Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Antagonists: Matrix Cubed

I've decided to start a series discussing antagonists in games, in order to detail the impact they had on the game and what made them great. Because RPGs are basically my favourite genre, and have some of the best antagonists around, I'm going to start with an old game I've mentioned previously: Matrix Cubed. In these series of posts, there will be significant spoilers, so if you haven't played the game and don't want the plot spoiled (though that's unlikely in this case) then tune out!

Matrix Cubed is a gold box game, a science fiction RPG in the reality of the hero Buck Rogers. This is the sequel to Countdown to Doomsday, where the organisation RAM (Russo-American Mercantile) attempted to build a giant laser and sieze control of the entire solar system. Your party destroyed the laser and saved the galaxy. Everyone lives happily ever after, right? Wrong.

That's right... Lasers.

Matrix Cubed picks up soon after that, and you're helping broker a treaty on behalf of NEO (New Earth Organisation) with the ruler of Mercury, when RAM assassins attempt to strike. From that point, you're drawn into a skirmish with RAM again, but this time a human supremacy group called PURGE becomes your new enemy as well.

You're soon approached by a scientist about a wonderful scientific device called the "Matrix Device" which can transmute elements, and seems to be the solution to the terrible pollution that is suffocating Earth. However, this scientist is kidnapped by the PURGE leader named Sid Refuge, and you attempt to get him back and have your first altercation with him.

Refuge... Sid Refuge.

He treats you obnoxiously unless you actively aid him, but a showdown soon ensues regardless. From this point onward, he and PURGE dog your every move, and even though you defeat him several times, he always manages to limp away from the battle somehow and return stronger.

Replacing his damaged body parts with cybernetic enhancements, he refuses to die and constantly hounds you and even manages to get all of the same information that you do. This would not fly in a modern game where you get to see your enemies die in "realistic" combat, but it worked wonders for developing PURGE and Sid Refuge as dire enemies despite the fact that you managed to thwart their plans in most cases.  But it was never quite enough to completely put them out of the picture.

The reason his "return" each time was not too jarring was because it was always noted very soon after the battle (if not immediately after) that Sid had escaped or otherwise could not be found. You thought you had been victorious, but then found he had got away yet again. It became a source of frustration but also expectation, because each time you had an increasing desire to be able to finish him off. Every move he made was more ruthless than the last, giving you more and more reasons to want to defeat him permanently.

This is why the final battle, where you defeated Sid Refuge one last time, and an NPC finally ensured his doom by trapping him inside the crucible chamber of the Matrix Device (reaching thousands of degrees in temperature) felt like such an achievement. An antagonist that had been frustrating you and maintaining an even footing through underhanded means despite you succeeding at any tasks placed before you provided a great sense of victory at the climax of the game.

The antagonist you cannot defeat permanently in your first battle is a foe that truly gives you satisfaction when you actually best them. Those that hound and taunt you as a result of your inability to defeat them just encourage your desire to win, and increase your enjoyment when you finally do.

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