`Matrix` fans get bonus movie as Atari game debuts

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Game publisher Atari has a message for fans of the "Matrix" movies: there is a secret sequel out there.

It is locked away inside the biggest-budget video game ever.

Atari yesterday released "Enter the Matrix", the video game companion to "The Matrix Reloaded" movie opening on the same day.

The $50 game features a full two hours of new "Matrix" story, including an hour of footage shot on the film`s set with some of the film`s cast. The Wachowski brothers, who wrote and directed the trilogy of "Matrix" films, also wrote the dialogue and story for the video game.

"They treated this like the third movie," said David Perry, president of Shiny Entertainment, the Atari unit that developed the game for all console platforms and the PC, in an interview at the video game industry`s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles.

Atari CEO Bruno Bonnell told Reuters at E3 that the game cost more than $30 million, making it the most expensive game ever and one backed by the largest launch.

Atari, which recently changed its name from Infogrames, is betting big on the "Matrix", shipping 4 million units to retail stores around the world.

The game was not released to media until yesterday because of the secret film footage, so reviews remain scarce. Gaming magazines and Web sites that previewed the unfinished version have shown only restrained enthusiasm for the game, which features heavy action and combat.

"I am sure we are going to have mixed reviews," Bonnell said.

Since the 18 April announcement that the game was finished and ready to ship to retail, Atari`s stock has been on a run, gaining nearly 175%.

But Bonnell said that even if the game fails to meet expectations, it was only forecast to make up 15% to 17% of Atari`s fiscal-year revenue.

"Matrix is not saving anybody," he said. "If worse comes to worst, it is not going to put the company under."

Work has already begun on the next game, set for the 2004 holiday season, and Atari is also working on games based on the "Terminator" and "Mission: Impossible" movie franchises.

"Our clear intention is to set the standard [for] Hollywood-based games," Bonnell said.

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