Saturday, October 02, 2010

Review: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii)

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption was released in 2007 and marks the third and final entry in the Metroid Prime series (ignoring the Nintendo DS spin offs Metroid Prime: Hunters and Metroid Prime Pinball). Unlike its two predecesors this game didn't came out on the GameCube, but on its successor, the Nintendo Wii and large parts of the game design reflect this change in being build specifically around the Wiimote controller and its pointing and motion detection capabilities. The game also takes a more much story driven approach then its predecessor.

The game starts out with a short sequence showing the rebirth(?) of Dark Samus and switches then to to the regular Samus Aran waking up in her space ship on her route to the planet Norion. At this point the player takes control of Samus and can, via the Wii Remote, look around in the cockpit and interact with a few buttons and gadgets, allowing him to deploy a shield, engage the weapons or look at some game statistics. The game then requires the player to input a code via a virtual keypad and engage the docking sequence. After a short cutscene showing the docking with the G.F.S. Olympus, a Galactic Federation spaceship, Samus leaves her spaceship and the player takes control of her with the regular first person shooter controls.

On the G.F.S. Olympus the player can walk around and talk to crew members and have a sentence or two with them. Samus stays however complete silent in these situations, as she will for the rest of the game, but the NPCs are fully voiced. The dialog however still is based in its text origins and the player has to acknowledge each sentence spoken by pressing the A button. The dialog also doesn't go very deep and most talk is either about where you have to go or empty phrases like "I am on duty, I can't talk now". Overall the beginning of the game feels extremely similar to that of Doom 3, not only in the way one can interact with the crew, but also in a short scanning procedure that follows later on.

Once past the initial introductions, which also provided a few tutorial like opportunities to get familiar with the Wiimote controls, the game puts the player into a briefing room where he learns that an Aurora Unit has been stolen from the G.F.S Valhalla and used to hack into the federations network. The Aurora Units are large brain-like super computers that resemble the Mother Brain from the first Metroid and act as control units throughout Galactic Federation facilities. The job of the player and three other bounty hunters that join the fight is to clean the Aurora units of their infection. The briefing however is soon interrupted by a pirate attack after which the player has to fight his way back to his ship and land on the planet Norion to support the ground troops there.

On Norion the player learns that a Leviathan, a Phazon invested asteroid, is on collision course with the planet and in turn has to activate a few power generators to fire an orbital canon to destroy the Leviathan. This leads to a few encounters with the other bounty hunters and to one of the highlights of the game, where Samus fights against Ridley while falling down a generator shaft, being saved by one of the other bounty hunters in the end. With all the generators back online all bounty hunter head to the canon that shall destroy the Leviathan, but they all get knocked out by a surprise attack of Dark Samus. Samus manages to still activate the canon and destroy the Leviathan before falling unconscious.

After this point, that happens at around an hour or two of gameplay, the games story makes a sharp cut and jumps one month forward. Samus Aran wakes up in a medical bay and learns that she has been infected with Phazon. This infection in turn was utilized by the scientists to build a Phazon Enhancement Device device that allows Samus to shot a very powerful Phazon beam for a short amount of time, called Hypermode. Furthermore she learns that multiple Leviathans have hit other planets in the system. All the other bounty hunters, who also have been equipped with P.E.D., have already woken up earlier and send on a mission to destroy each of the Leviathans, but contact was lost shorty afterward. Samus mission now is to find out what happened to the other bounty hunter and to destroy the Leviathans. At this point the game turns from its heavily scripted gameplay of the first part of the game, that in part bear a close resemblance to the beginning of Halo: Combat Evolved, back to more traditional Metroid Prime style gameplay. A few cutscenes with dialog will still happen after this point, but they will be mostly limited to boss fights and dialogs with an Aurora Unit that gives hints on where the player has to go next.

The story thus continues with Samus Aran traveling to the planet Bryyo, an abandoned planet filled with lava and industrial constructions use to produce fuel. Here she has to deactivate a Space Pirate shield generator that protects the Leviathan and following that attack the and destroy the Leviathan from the inside by fighting the corrupted golem Mogenar. After clearing Bryyo the journey continues to the planet Elysia, a floating city in the sky previously inhabited by the Chozo, but now abandoned, leaving only a few robotic maintenance droids. The way to destroy the protective shields of the Leviathan on Elysia turns out to be the building of a nuclear bomb. After being done with Elysia the journey continues to the Pirate Homeworld, where the last Leviathan is destroyed by a united attack of Samus and a group of Galactic Federation Marines. The Leviathans guardian turns out to be Ridley. After short departure to the remains of the lost ship G.F.S Valhalla, where a few command codes to control a Leviathan are recovered, Samus along with a fleet of Galactic Federation ships makes it to the homeworld of Phazon, called Phaaze. Here the confronts Dark Samus again and finally destroys the planet.

