Last night, Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss popped up as part of the annual cavalcade of commercials, trailers, and very occasional game awards known as The Game Awards, showing off a new teaser for their upcoming film The Matrix: Resurrections. (It was a pretty wild one, too, with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Morpheus playing footage of Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus from the original movie, in an apparent attempt to get Neo to remember his former Machine-battling life.)
The other reason Moss (quietly detached) and Reeves (giddy in that way he gets when asked to say especially dopey things) called in to the TGAs, though, was to promote The Matrix Awakens, a free new video game-ish tie-in for the film. And, after spending two hours with Awakens last night, we can attest: This is a very weird, very Matrix-y piece of side content.
The…game?…starts with some regular video footage, carrying over the self-referential themes as perpetually confused hacker Thomas Anderson addresses the audience about the nature of virtual worlds…before handing the reins over to actor Keanu Reeves. He and Moss then chat a bit more about making The Matrix, before transitioning into digital approximations of their 1999-era selves that are good enough to consistently trick the eye—a theme throughout the Awakens experience. Then, with a wry comment from Moss/Trinity about needing to give the audience some “sexy action” to enjoy to break up all the damn existential speechifying, Awakens tosses you into a sequence where you, as a Zion operative, help Neo and Trinity fend off an attack by Agents.
All well and good, and kind of fun, in a “This is a very simplistic rail shooter” sort of way. It’s what happens next, though, that sees Awakens get kind of Matrix-ish and nuts. First, the camera pulls back to show off the city you’ve been shooting your way through, listing off a whole bunch of features that Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 5 (short version: new gaming tech that Awakens is “powered by”) is using to make the whole thing seem real. It’d be a neat ending for a fun little tech demo, all told.
Except that then, Awakens drops you right back into the city, now with complete freedom to run, drive, and fly throughout the whole massive, many-virtual square miles thing. There’s not a lot to do, besides hunt down a few secrets and plaques that describe some of the technical accomplishments on display. The real point is just to get your jaw dropping over and over again, from looking at cars that are actually capable of tricking your (or, at least, our) brain into thinking you’re looking at actual cars, to flying up into the sky and seeing thousands of buildings, vehicles, and people all simulating seamlessly at once.
On the one hand, this is just a straight-up brag: “Here’s Unreal 5, here’s what it can do when we let it off the leash.” (Take it as read that this thing is only available on the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X.) The deeper purpose, though, is presumably to make it clear how much closer we’re getting to designing virtual worlds that have at least a shot at tricking our brains into thinking they’re real, if only for a few moments. (Certainly, it’s a better sales pitch for a “metaverse” than anything Facebook is doing, as Reeves himself would presumably, laughingly agree.) Matrix Awakens isn’t a game, and it’s only sort of a toy. But it’s a hell of a way to bake your noodle for an hour or two.