Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Game :: Metroid Prime

Originally posted: Wed, 01 Sep 2004 07:38:41

Metroid Prime

Every once in a while I review a GameCube game I've been playing. Previous games have included The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Eternal Darkness. Reading the reviews led me to believe that Metroid Prime would be similar. It, the reviews said, had a similar mix between action and puzzles; it had a similarly strong plot; it had visuals and audio to rival the other games.

Well, sort of. Metroid Prime, like Zelda, is the 3D heir of a traditionally 2D franchise. But whereas Zelda takes a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective, Metroid Prime is a first-person shooter game. And what I quickly learned was that although FPSes are fine for a quick game of Quake 3, I really don't like them for extended periods. I can't figure out where my feet are supposed to be. More than that, I don't get a sense of the character's personality. Watching Link in Zelda, or any of the characters in Eternal Darkness, enhances the narrative considerably for me -- to my surprise -- because I see them as characters. If I'm watching the character, even if I control their actions, I get a sense of their reactions and I develop an understanding of them as a character; I develop affection or respect or contempt or whatever for that character. But if I see everything in the first person, there isn't any separation between that character and me; and if I'm myself, where's the story? I'm just sitting in the living room blasting things.

That's not the only obstacle to the game's narrative, of course. Other problems exist, and I don't think they are just my own idiosyncracies. Although some reviews have claimed that Metroid Prime has an exceptionally strong story, it seemed paper thin in practice. Want me to boil it down for you? You have to pick up tools, kill anything that moves, solve puzzles, and collect artifacts. Oh, the ultimate goal is to defeat space pirates. Where's the complexity? I simply didn't find the narrative interesting enough. Yes, I think we've all enjoyed fiction with paper-thin plots, but the difference is typically made up with compelling characters. Here, there literally are no other sentient characters except you and a subset of your adversaries, and none of you are in a talking mood.

The final nail in the coffin is Metroid Prime's byzantine save system. In Zelda, you could save at any time; if you saved in the middle of a battle, you'd start again near the site of the battle, otherwise you'd start exactly where you left off. In Eternal Darkness, you could save as long as no active enemies were in the room with you. But in Metroid Prime, you must seek out far-flung "save stations." What's more, you must move through the sprawling, difficult-to-navigate terrain wherever your signals lead you, even if you've already been there several times before. I'm told this design is to help you become familiar with the terrain. Well, the terrain is tedious, and so is the gameplay. I gave up a third of the way through.

Next up? Probably Second Sight.

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