The cutscenes in Metroid Prime 3: Corrupted, while more plentiful then in the previous two games, are not still fully convincingly implemented. The animation timing always looks incorrect with none of the presented movement ever looking realistic and even seeing Samus Aran's spaceships flying around seems to lack proper weight and acceleration. Some of the cutscenes are also just badly written. For example there is one where you enter a room, see a few space marines being attacked and two of them killed, before a third one activates his P.E.D. device to kill the pirates with a powerful blast. This cutscenes serves only to demonstrate to the player the effects of the P.E.D. device, before the player obtains it himself, while at the same time braking the immersion, as Samus is just stands around doing nothing while the pirates and marines fight. Another general issue is that after every fight sequence the marines will go to a 'stand against the wall' position, they look like your standard bored military guard, not like somebody that is right now actively involved in defending the base. It just looks ridiculous.

The games structures differs from other Metroid Prime games in that one is no longer limited to a single planet, instead the player can, via his ship, travel to different locations in the solar system or to different landing spots on the same planet. This freedom is almost unrestricted, with Norion, Elysia and Bryyo being accessible right from the start. This new freedom however comes at a price, the world in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption feels much more linear and less interconnected then in previous games. There are even quite a few points in the game where traveling to another point on the same planet via the ship is required. Thus instead of just having the ship as a faster way to get back to a previous location, it becomes a questionable item to let the player jump from one location to another, without providing a direct connection.

Just like in the previous two titles, this game also again features an item collection at the very end of the game that requires you to backtrack through previous locations. This backtracking comes in the form of energy cells that are needed to unlock pathways on the G.F.S. Vallhalla. Hints for the locations for the energy cells are again provided in the logbook, but unlike before one shouldn't have to much problems collecting all the required energy cells on a regular playthrough, so that backtracking is hardly ever necessary. The only exception to this is the G.F.S. Vallhalla itself, it is not immediately obvious that the ship only really becomes important at the very end up the game, so one will probably have visited it a few times before, just to run into a dead end.

The controls in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption differ noticeably from those in previous titles. The left analog stick is no longer used to turn the character, instead it is used in the classic WASD-style to strafe. Turning is handled by moving the Wiimote cursor to the edge of the screen, while moving the cursor around the center allows to aim. The threshold at which point your character goes from free aim to turning can be configured in three steps, with the largest one requiring almost to put the cursor out of the screen to begin turning. The lock on feature is still present in this game and can be used in combination with the aiming of the cursor to shoot enemies at specific spots, instead of just the center. This new ability is reflected in most of the enemy and especially the boss design, which always features a collection of weak spots, while the plain center remains invulnerable.

Jumping and shooting is handled just as before with the A and B button, while morphball and lockon is done via the C and Z keys on the nunchuck. The visor selection has been moved from the dpad to a pie-menu that can be triggered by holding the minus button. The visors present in this game are reduced to the regular scan visor, an x-ray visor, that works much the same as before, and a new ship visor, that however doesn't really visualize anything, instead it is just used a few times to call your ship to specific landing spots or call in air strikes. The plus button acts to activate the hypermode. With the plus and minus buttons already being used, access to the map, logbook and option menu has to be placed on the hard to reach 1 button. Pressing the 2 button will display a context sensitive help. Missiles are now shot by pressing down on the dpad, while the other directions on the dpad remain without functions. A weapon select is not present in this game, as the weapons no longer have different abilities, a weapon upgrade will simply replace the previous weapon and act for most part simply as a stronger version of what the previous weapon did. The ability to freeze enemies has been moved to an ice missile, just like in Metroid Fusion.

The map system in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption continues to have the same issue as in previous games, namely that different areas on the map will overlap in the 3D view, making it hard to decipher the map. A more structured 2D map view or better hints on the map are still missing, however due to the simplified level design these issues don't become as annoying as they did in the previous titles. The logbook is now back to a regular menu, leaving the misguided rotational menu of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes behind. Another welcome addition is the larger text area and the ability to smooth scroll through the text, instead of being limited to page flips. The ability to view the 3D models of creatures however seems to have disappeared.

Aside from the regular button based controls, the game also features some motion controls. The most basic one would be the jumping in morphball mode that is triggered by jamming the Wiimote upwards. Another motion control comes in the form of the grapple lasso, that is triggered by locking on a target jamming the nunchuk forward or, when already connected to a target, by pulling it backward. The grapple lasso is used to move items around or to rip shields or armor from enemies. While all of these motion controls have the typical issue of a rather large delay between the motion and the action on the screen, they mostly work with acceptable accuracy.

Where the motion controls however fail is in the minigames. These minigames are used to activate controls, open doors or to solve other minor puzzles and involve some simple sequences of actions such as pushing the Wiimote to the screen, rotating it and then pulling it back. The rotation is detected by the accelerometers and accurate. The push and pull however is done via the IR sensor on the Wiimote, and while that sensor is precise when it comes to pointing, it is much less precise when it comes to detecting distance. On top of that it is not immediately obviously that the push and pull actions require that the Wiimote is pointed precisely at the screen, thus it can often happen that a move won't be properly registered. This issue becomes even more problematic as the normal way of holding a Wiimote never leaves enough room for doing a push or pull that is large enough to properly register.

