E3 07: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption Preview

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption has a lot to prove. It's supposed to be the first game to really nail first person shooter controls with the console's motion-sensing remote. It's supposed to push the system's graphics hardware. It's supposed to show that "hardcore" games can be done on the Wii.

Does it do all of these things? Does it do any of them? Based on my time with the game behind closed doors at E3, my suspicion is that it will achieve all three.

First and foremost, the controls are excellent. As previously reported, Metroid Prime 3 has three sensitivity settings offering varying levels of control. At the bottom end, the game uses a large "bounding box" for aiming, which makes it fairly easy to aim but makes for rather deliberate turning. In Advanced mode, the camera moves even with relatively little movement of the reticule, making it closest to PC-style controls. In the end, however, it is not the basic design of the aiming controls so much as their top-notch execution that makes Metroid Prime 3's implementation so much better than that of previous efforts such as Red Steel or Call of Duty 3. Turning and aiming with the Wii remote and nunchuk simply feels great and, unfortunately uncommonly in Wii action games, remarkably natural.

On their own, without using the enemy lock mechanism seen in the other Prime games, Prime 3's basic aiming controls already work extremely well. The inclusion of locking, however, keeps the game feeling like Metroid rather than straying too far into twitch FPS territory. Even better, by default Advanced mode switches on a free aiming option that keeps the camera locked onto the targeted enemy while allowing the aiming reticule itself to be pointed anywhere on the screen. This can be toggled on or off in any sensitivity level, and is a well thought out addition to the series. Using the free aiming option you can, for example, stay locked onto a boss for easy strafing and continued visibility while still manually targeting his smaller minions or projectiles.

Switching visors by holding down the minus button and gesturing at the desired visor works much better than it might sound, and can be performed in a split second. There are new visors in addition to the standard combat visor and scan visor, such as the infrared night vision visor, used to make your way through dark areas. In a welcome change, Samus' weapons now stack as in Super Metroid, rather than remaining separate armaments as in the previous Prime titles. The only element that I did not find to be extremely smoothly integrated in terms of controls is the missiles, which are fired by pressing down on the remote's d-pad--having constant easy access to missiles requires holding the remote slightly higher than usual. Finally, in a nice touch, Samus can jump in morph ball form simply by flicking the remote up. This allows for easy bomb jumping; just jump up, lay a bomb, and jump up again at the appropriate time, without the need to carefully time multiple bomb explosions.

Just as seemed to be the case with many GameCube games, even the better looking Wii games do not seem particularly photogenic--of course, there have been sadly few Wii games that look good enough in motion to even make such comparisons worthwhile. Fortunately, Metroid Prime 3 breaks the trend, and indeed looks far better in real-time than in its official screenshots, most of which have been bafflingly blurry. The game is unquestionably a marked step up visually from its GameCube predecessors and, even more importantly given the drop-dead gorgeous art design of Prime 1, seems to be a glorious return to form from an artistic standpoint after Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. At several points during the playable demo, parts of which took place on craggy isolated plateaus in the midst of a sprawling alien world, I felt compelled to simply stand still and look around for a moment before continuing on my way, prompting my Nintendo rep to ask if I was stuck.

Gorgeous touches abound on both small and large scales. Skyboxes are beautiful eruptions of unearthly color, serving as an excellent backdrop for sequences such as grappling beam rollercoaster rides. Character models are clearly using more polygons and higher-resolution textures, leading to a cleaner look overall. When using the slightly darker scan visor, Samus' face becomes lightly visible in reflection, highlighting the inherent solitude so crucial to the affecting atmosphere of Metroid games.

Of course, a relatively brief demo does not allow for a detailed judgment on finer points of game design, particularly with a franchise so intricately constructed as Metroid. Retro Studios designers have noted that the game has less extraneous backtracking and tighter overall balance than Echoes, which received criticism for over-design in some areas, so hopefully the overall game reflects these apparent changes. From a basic mechanical standpoint, however, it seems clear that Retro has managed to completely nail the elements that have proven so difficult for most Wii developers: the controls, and the graphics. Given the masterpiece that was Metroid Prime, it is little surprise that Retro would be the studio to pull it off, but it admittedly comes as a relief nonetheless. Bring on August 27. Let us hope other developers take notice and learn.

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