Could The Matrix Online MMO help bridge the gap to the fourth Matrix movie?

Last week, Warner Bros. made a surprising announcement that sent sci-fi fans all over into a furious buzz: the Wachowskis’ iconic Matrix film trilogy is getting a fourth movie. Not only will Lana Wachowski return to write and direct the fourth entry, but stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss will also reprise their roles as Neo and Trinity respectively.

Production on the fourth movie isn’t event set to begin until 2020, so naturally we don’t know what the movie’s plot or supporting cast will look like just yet. However, one particular piece of Matrix media might provide clues as to what direction the fourth movie will go in since its entire premise was based around a post-film trilogy Matrix world. I’m talking, of course, about developer Monolith Productions’ oft-forgotten Matrix MMO (massively multiplayer online) game The Matrix Online.

The article contains spoilers from the Matrix films, specifically The Matrix Revolutions

 A New Reality

Of all the ways the Wachowskis’ Matrix universe could have been reworked into video game form, there probably weren’t a lot of fans who imagined that Warner Bros. would settle on a large-scale MMO game. 2003’s Enter the Matrix was a serviceable action game, but it was also an entirely single-player affair (save for a hidden two-player fighting game that could only be accessed via a cheat menu). The same was also true of 2005’s tie-in game The Matrix: Path of Neo which offered players the power fantasy of becoming The One.

The Matrix Online, which launched as a subscription-based MMO in the same year as Path of Neo, deviated from Enter the Matrix and Path of Neo in two distinct ways. First and most obviously, it was an online multiplayer game meant to be inhabited by thousands of players simultaneously.

Second, it didn’t merely retread the same ground as the films but instead pushed the narrative forward, showing how factions like the human city of Zion and the villainous Machines continued to operate (and fight) beyond the events of the Matrix film trilogy.

In essence, The Matrix Online was a massive playable epilogue of sorts for the Matrix trilogy, and that was a hard prospect for existing Matrix fans to resist. By playing Monolith’s MMO, fans could explore a massive digital rendition of the Matrix universe’s Mega City and see how the film trilogy’s story continued, all while getting to interact directly with recognizable characters like Morpheus and The Merovingian.

Unlocking Your Potential

When a new player booted up The Matrix Online for the first time, they were prompted to create their character and even given the same blue pill/red pill choice Neo is given in the first Matrix film. Selecting the blue pill returns the player “to their former life” (i.e. quits out of the game), and taking the red pill “frees their mind” (i.e. logs them into the game).

Much like other MMO games, The Matrix Online also utilized a character class system, with each class having its own distinct abilities and combat specializations. The three main classes, Hackers, Coders, and Operatives, also had sub-classes which allowed players to further differentiate their characters. Operatives, for example, could become Martial Artists (close-range fighters), Gunmen (long-range fighters), or Spies (stealth specialists who utilized throwing knives).

You might imagine that co-opting the Matrix series’ distinct “bullet-time” brawls and shootouts would be a tricky prospect for an MMO game, but Monolith accomplished the task by essentially creating two unique gameplay systems in one: Free-Fire and Interlock. Free-Fire mode was used for gun battles, with players actively triggering abilities and gun shots using a global refresh timer. If a close-range player like a Martial Artist got within striking distance of an enemy, they could trigger an Interlock where the two engaged in a martial arts fight that utilized each combatant’s stats and abilities to determine the fight’s outcome.

Even though the Free-Flow and Interlock systems had their own distinct uses, they were designed to interact seamlessly with each other. There were no turn-based combat systems in The Matrix Online. All combat, whether it was a gun battle or a fist fight, happened in real-time.

Building the Future

Fist fights and shootouts were just one half of The Matrix Online’s allure. The other half was players getting to align themselves with different in-universe factions and push their chosen faction’s agenda by undertaking missions. Initially, players could sign up with one of three factions after completing a series of introductory missions:

  • Zion – The last bastion of humanity fighting back against the Machines who would see them enslaved within the Matrix’s construct.
  • The Machines – Sentient programs that keep humans in thrall using the Matrix so they can later harvest them for energy. Players could side with the Machines (and the Agents who represented them within the Matrix) as a way to hopefully build friendly relations between them and the citizens of Zion.
  • The Merovingian – An outlier faction that isn’t fully committed to either Zion or the Machines. Merovingian players would instead play both sides against each other while also looking after the interests of the Exiles who call the Matrix home.

As part of The Matrix Online’s live event-driven storyline, two sub-factions were also added into the game via a post-launch update: E Pluribus Neo (or EPN) and the Cypherites. E Pluribus Neo followed in the footsteps of The One and believed that the only true way to “win” the war against the Machines was to free all humans from the Matrix. The Cypherites, meanwhile, followed the philosophy of Cypher, the villainous operator from the first Matrix movie, believing that salvation could only be found by re-uploading back into the blissful ignorance the Matrix offered.

Unfortunately, both EPN and the Cypherites were later removed from The Matrix Online after Warner Bros. transferred the game’s development duties from Monolith to Sony Online Entertainment. The Matrix Online itself continued on for several years but was ultimately shut down in 2009 since it didn’t have enough active subscribers to turn a profit (the game had less than 500 active players at the time of its shutdown). The publication Giant Bomb chronicled the MMO’s final days in a video series titled “Not Like This” (referencing a line from the first movie) which can still be watched via this webpage.

Even though The Matrix Online has been mostly forgotten by the greater Matrix series fanbase, the MMO’s ongoing contributions to the Matrix world were officially sanctioned by the Wachowskis themselves. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to assume that elements of The Matrix Online could appear in the upcoming fourth Matrix movie, especially when considering the ultimate fate of Neo and Trinity

Writing a New Story

Since Neo sacrificed himself at the end of The Matrix Revolutions and was thus ultimately portrayed as a messianic martyr figure, having a faction like E Pluribus Neo in The Matrix Online was a logical direction to go in. There’s a chance that E Pluribus Neo could also appear in the fourth movie, especially since The Matrix Online established that the faction was led by none other than The Kid, the young man whom Neo saves in The Animatrix and who appears in The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions.

The fourth movie could very well involve E Pluribus Neo searching for a reborn version of The One only to discover that Neo has somehow managed to return. Another possibility might be that “Neo” and “Trinity” are somehow remade within the Matrix as constructs or programs (Trinity died in Revolutions as well), acting as guides for (or possibly enemies of) E Pluribus Neo.

No matter Neo’s and Trinity’s involvement, introducing a central conflict between E Pluribus Neo and the Cypherites would be an ideal way for bringing existing Matrix fans back into the fold since it would provide a convenient new conflict without retreading too much old ground from the film trilogy.

No matter the fourth Matrix film’s final plot or character involvement, those who played The Matrix Online while it was still operational should watch the upcoming movie closely. They might just see a few elements they recognize, even if they’re only referenced in passing or used as a catalyst for an even larger narrative development.