Review by Slime Hunter

Reviewed: 06/09/04

The feel is definitely Metroid. The execution definitely isn't.

Behold, the long-awaited and much-praised Metroid Prime. With this game's release came cries of joy, growls of frustration, and a lot of overhype. The first is warranted, the second is understood, and the third is deceiving. However, once you pierce the stifling cloud of exaggeration that surrounds Metroid Prime, you find that the end result is predictably less than what most would have you believe, yet surprisingly more than a first look would suggest.

As with any Metroid game, the story revolves around Samus. She's a hunter clad in a metal suit that seems to harbor an interest in exploring unknown planets. Her suit serves many functions -- allowing her to shoot energy beams from a cannon attached to her right arm, roll up into a little ball so she can zip around and fit into tight places, and jump higher than she would normally be able to on her own. Upgrades for various things are scattered about the environment; ranging from wave beam cannons, to space jump boots, to increased health and missile capacity, and even the ability to plant small bombs while in morph ball mode.

All of this stuff is standard Metroid fare, so fans will be pleased to know that joining the traditional gameplay elements are the sounds found in earlier games. The little tune that plays once you find an upgrade is present as well as all of the blaster effects and explosions prevalent in Metroid's previous ilk. The soundtrack is also quite memorable, with a large spectrum of music -- from techno to rock to soft piano pieces -- woven together to create an immersive atmosphere worthy of any Metroid title.

Another part of this atmosphere is, of course, the world itself. The graphics in Metroid Prime are beautiful. Shiny surfaces, realistic holographs, lighting, shadows, particle effects, everything. It's all here. The explosions are pretty, things such as ice actually look like ice, fire looks like fire, each creature is unique from another in some way, and the entire scope of the game manages to retain its trademark open-ended nature despite the translation into 3D.

Unfortunately, these things are only part of the whole. As we wind down towards Metroid Prime's gameplay, our pretty little thing begins to really show its seams. To this effect, the free-wandering nature of the game winds up hurting it. Morrowind suffered from this and it stands to judgment that Metroid Prime suffers from this, as well.

The control scheme, for one, if functional at best. It works well in some situations while becoming extremely frustrating in others -- namely, the combat and platform jumping. Before we get to the platforming, let's touch on the first complaint...

Your view in Metroid Prime is restricted to first-person unless you're in morph ball mode. This means that you're looking through Samus' eyes and taking in all of the universe's sights through her visor. There are the standard HUD distractions that can be tweaked in the Options menu, but the main problem would be freedom of movement. Your vision is restricted to a 2D plane, meaning you can't look up or down without unnecessarily complicated controller gymnastics. The analog stick moves you around and allows you to turn from left to right, but you need to press the right shoulder button in order to "free look". This is agonizingly slow compared to the movement of many creatures and will lead to you being annihilated if you rely solely on this.

In order to remedy this problem, there's a lock-on feature implemented, as well. Press the left shoulder button in order to lock your vision onto a nearby target. This, as usual, creates problems when several enemies are close together, but the main flaw in this is that you will spontaneously lose your lock-on unless you keep moving around; allowing the target to remain in your vision. To do this, you'll often find yourself using both shoulder buttons at once, as well as moving about with the analog, shooting with A,, jumping with B, and flipping the C stick around in order to change weapons.

This struggle to maintain control of course means running into other enemies, falling off platforms, or hitting walls and cornering yourself. You see, Samus can't really look around freely and walk at the same time. Once you hit the right shoulder button, Samus stands still. The single analog used for moving becomes a means of maneuvering your vision. Lock-on takes care of this problem to some extent, but your vision is still restricted to your target. This means that you see nothing else besides that. If an enemy pops up behind you, you're going to get bounced. This has always been a problem with console first-person games and it is no different here. The PC set-up is much more convenient and realistic, allowing you to move with the standard WSAD configuration while swiveling your head in all directions with the mouse. It's as if the developers of Metroid Prime attempted to integrate some of these functions, mold them for controller use, and simultaneously attempt to stuff all of this into their "exploration" scheme. The result is a broken and clunky interface.

