Friday, August 01, 2008

Samus has the I.Q. of a brick

I got as far in this stupid game as the first two Baby Sheegoths (whatever those are) guarding the Wave Beam (whatever that is), after spending hours developing the skills needed just to jump onto the floating ice chunks to get over to the Ice Temple. Every time you fall off, you have to recapitulate a long run through various rooms and hazards just to get back to the same point where you jump off onto the first floater, and fall off trying to make your second jump. The game format is absolutely unforgiving — you're forced to polish your mistakes.

I got bored, frankly. Metroid Prime is tedious, repetitive and overrated. The various battles usually reduce to discovering what trick works this time against that not remotely familiar beastie (the War Wasps seem like old Old Home Week compared to most of 'em), the story line is a simple accomplishment plot: Get the Missile Launcher. Get the Morph Ball. Get the Varia Suit. Get the Morph Ball Boost. Get the Space Jump Boots. Get the next thing on the list, and repeat and repeat and repeat. Sound like fun? You need a life.

I understand there's a larger story involved, which is "gradually revealed" as you explore the dungeons and discover item updates. It reduces to finding the boss of the Space Pirates and taking him out. Find the hidden evil thingy ("Metroid Prime," get it?) the Space Pirates covet and destroy that, too. Samus, our hero, is a girl, so we don't even get the age-old narrative hook of Saving the Princess. Saving the Chozo, a tired race of hasbeens who can't even manage to transcend this underdramatized corporeal sphere gracefully, comes in a dim and distant hundred thousandth in my list of immediate priorities.

Beyond that, I'd have to say the art and ambience are second-rate. By comparison, the original Tomb Raider was, for all the clunkiness of its character engine, absolutely first rate. It almost never hit a wrong note, and almost always left the player gazing around in rapt appreciation.

Metroid Prime fails to achieve even simple sinister most of the time. Stuff gets on Samus' visor — "realistic-looking" water droplets and splattered bug guts, mainly. The scenes and settings are no more than slapdash arenas, and one long hall with Yet Another Bug Eyed Monster in the way is much like any other. Like Gotham City, the atmosphere is claustrophobic without suspense. Tallon IV is duller than sparklers on a rainy Third of July.

And Samus has the I.Q. of a brick. She has limitations, and she doesn't help the hapless fool who tries to work her controls. She doesn't get better, as the player gets better. She's like the passive aggressive date who, all shields up, bats your conversational overtures back like tennis balls, never revealing personality, interest, humor, accomplishment, response or charm, until you wonder whether the pizza will be cold and the movie as stolidly unsatisfactory as present reality.

One and a quarter stars for the Misty Visor.

It's hard to strike the proper comparison, but "advanced" controls in the Tomb Raider and Zelda franchises, any of the Star Oceans (but especially the second and third), and most Final Fantasy (especially XII) are way more seamless and dynamic. MP weapons levelups seem additive, whereas most good games give you an exponential sense of synergy and emergence. Maybe it is that First Person Shooter perspective, which is really off-putting if you're used to the good Role Playing Games.



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