Unfortunately, the glitchy bits that plagued the earlier installment are still legion: The in-game cut scenes make the characters look like recent escapees from the burn ward, the gun targeting system persists in locking-on to corpses, and the frame rate suffers from frequent and maddening slowdown—to the point where entering bullet time actually speeds the game up. Combined with the 10- to 12-hour running time, a rental before purchase is definitely suggested. And yet, when it works, it works, particularly in the delirious moments where you take on hundreds of ticked-off clones at once. Even better are a few sequences exclusive to the game, especially the early training sessions comprising dead-solid perfect homages to, among others, Enter the Dragon, Drunken Master 2, and Hard-Boiled. (Piss-poor targeting system aside, getting to go all Chow Yun-Fat in a teahouse still carries a considerable buzz.)
And then there's the ending, a riotous piss-take on the source material's biblical pretensions, in which the directors themselves interrupt the action and admit that their original sacrificial ending just wouldn't work as a game. Diehard fans of the trilogy may burn their trench coats in protest, but having Cyber-Christ come back off the cross in order to fight a giant robot manages to erase a surprising amount of misgivings.