Metroid Prime 3: Corruption Review

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is the stunning culmination of Retro Studios' legendary series. Prime's first (and last) outing on Wii is indicative of a developer that has refined and honed its craftsmanship and design sense, even after its debut effort quickly became one of the most respected games of all time. Never before have we seen a Metroid game with a larger variety of gameplay, a greater sense of inhabiting the iconic power suit of bounty huntress Samus Aran, or a fuller context for the universe in which Samus fights.

Inevitably, Prime 3 cannot impart upon us the same brain-crushing sense of wonder that the unexpected Prime did at the time of its release; such is the nature of this type of sequel. What it can and does do--and, with a couple notable exceptions, what its immediate predecessor perhaps failed to do as much as it should have--is deliver what we now expect from Prime, but then shake things up and ask, "Ah, but did you expect this?"

The original Metroid Prime set a new high bar for exploration-based, atmospheric first person shooters--or first person adventures, as its developers often remind us--while simultaneously reinterpreting the gameplay of its predecessors in a 3D context. Nintendo and its developers have managed to do this no fewer than three groundbreaking times with its various franchises, but Metroid occupies a unique place in the company's pantheon, with its solitary, almost melancholic old-school sci-fi aesthetic and enigmatic but rich world.

Series devotees will be relieved to know that the bulk of the game consists of the nonlinear exploration format established in the original Metroid and first exemplified by Super Metroid. Sent on a critical mission by the Galactic Federation, Samus traverses numerous environments, each of startlingly disparate and aesthetically magnificient design, gaining new abilities and opening up the world more and more.

In a clever move, however, Retro has bookended that classically Metroid gameplay with a relatively linear and conventional shooter segment to introduce the gamer to the Wii controls at the beginning, and a much more organic blend of narrative and gameplay that serves to tie up the game, the series, and the gameplay mechanic that gives Corruption its subtitle at the end.

Though well-intentioned and generally well-conceived, the brief opening segment, which sees Samus battling her way off of a besieged Federation station, is the one major area of the game that falls short from a presentational standpoint. The stilted NPC-heavy cutscenes feel like new ground for Retro, and the fairly uninspired brushed-metal spacecraft interiors aren't done any favors by the Wii hardware.

That said, it is an appropriately high-action sequence that serves to quickly acclimate players to the pointer-based controls and to Samus' already considerable powers--unusually for the series, she begins with several abilities on which to build, rather than starting from scratch. It also sets up the game's premise to the point that those who have missed out on either Prime installment should not feel lacking. The sequence is still peppered with brilliant moments, such as manipulating Samus' ship from within the cockpit, a great way to one-up the signature visor view that is such a crucial part of the series' identity.

So with the hit-and-miss opener out of the way, get ready for the great stuff, otherwise known as "everything else."

One of the main goals of the opening sequence was doubtless to give players a straightforward stretch of gameplay to learn the controls. Other first person Wii developers, take note: Retro has set the bar, and your games will be judged against this one. On the "Advanced" setting, which most readers of this site are advised to use, movement and aiming with the Wii remote is fluid and natural.

It takes a fair amount of time to use it with great skill, but a basic competency is gained very quickly. Gone is the wild flailing of games such as Red Steel. The controls retain Prime's ability to lock the camera onto an enemy, but also allow the player to point the reticule independently. This inventive optional mechanic bridges old and new, adding a great deal of elegance to the controls without sacrificing the practical convenience of locking on.

Prime 3's core gameplay avoids treading too far into full-on shooter territory, but not because the controls are incapable of it. Rather, it is because of a fundamental series convention of Samus' firearm: its delay. The non-instantaneous nature of her beam weapons means that it is still more advantageous to dash from position to position rather than engage in frenetic Quake-style circle strafing (although, for what it's worth, circle strafing is now possible even without a lock).

For this reason, the pointer-based controls are actually more of a joy for the movement aspect than the aiming. It simply feels right to walk into a new area and guide Samus' field of vision up and around in that natural way. Everyone who has played Prime can relate to the experience of coming to a new location and involuntarily taking a step back to soak it all in, and Corruption provides a better interface to do so.

That's not to say Prime 3 doesn't hit you with a burst of intense FPS action from time to time. The game's titular Corruption mechanic, which sees Samus consume health to enter her powerful Hyper Mode, gives her a faster-firing weapon allowing more sharpshooting from the hip. Abuse of Hyper Mode can be fatal, and the game does an excellent job of making its use essential while also ensuring you become genuinely proficient with it rather than abusing it.

This interplay between first person adventure and shooter is one of the game's defining characteristics, and it is a testament to Retro's designers that it never feels incoherent or shoehorned. One starts to wonder what the studio could do with a full-on original FPS, as even Corruption's nods to traditional FPS eclipse what other full games in the genre have achieved on Wii.

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Of course, we already know Retro can create gorgeous worlds, and here Corruption does not disappoint. After the visually conventional space station, Samus travels to the first of several new intergalactic locales. From there, the sense of wonder and discovery never lets up.

It is a magnificent return to form for the series; Retro's art team reinforces its position among the best in the industry. Locations simply ooze atmosphere and personality--and, despite what the game's dialogue-heavy trailers might lead you to believe, environment and tone are rightly the most present characters here.

