"A Rush of Blood to the Head"

Metroid Prime isn't so much a first person shooter as it is an adventure game that happens to be in the first person perspective. Developed by US-based second party Retro Studies, the game is the first 3D entry in the series, and thankfully it retains the classic feel and formula that made its predecessors so grand. Metroid Prime is not the Halo wannabe with a poor controller that I feared it would be. Metroid Prime is simply the next enthralling exploration oriented adventure of Samus Aran.

The story picks up after the events of the first Metroid. After Samus' attack on Zebes, the dreaded insect-like Space Pirates had to split their remaining numbers into two groups: one to rebuild their base and another to continue research on ways to better defend themselves from the likes of Ms. Aran. Unfortunately for the Space Pirates, Samus discovers the research faction's location: a planet by the name of Tallon IV. The horrors awaiting our heroine on this abandoned planet are far worse than any puny pirating bug.

After the brief tutorial, you'll find yourself on the surface of Tallon IV. Here you'll encounter several enemies to test out Samus' sweet combat skills. Fighting the mutations and monstrosities is a breeze with the trusty lock-on tactics. Simply locking on to an enemy allows you to strafe your way out of harms way all the time. A perfect example of when this tactic is essential this sort of bull-like monster with spiky horns you encounter early. It would just love to ram right into your lovely chest (as would I, Samus!), so all you have to do is lock-on, antagonize it to force it to charge, then strafe your way to its behind and finally unload a dazzling array of beam attacks. Strafing and other advanced combat techniques become an integral part of the gameplay later when the enemies start become brutally fast and fully-loaded with projectile weapons.

To put the hurt on all the baddies littered throughout Tallon IV, Samus has an arsenal of beams. She starts out with the default Power Beam, which is a weak yet wicked fast. Later on she'll acquire more interesting weapons that sport unique abilities to add a sweet new flavor to combat. You can also combine these beams with the Charge power-up for amazing results. For example, the Wave Beam is instilled with the power of electricity. With the Charge item, you can hold down the attack button to unleash a devastating ray that will both brutally hurt your opponent as well as stun them temporarily. The Ice and Plasma Beams also sport cool abilities: encasing your foes in ice and disintegrating all that oppose you.

Missiles return once again as a quick attack that does a decent amount of damage; however, Metroid Prime adds an awesome new feature to the mix. Each beam weapon has a combination attack that will do tons of damage, but eat away a chunk of your missiles supply. This makes a sort of strategy for the game dealing with whether you'd rather conserve missiles or overpower your way through monsters and pray you find more ammo. But when it all comes together, combat is extremely fun and a blast. Imagine shoving your arm-cannon forward and blasting a bunch of giant hulking aliens running right towards. You quickly strafe out of the way and unleash a hail of hot plasma beam into their unguarded backs only to go blind due to green goo that slides down your visor. Now that's what I call awesome.

Samus now has access to several different visors for her Space Pirate ass kicking needs. First there's the basic Combat Visors that allows Samus to see everything with solely her eyes while attacking. Next there's the scan visor, which gives you information on your surroundings and enemies. Later on Samus will find the Thermal Visor. This little device registers any sources of heat or cold in the area and becomes a vital part of the game. Near the end, you'll acquire the X-Ray Visor, which gives you the ability to see through walls as well as spot some of the more hard-to-find invisible foes. Not only are they important for puzzles and some enemies, but they're an excellent excuse for the designers to add a few spine tingly pretty graphical effects.

But what really makes the combat so wicked cool is the remarkable control. When I glance over at my tiny GameCube controller next to my normal-sized hands (I‘m no basketball player), I wonder how I don't break the damn thing every time I play my console. Despite this, the controls fit remarkably well, and Retro Studies must be commended for it. It's all just so perfect: the layout, the quick response, the overall ease with every action. Even jumping is simple, and that's not common in a first-person game. In addition, I absolutely love the quick and easy method for switching between the visors and beams via the d-pad and c-analog stick to keep the action at a constant pace. Simply put, Metroid Prime's action is high-octane good fun.

