Review by Jer
"Not just upholds, but refines the series."
The game Metroid fans have waited nearly a decade for has arrived. Despite the mass speculation over the viability of a first person perspective, developer retro studios has created a masterpiece.
Metroid Prime retains what made the originals so great, namely their immersiveness and feeling of being alone in a less than friendly environment. Few other games compare to the level of detail used to bring you into samus aran's world. Examples such as raindrops splashing off the visor and extended weapon arm, explosions that create glare in samus' visor, showing a flash of her eyes darting around seeking targets, and the ridiculously detailed indoor environments. More than once I found myself flinching to the left or right from enemy hits, it's THAT immersive.
The game further draws you in with the use of the scanning visor, a tool that lets you read computer screens, learn about environment elements, and enemy biology even. Scanning is a revolutionary addition to the game, letting you choose as much or as little side story progression as you wish. Those who want to get to blasting enemies can ignore most of the scanning(some is needed to open doors/elevators), while those wanting to learn more can spend hours doing so. There are three other visors. The combat visor is the typical view which gives energy, missiles, threat assessment information, etc. The thermal visor is the typical heat sensing view, but is used in several new creative ways. Finally the Xray visor shows hidden areas much like its use in Super Metroid.
Having played through this game I can not only applaud retro studios for the first person decision, but it makes me wonder how the game could have worked without it! Even platform jumping, something many first and even third person 3D games cannot get right, feels natural here. There are minimal incidences of missing platforms or running off the edge of things, and when it does happen you know it was your fault for badly placed jumping, not due to the viewpoint.
Aside from the game's environment, gameplay is top notch. The puzzles and secrets always give you a feeling of accomplishment, and never seem out of place. Combat is not the FPS type some would associate with the game's point of view, but uses a lock on system to streamline combat. The lock-on feature keeps you spending more time evading enemy fire and planning strategy, and less time getting the aiming just right. That said, the most difficult bosses or enemies come into play when lock on becomes unavailable. The bosses require strategy and for most gamers, will take more than a few tries to get past. It rides the line of balance that few games can find, where things are challenging but never overwhelming.
The controls will take a bit for most people to get used to. Having the lock-on as a substitute for free look is awkward at first, but becomes natural. Accessing the many visors, weapons, and commands is made simple. the C-stick selects weapons, and the directional pad selects visors. The control setup is so that despite the plethora of options, everything is easily accessible at the touch of a button. The lock-on works very well but with multiple enemies onscreen it can sometimes take a little haggling to target the one you want. This is made a very minor point in a game that has so much positive going for it.
The usual metroid gadgets make their appearance, the morph ball, the wave beam, the grapple beam, etc. The visors are the main new element for use in the game, but due to the new perspective all the old standbys we know from Metroid and Super Metroid feel new again. Every time you find some new ability, it's a thrill to go back over the old areas and be able to reach areas you'd seen, but just couldn't seem to get to before.
The game world is huge. You could easily spend 20+hours exploring the many varied landscapes. The environments stay interesting despite fundamentally not being anything new. There's the typical lava, snow, and jungle levels, but its the exploration involved that makes them seem fresh and new.
Metroid Prime's graphics are exceptional. While it may not feature some of the fancier effects like bump-mapping or volumetric shading, it does have something more important, a firm 60 frames per second framerate, and no geometry pop-up or fog to hide pop-up. As stated before there's never a bare area in Prime. Walls of indoor locations reach out to you with tendrils of piping, cords and machines that while ultimately useless, go a long way for believability of the environments. The enemy designs are great as well. It contains many of the old enemies newly modeled in 3d, along with new unique enemies.
The music is great as well. Lonely caverns have ambient sounds, while more intense combat scenes play more intense beats. You'd never know the game was done in a MIDI system, since the sound quality is up there with recorded themes in other games. Because they used MIDI it allows for on the fly modulation of the music and tempo to go along with what's happening in-game. When those four space pirates jump out at you from the cieling, the music can change from a light foreboding sound to an intense techno beat in a moment. Remixes and suggestions of older metroid themes abound, and will bring nostalgic feelings to older gamers.
Metroid Prime comes with every recommendation. Short of motion sickness caused by a first person viewpoint, there's no reason for not buying this game. It even includes bonus concept art galleries for percentage of items scanned and other bonuses for linking up with Metroid Fusion, the GBA game. If you had to look for some things to not like about Metroid Prime, the lock-on system doesn't always choose the best target, and it could be disapointing to those looking for an action type of shooter game. Metroid is all about exploration and adventuring, come into it expecting that and you will love it.
Not only a great first effort by Retro Studios, Metroid Prime is one of the best games ever created.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/22/02, Updated 11/24/02
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