As if that wasn't enough, Metroid Prime involves lots of platform jumping. I don't care what you call this game, be it a first-person shooter or first-person adventure, it is a first-person game and platform jumping simply does not work with this medium; especially considering the restrictions thrust upon you by the poor controls. It was bad enough in Turok and it's even worse here. You will misjudge distance a lot and wind up falling from high places only to have to re-do some sort of puzzle and start all over again. As another reviewer has said, Metroid Prime could have done without the needlessly excessive platforming. It worked in 2D, but it doesn't work in 3D first-person games like this.

Notice I've mentioned "adventure" a few times during the course of this review. Retro Studios insists that this game isn't a shooter, but instead an adventure game set in a first-person view. Whether this actually means that it's what they say, or if it's just an excuse to brush off criticisms about the endless backtracking and tedious "exploration", is up to you. I think it's a bit of both, really. They attempted to fuse Metroid elements into a 3D environment, but many things just flat-out didn't mesh very well. As a result, they and many others parrot off "it's not a first-person shooter!" in order to try and automatically "dismiss" any criticisms about poor execution. That is an overused cop-out. What once was an interesting term is now an excuse.

In any case, one example of things not meshing well would be the aforementioned exploration. It was a large part of previous games and it has been brought over here. In earlier Metroid installments, you meandered about and found hidden places by means of scavenging about the landscape in a 2D fashion. In Metroid Prime, there's different visors available for use. Tap a direction on the d-pad in order to switch between them on the fly. One of these visors is a scanning device. The game encourages you to scan often, as this feature allows you to search your environment for information or to activate certain things like lifts.

This can grow to be a very tiring process as you wander around a large room and comb every nook and cranny for the red or orange squares utilized for scanning. No, you can't scan whatever you want. You can only scan pre-determined points of interest. Red squares are integral parts of your adventure, as they give you extremely important information, and orange squares are there seemingly for either puzzle hints or simple effect; sometimes as a means of supplying additional information about the world you're in or to tell you about random things that are sprinkled about in order to make the atmosphere seem legitimate.

If you wish, you can also scan the various wildlife that inhabits the planet. Plants, natural formations, creatures, bosses, and other things are there for you to discover and investigate. This activity can be dangerous, especially regarding the creatures. Imagine having a large beast chase after you as you attempt to scan it; wrestling with the shoddy controls and growing more and more bored by the second with this repetitive exercise. The whole scanning business can wear thin very, very quickly.

Despite that, however, I found much of the knowledge harvested from red squares to be interesting -- bosses not included. The Chozo Lore and Space Pirate logs made for an addicting read. Even the otherwise boring descriptions scanned from plants and creatures are filled with scientific information about their bodies, eating habits, attacks, and so forth. Despite how shallow the results of your scanning may seem, little things like this only serve to flesh out the Metroid Prime world and make it seem alive. Reading about the Space Pirates' genetic testing or the ancient Chozo transcripts and teachings gives you the sense that this planet has been here for a while and that the beginning of the game for you was just another day in the life of Samus Aran.

So, as we reach our conclusion, I suppose I could sum up Metroid Prime with the description of "challenging, but only slightly rewarding". After a while, all of the aggravation to be found with the gameplay -- the scanning, the backtracking, the combat, the platforming, the sense of stifling restriction that this all brings -- begins to grind on your nerves more and more until the graphics, sound, and music become completely superficial; taking a backseat to the smoldering ashes of disappointment that settle in your stomach.

At the end of the day, Metroid Prime is a game that you will either love or hate. It's a big world with pretty(if somewhat repetitive) environments, convincing creature design, wonderful music, and immersive sound. Unfortunately, the slick, open-ended gameplay of previous Metroid installments mixes with this 3D execution like oil and water. There's some fun to be had with Metroid Prime, but it's best to be mindful of what you're getting into.

Give it a rental and try it out. If you're disappointed with this, then at least you didn't buy it. If you wind up loving it, then your money was well spent. Casual players and fans of Metroid beware -- Metroid Prime is a mixed bag of good and bad that's easy to like and easy to hate. 7/10.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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