It's just not a Metroid game without the Morph Ball, and thankfully that ability has come along with the transition to 3D. Retro Studios made a smart decision by implementing a third-person camera system specifically for when Samus rolls into a ball. The thought of rolling in first person is enough to make me feel queasy. It becomes a second natured task right when you first morph into that tiny ball and make your way into the first puny hole. Another returning feature is the Grapple Beam from Super Metroid. I was very pleasantly surprised to find how effortless and straightforward it is to utilize what used to be a somewhat problematic tool.

Of course, the developers have to make us use our noggin a bit by placing puzzles throughout the game. These puzzles aren't too difficult and include such tasks as blasting electricity into wires in order to activate a door, being sucked up by some nasty aliens as a means of getting to a ledge too high up to be jumped on, and blasting away some sort of debris to discover an item or newfound path. Unfortunately this is where one first see signs of Metroid Prime becoming pathetically easy. Back in the old days, gamers had to use our mind much more to figure out these puzzles, but with this game, you'll barely even have to think. Whenever you're trying to progress and hit a snag, like say a door that just won't open, Samus can just whip out her scan visor and obtain tidbits of information of objects in the room. After glancing around the walls and door, you'll notice the door can be scanned and then find out exactly what you needs to do in order to solve this puzzle. That's mighty lame, and I don't like it. Unfortunately this isn't the only aspect of the game that's too easy.

In the older Metroids, you could spend hours trying to figure out where the hell you were supposed to be going to progress the story. Metroid Prime, however, holds you hand by telling you where to go to find the next special item. While this feature can be toggled on or off, the fact that it's can make it too tempting to switch off. There's also the fact I didn't realize it could be turned off until there was 10 minutes of gameplay left (oops!). Retro Studios should have just ditched it entirely. Another problem is the overabundance of health you'll note that Samus will be packing. Enemies drop far too many healing items this time around making the entire game extremely easy. Energy Tanks to increase your health meter are also easier than ever to locate too. The game does offer a Hard Mode when you complete it, but the fact is you won't be experiencing the more competent difficulty setting when everything about the title is still new to you.

Despite this lack of challenge, Metroid Prime once again shines through with some of the best and most awe-inspiring environments I've ever witnessed in a video game. Each of the contrasting areas is gigantic and filled with stunning visuals that will leave a puddle of drool on the floor. You'll start on the Tallon Overworld lush with vegetation, waterfalls, and falling rain. Later you'll find the dusty and decrepit Chozo Ruins as well as the snowy and mountainous Phendrana Drifts. The enemies are also pretty damn cool ranging from petite thorny beetle creatures to the infamous Ridley with a newfound power and image. The title also sports amazing lighting effects, dazzling explosions, and tons of goo that'll find its way onto Samus' faceplate. The animations are smooth and fluid making the entire package one graphical accomplishment for the ages. There a few minor technical slipups though. Retro Studies tried keep gameplay seamless by having the game constantly load the next room, but then sometimes you'll be fighting a nasty Space Pirate only to find the entire game jerk a little due to it loading something. Other times you'll hit a door and have to wait up to 20 seconds before leaving the room. While the latter isn't really slowdown, it's still something not entirely positive either. Prospective buyers should note that the Player's Choice version is said to not lag as much.

Metroid music has always been more low-key and atmospheric. While for the most part this is true with Metroid Prime, some of the music is a tad odd for this kind of title. Certain areas have some funky beats that will just have you asking if you're really playing the same series. Fortunately for the most part you'll be hearing excellent music that makes for a fantastic mood to the area such as the primitive Magmoor Caverns theme or the soft and almost chilling track during the Phendrana Drifts. There are also a slew of awesome sound effects such as the shrieks and groans of the numerous baddies, the firing of Samus' many beams, and even a wailing noise that becomes louder as you near a collectable item, which was an awesome idea.

Metroid Prime's action is much more exciting than the past 2D games. In addition, the power of the GameCube allowed Retro Studies to create a stunning 15+ hour visual tour de force with atmosphere and environments you won't soon forget. The title even stays true to is much beloved roots by giving you enormous space to explore and find items. The only problem was that, like most sequels and further installments, Metroid Prime is easier than its predecessors. That's great for newcomers to the series, but when you've already thrashed Kraid, Ridley, and the Mother Brain, you want some new baddie to struggle against and curse at when it leaves you lifeless on the ground. You don't want to just breeze through the game like most Metroid veterans will here. I'm just glad Retro Studies agreed and made Metroid Prime 2 harder.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/25/06

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