Review by Alterwolf
"Hats off to Retro Studios, they've done Nintendo proud."
I personally didn't know what to expect when I heard that not only was the next-gen Metroid going to be a First-Person shooter, but that they had handed development off to an unknown American studio. A lot of gamers instantly wrote the developing game off.
I mean, First Person Shooter? Not in-house? What was Nintendo thinking? Nearly all the talk about the game was negative, from people complaining about how the new perspective would ruin the series, how the controls would suck, how much Retro Studios would bastardize one of the hardcore gamers' favorite series...
Thankfully the gaming community was dead wrong, and we couldn't be any happier about it.
First, let me say this right off. Prime is more of a First-Person Adventure game than a regular First-Person Shooter. You aren't going to need inhuman reflexes and aiming ability, Half-Life/Return To Castle Wolfenstein/etc. this is not.
Prime (obviously) places you in the shoes of the most badass blonde-in-an-ancient-power-suit in gaming. Prime takes place after the first Metroid and before the second (the Game Boy Metroid, which is the weakest offering of the series). Samus, after dispatching Mother Brain on planet Zebes, has traced the remaining Space Pirates to a space station in low orbit around plant Tallon IV, where they're conducting experiments with a radically powerful mutagen called Phazon, which was brought to the planet millennia ago by a meteor.
Thus, you blast things.
Now, the thing that people have been noticed most about Prime is the graphics. Make no mistake, Metroid Prime is beautiful. The environments, effects, models, everything is utterly top notch, totally blowing away everything currently out for the GameCube, and in my opinion everything currently out for the PS2 and X-Box. The best rain effects I've seen in any game leave drops on your visor when you look up at the sky, steam bursts leave condensation, water runs off when you come up from a dive, heat distortion comes from your blaster after a long firing spree, and so on. If there's an awesome environmental effect you can imagine it's there, and it all screams along at a rock solid 60 FPS that required my best efforts to stagger even a little bit.
Even better, Prime is one of the few games that supports Component Video and Progressive Scan TVs fully, meaning that graphics will go from amazing to utterly jaw dropping if you're lucky enough to have a good TV and the component video cables from Nintendo's website. Sadly, Nintendo's lack of support for more modern sound systems means you're stuck with Dolby Pro Logic II, but it's good enough.
It is somewhat of a shame that Nintendo went the cheap route for the GameCube's sound capabilities, because the music and sound in Metroid Prime scream for the ability to go through a THX sound system. The music is excellent, comprised of remixes of the old Metroid themes and some new tunes that're equally good. The sound effects are just as good, and give the visually impressive monsters, weapons, and environments the backing they need.
The controls are kind of a sticky issue for some people. You move with the directional stick, fire with the A button, fire missiles with Y, go into the ball mode with X, and jump with b. Holding R causes you to go into aiming mode, where you control the crosshairs with the directional stick. The L shoulder button causes you to lock on to the nearest enemy automatically, but the lock-on is a bit flakey, sometimes switching targets unexpectedly, and while it helpfully switches targets after you destroy one, sometimes it doesn't. Also, Prime desperately needs a quick turn, as it's very hard to get a bead on anything that ends up behind you, usually resulting in some really frustrating shots to the ass while you wait for Samus to turn around.
Prime probably could have benefited from a more 'Turok' style control set up, but Prime's demands for an easy way to change view modes and weapons dictates that Retro's control scheme is the best way to go. You can switch some of the buttons around however, since some people prefer switching the jump and fire buttons.
In game it may take you a half-hour or so to get the hang of things, but you'll be really comfortable jumping, firing, and using the ball form after the learning curve subsides.
The gameplay is pure Metroid through and through, being focused more on exploration and scouring the environment for powerups and new weapons than fighting 500 enemies at once in a non-stop blastathon orgy. You have a scan visor that lets you collect information on pretty much everything you can think of, from the local flora and fauna, to Chozo scriptures and logs from the Pirate computers. If you have no clue where to go or what to do in a room, turn on the scan visor and LOOK AROUND. There's plenty of backtracking, as in any Metroid game, but like all of the previous Metroids, it's made entertaining since you almost always have a new toy that lets you at new areas and items when you have to pass through an area again.
The action is tense, but not usually frantic. You'll be doing a lot of strafing and dodging while you scan for weaknesses and watch enemy attack patterns. You can't just shoot everything until it stops moving, and every boss usually requires a trick to defeat. Prime requires a bit more brain power than your average shooter. If you can't kill something, the scan visor is your friend.
All of this wraps together into an amazingly impressive package that'll remove any regrets you had about that GameCube purchase. It's well worth picking a Cube for too if you don't own one.
In short: It's good, but it.
+ One of the most visually impressive games to date, and it rips along at a constant 60FPS.
- Nothing really, besides the occasional frame-rate stutter, 99% of which you actually have to work for.
+ Awesome music and sound overall. I especially dig the title and save menu themes.
- The Gamecube's lack of support for more advanced audio output hurts the immersion factor a bit.
+ The controls are functional and don't have too steep of a learning curve.
- Sometimes the controls aren't as quick and responsive as you'd like them to be, and a lack of customization and a quick turn function hurts too.
+ If you're a fan of Metroid, you'll be absolutely in love with this game.
- If not, you'll still get quite a bit of fun out of it.
Replay Value: 8
+ Prime comes with some of the coolest bonus materials of any game ever, assuming you get Metroid Fusion too (which is also an awesome game)
- If not however, you can still go after the different endings. The coolest stuff requires Fusion and a GBA though.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/22/02, Updated 11/22/02
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