The game is however very forgiving in those minigames, never requires them to be done under time pressure and guided enough that things will often snap into place randomly before even having executed a gesture properly, so that it never becomes an issue of frustration. It however feels awkward when such a minigame pretty much solves itself, without the action on the screen really reflecting much of what the player did. In one minigame, near the end of the game which is used to activate a train, where one simply has to pull a lever up and then back down, the issue become so bad that I would go as far as to say that that minigame is just flat out broken. Not once did I managed to have the actions on the screen mirror of what happened with the Wiimote, random wiggle always seems to have just as much chance of success, which is weird as detecting the tilt of the Wiimote is something that actually should work technically just fine.

From a technical point of view, the graphics in this game are very similar to those in the previous games. The main difference being that they are now full 16:9 instead of 4:3 and that they have a glow filter applied to them. Where they however differ a good bit is in the use of color. While Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was mostly grays and a bit purple, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is full colors, even the suit got an colorful remake. Sometimes this amount of color gets a little to much, as the Wiimote cursor can become hard to see, but overall it is a nice game to look at and the frame rate remains high throughout the game. Aside from the improvements the new graphics however also have a downside. In the previous two games you had light effects on your beam and missiles, shooting a missile through a dark hallway would light it up in those parts where the projectile was traveling through. In this game those effects seem to be completely gone, the hallway stays dark. There are still light effects left when rolling around in the morphball however, but for missile and power beam they are gone.

Another big graphical difference with this game is that it is now full of open rooms. While the room like level design itself persists and your freedom is still just as limited as before, you have frequently a large panorama in the background that gives a good sense of scale. It also helps that those panoramas no longer suffer from the low texture resolution that they had in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.

Water sections in this game are completely absent, same goes for nature sections in general. The scenarios in this game are limited to a federation base, a federation spaceship, a pirate base, a sky city, an old lava filled temple and a small Phazon section. So you spend a lot of time in buildings and only very little time in natural caves.

One new feature in this game is how the unlocking of artworks, instead of having the galleries locked to things like finishing the game with 100% items or finishing it on a specific difficulty setting, you earn points throughout the game that act as currency with which you can unlock galleries. The earning of points is similar to the Xbox 360 achievement system, some points get earned by doing special things, other by regular game progression. Where that system however fails is with the 'friend vouchers', these are points that you can't use by itself, but that you have to exchange, via the network, with another person owning the game. What makes this problematic is that the game as no multilayer component, thus the only reason to go through all this 'friend' stuff is to unlock the vouchers, it really serves no other purpose at all. What makes this especially problematic is that you actually need those special friend vouchers to unlock a very large portion of the artworks, so no matter how many other points you collected, they stay completely useless unless you go through the friend setup and exchange procedure.

Another disappointing thing is that the game is still limited to three save games, on the Wii with more then plenty of internal storage thus an artificial limitation really shouldn't exists.

In terms of length the game is a bit shorter then the previous two Metroid Prime games, clocking in around 14 hours on a normal playthrough.

Overall it is a good game, but not a great one. The game certainly tries to make most of the Wiimote with its plenty of mini-games, but in the end, none of those really contribute much meaningful substance to the game and most of them barely function. The ability to enter your spaceship is a nice addition, but again it stays meaningless, as you really can't do anything inside your ship. The only motion control that actually works reasonably well is probably the grapple lasso, it works well enough to not malfunction all the time and does its job to get you a little more involved in the game.

The pointer based controls on the other side work reasonably well, especially with most of the games enemies build around the new precision aiming they are fun to play. I however wouldn't say that they work much better then a classic dual analog setup, having turning and aiming done via the same cursor just feels a little to awkward. And there are moments in the game where you go from a dialog scene back to the game just to find your character spinning around like crazy, as your cursor, invisible through the dialog, might no longer point at the center of the screen. This issue of course gets more problematic the more sensitive you configure your controls.

The story in this game mostly disappoints, while it certainly tries in terms of presentation, it never really delivers in terms of actual content. None of what happens elevates beyond bare bones video game story telling. And some issues such as killing the three other bounty hunters that you befriended at the beginning of the game are just completely glossed over.

The level design also feels like a bit of a downgrade from previous games, it is to linear and simplified, lacking the heavy interconnected nature that made Metroid Prime 2: Echoes so interesting. The addition of the spaceship doesn't help much either, as it breaks the game into even more non-connected pieces.

Where the game however wins is in accessibility, the addition of reset points before boss fights and a general downgrade in terms of difficulty, makes this an easily enjoyable game. It might not have the depths of its predecessors, but neither does it have the heavy potential to frustrate. It is simply a more streamlined experience overall, for all the good and bad that this brings.

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