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Looking back at Metroid: Prime target identified

Monday, August 23, 2010

Metroid Prime is a game where so much comes together so well that its creation feels inspired by the mythical Greek muses. Obviously you already have to be a fan of the genre and series to feel the same, but within those qualifications, Metroid Prime is special to many.



In my first playthrough of this game, I wandered about the labyrinth of Tallon IV in wonder and awe at its beauty. With each subsequent play, I gained a deeper appreciation of the game's craftsmanship; strengths and flaws all the same. Now, I will try and take you with me on my exploration of what makes this game such a remarkable experience, through my own eyes.

Actually, before I even descend to the surface of the planet, I must pay my respects to the Space Pirate Frigate, hanging tenuously in unstable orbit high above. This is the introduction, my first step into the game world, and it is a memorable one. The story is set up in a few brief sentences. A distress signal has been received; Samus investigates and I am treated to a scene of an alien vessel above an alien planet. The rumble of Samus' ship's engines are heard and within a camera pan I have control of the heroine. All is quiet in a perfectly captured eeriness and there's no rush to do anything. Did anyone not pause to admire the orangely glowing world below or watch the passing of drifting meteors? It is nearly silent, only subtle sounds of the tread of her boots and the hum of machinery exist. A short jaunt through the airlock and I get an idea of the extent of detail that has gone into the creation of this world. During pressurization, steam briefly fogs the heroine's visor, and as the ship's artificial gravity takes affect, the floating debris within the lock fall to the floor. A step inside the ship and I am introduced to the aftermath of carnage and a mystery invites me to take my time and have a careful look around—there is much to see.

The frigate introductory level in Prime remains my favorite of the trilogy. It draws the gamer forth with invitation to investigate, to discover the story through the effort of one's own detective work. You don't need a narrator explaining that a battle took place, you can see it and put together the course of events yourself through the examination of data logs and corpses. Here I must mention my perhaps morbid love of scanning corpses. Their silence does not stop them from telling their individual stories, it feels so much more real and immediate than the most carefully animated flashback could manage. The story they tell is one of hubris and folly. These creatures known only as Space Pirates, in their rush to grasp power from a substance they don't well understand have brought destruction upon themselves. It is all around me in fires and crackling electricity, in the green stains of ichor from their mangled limbs. It is in the mutated bodies of creatures they have experimented on and in the extensive structural damage done to the ship itself. I don't get to stay here long though, as my investigation quickly leads to confrontation and a passing encounter with Ridley, an old foe.

It is a traditional game mechanic of the Metroid series to start off weak and gain in power and ability with each suit enhancement found. Being a sequel chronologically to the first game in the series, Prime handles the problem of knocking Samus down to starter hero status with simple efficiency. During her escape from the alien frigate, an explosion sends her crashing into a wall and pretty much every upgrade she had earned malfunctions, leaving her stripped and starting over. Once back on her ship, a quick cut scene shows her pursuing Ridley down to the planet's surface. Through the cloud-heavy atmosphere the Hunter Ship plunges, landing within a small canyon thick with alien flora, heavy with rain. I have arrived.

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