Electronic Entertainment: Metroid Prime 3 Corruption
First-person action adventure. Developed by Retro Studios. The conclusion of the Metroid Prime trilogy.
Press 1 for logbook.
A lone bounty hunter travels the stars on an epic quest to rid the galaxy of the greatest threat it has ever faced. Her journey takes her to the husks of battle ravaged star ships, to serene mining platforms suspended in the clouds on which she is the only living thing and to asteroids in which everything around her, from the floors to the doors, is very much, alive. She analyses the remains of a once great civilisation looking for a way to reactivate the technology they left behind and gradually starts to understand the planet’s past.
Then obnoxious battle music starts up and it’s time for an interminable neon laser fight with shrieking reptiles sporting jet packs and glowing energy shields.
This is the big problem with Metroid Prime 3, it doesn’t seem to know what kind of game it wants to be and so tries to be a bit of everything. As a result we get puzzles that aren’t necessarily challenging and shooting sections that just feel like they’re getting in the way of the atmospheric space adventure game that the game tries to be for the majority of its run time.
“Be the Bounty Hunter” reads the back of the box and this promise is actually well realised. Directing your ship using your visor gives you a feeling of control even if all you’re doing is selecting the command visor and holding R. Fiddling about with the controls of the ship is utterly pointless but charming all the same. The map is a wire-frame nightmare but this lack of user friendliness actually really adds to the sense of immersion. It doesn’t feel like your hand is being held, you’re playing the role of a mercenary dropped into unknown territory by a hopeless military, your map doesn’t have the path-finding technology that Google searches include as standard, so it’s up to you to orientate yourself the old fashioned way.
The team clearly put some thought into the backstories of the planets you visit. Scanning things with the visor brings up some convincingly formal descriptions of the target that gives some idea what it’s meant to be for in the case of inanimate objects and a rundown of strengths and weaknesses in the case of enemies. Certain items contain lore entries that Samus can download. These provide a change to the clinical tone of the normal entries and are generally quite interesting if ultimately inconsequential to the main plot. On the whole the world building is pretty good although it is very much a case of telling rather than showing. For example there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a relationship between what the smaller rooms look like and very technical names given on the map. The control panels and statues of mining control B look an awful lot like the statues and control panels of bio-processing room A.
My personal highlight is Elysia, the aforementioned minning platform, motionless except for maintenance droids and laughably ineffectual security robots. This affords you the chance to scan and take in the world and work your way through the gently taxing puzzle of navigating the environment more or less undisturbed. One section in particular where you explore an abandoned lab littered with dead space pirates, clearly a scene of utter chaos not too long ago is quite tense, but this is undermined by the knowledge that despite the game’s reasonable attempt to create disturbing environments and enemies (like the living asteroid I mentioned earlier) all of this foreshadowing will inevitably lead to a loud drawn out laser fight.
That the fights are loud and disrupt the otherwise quiet gameplay isn’t the only problem with them. The control scheme doesn’t suit the type of combat featured in the game. Every enemy requires a prolonged series of hits to be taken down, enemy health seems to correlate with the increasing power of you weapons so each encounter in a new area takes roughly the same time throughout the course of the game. You can charge your beam to deliver a more powerful attack by holding A, the attack button, which means that Samus’ advanced Chozo arm cannon has no autofire function. To be effective in combat you have to rapidly hammer the A button. Remember the gym in No More Heroes where you increased your strength by button bashing and that was all there was to the mini game because the developers knew that that on its own was challenge enough? Or in Shadow of Mordor where the game simulates the challenge and panic of fighting off a beast that’s jumped on top of you and is going for your throat by asking you to repeatedly press a particular button? In Metroid this activity is part of standard operating procedures. Erode the A button, circle strafe, missile something occasionally, yank off that guy’s shield. That’s your lot. You can turn into the morph ball but it is too slow to actually evade shots so it’s no use. The motion controls only add to the problem unfortunately. Keeping the target on the enemy (especially one that’s far away) whilst constantly pressing A and in the process moving the remote is frustrating. In addition the distortion effects, lights and particle effects that come with gun fire can occasionally make it hard to see what’s going on.
Motion controls are good for the broad strokes. Swiping the remote in the direction of a new enemy with the speed of the motion reflecting how quickly you want the reticle to move is arguably much more natural than varying the extent to which you move an analogue. It’s well suited to quick draw moments, as occasionally deployed here by floating orb enemies who move in a formation and are only vulnerable when they turn red. It worked in Red Steel 2 and Resi 4 where ammo was relatively precious and so every shot that hit had a discernible impact. Further in defense of analogues and mice, with those controls the screen didn’t suddenly lurch around because you lowered the controller in a lapse of focus. “Be the bounty hunter” and feel her pain of never being able to truly relax her right arm. Motion controls just aren’t suited to the sustained fire that’s constantly required here.
Motion controls rear their ugly heads outside of combat as well. Every once in a while you’ll encounter levers that you operate by mimicking Samus’ motions with the Wii-mote. The calibration always seems a bit off for these sections so they take you out of the moment rather than pulling you in it. Equally inserting and removing the power cells that are the basis of a somewhat frustrating fetch quest later on in the game has a floaty quality that makes the whole thing kind of ridiculous.