Every world, every environment, every room is convincing, and the reams of information to be gleaned by scanning drives it all home. There is more exposition than in any other Prime game--delivered mainly via cutscenes at the beginning of the game, and transmission voiceover during the rest--but Retro deftly retains the haunting sense of isolation the series has always exuded. Crumbled mechanical statues have lain dormant for millennia; communication beacons have broadcast the same signal loop for centuries; lonely maintenance bots continue performing their rote, unnecessary tasks long after the civilizations that created them have gone.

First person arguably remains the perspective of choice for immersiveness, for obvious reasons, and as always Retro exploits that far better than most developers. It is only fitting that Samus' instinctive movements of her arms, the fogging up of her visor in steamy areas, the reflection of her face in the scan visor (which becomes vaguely unsettling as the game progresses, for reasons I will not disclose here) are far more convincing than any of the game's NPC animations.

Samus' fellow hunters, first seen in Metroid Prime: Hunters on DS, play a fairly major role in the story, but perhaps not the one you expect--and they certainly never keep Corruption from being anything other than The Samus Show. There's only one greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy, and you'll prove it over the course of the game.

A strength of the series, and of all great shooters, is pacing, and here Corruption delivers better than any Prime game yet. The difficulty can be brutal at times, but the pace is sublime. One of the most massive and difficult bosses, a powerful, fiery behemoth, is immediately followed by a largely scenic, relaxing tour across the floating platforms of the breathtaking steampunk-meets-Myst Sky Town, before plunging back into full exploration. Moments like that are what truly set the Prime games apart from the pack, and leave you asking, "Why don't other games do things like this?"

The game's rough "three-act" structure also provides an overarching intensity curve, and those acts are populated with more types of gameplay than ever before. Past Metroid games' elevators have been replaced by Samus' much more interactive ship, which is not only used for transportation but which can be called in for heavy lifting and firepower in certain puzzles.

Corruption's platforming remains the most natural and fun of any first person game. Boss battles are frequent, fresh, and fun (and are now immediately preceded by much-appreciated invisible checkpoints). Weapons and upgrades come quickly, and beams now stack, eliminating the tedious weapon management of past Primes. Late in the game, the game's narrative meshes with the real-time gameplay in ways that I will not disclose, but that are new to the Prime series and wonderfully handled.

Crucially, interactions with the world are now handled primarily with motion-based gestures rather than scanning, and they are directly mapped to your hand motions rather than simply executing canned animations. The aiming and movement advantages of the remote are obvious, but these interactivity elements are probably the best nonessential demonstrations of the Wii remote to date. They extend into the combat arena as well, with Samus able to rip enemies shields' out of their hands with her grapple beam, or pull protective plating off of a large, imposing boss.

Unlike with button presses, you actually become physically better and quicker at performing these actions as the game progresses. Though it may sound silly, by halfway through the game you have become an expert at manipulating levers, retrieving energy canisters, and throwing switches--and, believe it or not, it feels great.

Immersiveness is of course a hallmark of the Prime series, and this direct interactivity feels absolutely at home here. It is not just in the crucial area of basic control that Retro has set the bar for first person Wii games, but the trappings of presentation as well.

All of this comes together in what is, for the most part, an astonishingly elegant package. The gorgeous art design, the initially difficult but highly rewarding controls, the expertly tuned nonlinearity and exploration (complete with masked load times), the knowing nods to other Metroid games that tie the series together more than any series entry to date, the broad structure, the varied musical score (as kicked off by the mindblowing title track), the expertly-crafted pacing--Retro has taken everything great about the Prime series and examined and rectified its few missteps to again create something great. Backtracking is not eliminated, but streamlined and considerably improved; NPC interaction feels much better conceived.

There's even added value. Throughout the game, you receive awards for various gameplay milestones--killing great numbers of enemies, defeating bosses, using unusual and creative strategies to take out foes, scanning crucial pieces of information, discovering new areas, and so on. The system is clearly inspired by Xbox 360's achievements, but here you can use your tokens to unlock artwork and music. By receiving tokens sent from friends via WiiConnect24, you can unlock more desirable toys, like a tool that captures screenshots.

Nintendo's current TV ad for Metroid Prime 3 is part of its "Wii Would Like to Play" campaign, intended to demonstrate how the system is accessible even to those not well-versed in playing video games.

Do not be fooled.

Except in the most basic sense that an intuitive pointer is used to aim your weapon, Prime 3 is not a particularly accessible game. It is a hardcore game through and through. You will get your ass kicked by bosses. You will be stumped by the sometimes complex, but never overbearing, exploration. At times, you may very well throw your controller through your TV for entirely different reasons than you might when playing Wii Sports.

But you will love it. Your persistence will be rewarded. You will learn to juggle your abilities and skills. You will explore ancient worlds and pirate-infested bases. You will strive to acquire those secrets and raise your completion percentage. If you read Shacknews, this is in all likelihood the Wii game you have been waiting for. You will feel a tinge of regret that this ends the epic, masterful Prime saga, and eagerly await what Retro announces next.