Monday, 12 March 2012

Look Back: Metroid Prime (Wii)

Metroid Prime, originally released in 2002 for the Gamecube, was re-released as part of the 2009 Prime Trilogy pack, combining all three games. This great value package updated the first two installments with the innovative motion controls utilised in Corruption, along with improved graphics. Three years on, I still think it is the best game I have ever played.

I had not played the original Gamecube version, nor had I ever played a Metroid game before, so this was my first exposure to the universe of the bounty hunter, Samus Aran. I was instantly enthralled by the games smooth controls, immersive story and amazing visuals.

We first join Samus, the intrepid bounty hunter, as she explores a damaged vessel belonging to the Space Pirates. These Pirates (who look nothing like the Long John Silver kind , nor the Somalian kind, of pirate) are technologically advanced and are the scurges of the galaxy. They also destroyed Samus' homeworld and parents, so the girl has a pretty big grudge to bear. Within the vessel, Samus finds evidence that the Pirates have discovered a new weapon and have revived Ridley, their leader, who Samus had destroyed in an earlier game. She pursues Ridley onto the nearby planet of Tallon IV, which has been devastated by Phazon, a mutagenic substance the pirates are mining. Samus must destroy the pirate operation and save the dying planet.

Perhaps not an original story, but the way it is told is wholly refreshing. There is no spoken dialogue and few cut scenes. Samus must discover what is happening herself, rather than being told and does so through exploration, such as scanning the hieroglyphs of the Chozo or hacking the logs of the Pirates. You spend most of the game with your scan visor activated, exploring the world to find this lore that provides clues for where to go and what to do. This scan visor also tells you about the various monsters you encounter but also about the peaceful organisms of Tallon IV. This information is well written, and does an excellent job at world-building. Retro Studios have designed a full, living, breathing world, and let you explore it freely. While progress is linear, you can visit regions freely and in a non-linear fashion. Spending the time to research and discover all these nuggets of information is rewarding. You care about the plight of the Chozo, as their downfall is revealed in bits and pieces. This extra information makes this games so immersive.

Metroid games are designed as a massive fetch quest. You explore this world for devices that will grant you access to new areas. Without these devices, progress is impossible. You also search for maguffins that improve your offensive capability (new weapons, missile expansions and life expansion). Collecting these items are difficult, but entertaining. From impressive and challenging boss fights, to solving puzzlies. Despite being an FPS (which was an original move for the Metroid franchise, and many were skeptical about it before release), Metroid is also a competant platformer with jumping challenges and Morph Ball tracks.

The gameplay never grows stale; one moment you are in a tense gun battle against alien monsters, the next you are carefully traversing platforms while your skill at control is tested, the next you are solving puzzles to obtain gear. Metroid Prime tests your mind, as well as your trigger finger.

On the Wii, the remote controls your targeting reticule and your view, while the nunchuk controls lateral movement. The rest of the buttons are used for the key tasks of jumping, shooting and locking on. Retro provided extensive control customisation, such as turning speed, and you can customise to your hearts content. Turning and targeting feels smooth and Metroid is one of the few good FPSs I've enjoyed on the Wii. I prefer the free aiming approach, as it feels more natural and challenging.

The visuals and graphics are stellar. The four zones you travel through are very distinct, filled with imaginative flora and fauna. The visuals are used to create immersion, which makes this game so good. While the HUD is standard, with health meter, radar and minimap, you also see the edges of Samus's helmet, when you emerge from water, droplets run down your visor, explosions cause samus' hand to cover your face, bright flashes reflect Samus' face in the visor, certain attacks create static in your vision. All these simple touches are just so immersive, they make you feel that you are in this suit, and are this person.

The game has one or two flaws. Being a fetch quest, you end up going back and forth across areas. You backtrack countless times, to pick up gear that you now have access to or missed earlier. To access the final region of the game, you have to collect twelve keys scattered across the map, causing you to search high and low, back and forth, for any little clue, and to be honest, this gets dull, especially if you are in a rush to experience new content. To make this worse, enemies respawn when you leave a room, meaning to go back you will have to fight through more and more monsters, which slows your progress. Although, to be fair, this back-tracking is a problem for any explorative type game, and if the monsters did not respawn, than this back tracking would be even duller.

Because of this back-tracking, you have to carefully plan your route, in order to save time. To do this you need to study the map, and some times the map is un-readable, especially the Tundra region, as trying to move the map around cause you to flick between higher and lower layers. It takes almost as long to navigate the map as it does to navigate the world itself.

However, these drawbacks detract little from the overall experience. It combines moments of high tension with calmer moments, and these are communicated with amazing music and sounds. The controls are engaging, the way the story is told is compelling, the gameplay is immersive and on top of that there is so much content. Prime took me 17 hours to complete, and I only completed 86% of the game, as I missed a few key scans and couldn't find some gear. Speed playthroughs still take 7 hours. This is a great game for OCD players who like to collect everything and provides hours of entertainment. This game is amazing.

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