There are often times when it’s unclear what it is you’re supposed to be doing in combat sections and in particular in set pieces. One sequence sticks out in particular in which you fight space pirates in a room with a laser that periodically starts sucking in everything around it. You have to resist this suction while taking the opportunity to take out distracted pirates. I was ready to praise this section, at first, but by the fourth attempt at trying to understand what I was meant to do in between fighting the same enemies in a cramped space my wrist was killing me and I was tired of the whole idea. Early on you’re given the phazon enhanced suit (PED) which augments your abilities with the power of phazon which is also the deadly menace you’re trying to eradicate. This is the basis of hyper mode, the new feature of the game. In hyper mode you can fire phazon beams that can damage otherwise invincible hyper mode enemies and everything looks like you’ve set up the colour setting for your television incorrectly. If you spend too long or maybe not long enough (as I said, confusing) in hypermode you enter some kind of overload state where you have to vent excess phazon by rapidly firing your beam (hello carpel tunnel my old friend). On Samus’ ship there’s a scanner which tells you your level of corruption but having finished the game I’m not sure if that made a difference. I used hypermode sparingly but it still built up over time so what was the point? Could I have been having a whale of a time unloading my white hot blasts onto people, yes I’m talking about lasers why do you ask, the whole way through the game to get the same result. On that subject <slight spoilers> in the very last section of the game the game pulls a Half-Life 2 on you when <slight Half-Life 2 spoilers> you’re stripped of all the equipment you’ve built up and permanently locked into hypermode. This again made me wonder what the point of collecting ten times as many missiles as I could ever need and all those energy tanks was?
This sense of confusion carries over to the story at times. I know villain monologues are a bit stagy but Samus’ frequent games of charades with the equally silent Dark Samus are just confusing. However outside of these two it’s nice to see a fully voiced Nintendo game for a change. According to IMDb the game features a pre-age-of-Troy-Baker Troy Baker as various soldiers! One of the characters you interact with a lot is Aurora Unit 242 played by Lainie Frasier who does a fine job conveying a robotic and slightly otherworldly voice without going full monotone. It’s a shame then that the dialogue is quite predictable, as well as being stuck having to use silly pulpy names like Space Pirates and Dark Samus to describe the “very serious” antagonists of a story that wants to come across as “very serious”. There’s a couple of real clunkers in there too such as “for any information about the pirates and their master plan”.
Early on you’re introduced to three fellow hunters who Samus is initially allies with until Dark Samus’s ghost (or something) turns them to the dark side using interpretive dance (I think). There’s Frozone the cool dude (my reveiw notes jokingly call him that and to be honest there’s little reason to look up his actual name, it’s probably Tumolk or something). Ghor is a cyborg who seems quite gentle out of his suit of power armour but becomes much more aggresive when he plugs into it. You defeat this potentially interesting character by bombing his robot balls. Then there’s Gandrayada the girl of the gang who’s bright pink and has much less obstructive armor because original thoughts are hard sometimes. She’s a shape shifter, a trait which is used once to good effect but maybe could have been made more of. In practice a lot of the main plot is delivered by Aurora 242 skyping you to tell you that something’s happened or some scan has picked up useful equipment or news in that vein which isn’t the most natural way of progressing the story. New task open up not because of your actions but because you completed the likely unrelated previous ones.
There’s elements of a good game in Metroid Prime 3, but these exploration and puzzle sections have been corrupted (see what I did there?) by sub-par shooting and a formulaic plot.
At the moment my plan is to review a few more games then sit down and retroactively add scores to them once I feel I’ve got some idea of a hierarchy.
Bonus Round: Steam World Dig, Linear Storytellling, Convenience and Silent Protagonists
I often found myself thinking of Steam World Dig while playing. Without going into detail, the convenient sequence of upgrades that allows you to access new areas, a metroidvania standard, was poked fun at and deconstructed throughout that game making it hard to take seriously here. The lore entries I mentioned in the main text are also all arranged so that you discover them more or less in chronological order which is both a bit contrived and perhaps a wasted opportunity. Since many of them are quite dramatic and chart a great change or downfall of a civilisation there may have been scope for some non-linear storytelling. This could either have been done by arranging them so that you discover sections of the story in an order which has been carefully chosen to engage as much as possible or in a Her Story style where the order you discover the fragments depends on how you go about exploring the environment. The standard game attitude that change in general is always good (which is in stark contrast to the attitude of many self described gamers. You know the ones I’m talking about) and that if you can do something you definitely should makes Samus at times seem like an incredibly lucky simpleton who is as big a threat to herself as she is to her enemies. This really comes to the fore on Elysia where you’ll break railings and support structures safe in the ridiculous gaming logic that they’ll all align in a way that will let you get back to your ship instead of simply falling hundreds of feet to the planet surface below. In one section you need to press a button that lowers the force-fields keeping captured metroids in their cells to progress. Samus doesn’t speak leaving us to assume that she’s ludicrously indifferent to releasing a swarm of some of her greatest enemies on the hunch that this will let her access the next room. The series experimented with a fully voiced protagonist in the more recent Metroid Other M. Were it not for the pile of other distractions I have at the moment I’d be very curious if this approach, which was much derided at the time, addressed this sort of thing.